IVANOVO, Russia (BP)- Southern Baptist missionary Mel Skinner keeps an empty whiskey bottle somewhere in his family’s apartment in central Russia.
In the fall of 1999, local women at a restaurant gave whiskey and chocolate to Skinner and his family as a gift to welcome them to Ivanovo. At the time, the Skinners had just moved from Moscow, where they had been church planters for several years. Though he later dumped out the whiskey, he still tears up at the memory of the gift.
“They came up to the table and said, ‘Excuse me for interrupting your meal,'” he recounts. “‘We just wanted to say thank you for coming to our café. We noticed that our day was better after you’ve been into our café than it was before you came in.’ God used all that to just confirm to us this is the place He wanted us to be.”
Reception to the Gospel in the cities can be as frigid as a typical Russian day in January. But in the middle of a welcomed Russian summer — with temperatures usually in the 70s to low 80s and the sun shining until after 10 p.m. — Skinner brushes off any thoughts about the harsh winters or the struggles to spread the Gospel.
“Somebody once talked about the number of times somebody needs to hear the Gospel to be saved, to make that rational decision to trust your life to Christ,” Skinner says. “I don’t know what that number is, but most of these people have never had any kind of Gospel access.”
Many cling to the Russian Orthodox Church, which Skinner and local believers contend is more about tradition and obligation than true faith.
“Russia is an Orthodox country, but ask them what it means to be Orthodox, and they don’t have an answer,” says a local believer who accepted Christ after developing a friendship with Skinner.
“Why go to the church and light a candle when no one can tell you why they light a candle?” he asks. “They light a candle, go get drunk and don’t remember lighting the candle.”
Rumors about Baptists — and any other group besides Russian Orthodox — often circulate in Russia. Baptists are seen as a cult, Skinner says. Some believe Baptists kill and eat their young.
Read it all here.