November 30, 2020
First Presbyterian has been in partnership with Hope Baptist Church in Ryazan, Russia, since 2003. We have watched them grow, plant other churches, and develop a network of Protestant churches in the region despite resistance and intolerance from their neighbors.
When our partnership started, the congregation of Hope Baptist was renting space for their worship services and church activities. Over the years, they bought that space with help from the funds our church sent, but they still faced discrimination from their neighbors. Russians identify strongly with the Russian Orthodox church as a matter of national pride, so Protestant congregations, especially those with American friends, are viewed with some skepticism. The members of Hope Baptist expanded and enhanced their church space, but they still encountered suspicion because they were housed on the first floor of an apartment building, leading people to believe they were more of a cult than a church.
Several years ago, Hope Baptist was able to purchase land to build a structure with a sanctuary that looks like a traditional church; they were able to buy this land through careful stewardship and with the generous gift of funds from our Global Mission budget. Because of laws in the city of Ryazan, they had to finish construction within five years or lose it all. They have been working tirelessly. The new space includes a sanctuary, a kitchen, offices, and a basement fellowship hall to host church events and retreats for other congregations in the area. The third floor, which will house Sunday school rooms, will have finishing touches and furnishings as funds allow. Members of the congregation have tithed both to the church and to the new building, and they have pitched in time and energy to the construction.
Hope Baptist also has property in the Russian countryside for a rustic camp where they host retreats, youth camps, and other gatherings. This space is used by the Protestant churches within their network, and traveling into the countryside offers a welcome change of scenery and a respite from tense relationships with neighbors.
We were sad to postpone the trip this summer, but we look forward to visiting and seeing the new building when travel is more advisable. When we can travel, we will take funds from First Presbyterian to help with the new building, and we will collect gifts for their Sunday school programs, kitchen, and camp. What Hope Baptist has been able to accomplish in the face of adversity is inspiring, and it is a joy to partner with such a faithful congregation.
– Mary Elizabeth Coley