Evangelical Baptists in Russia and Texas

Randy Black writes:The radical Muslims, with their “do it our way or die attitude,” remind me of some of the Southern Baptists that I run into from time to time in Texas. Last night, at an artist’s reception, we were cornered by one of those Baptist types who ironically, was an old friend from the 80s whom I had not seen in at least 15 years. Now I remember why. She first admired the beauty of our 4-year-old daughter, Natasha, and then, without pausing to take a breath, proceeded to question me about Natasha’s baptism and what Sunday school I was taking her to weekly. If you live in the Bible Belt as I do, you know the story.  She went on an on about the importance of instilling the teachings of the Baptists, aka anti-liquor, anti-gambling, anti-Playboy, anti-abortion, anti-cussing, anti-dancing, anti-nearly everything that I hold near and dear. She left me with the thought that we would both rot in hell if I did not accept God as my and Natasha’s savior (at least three times per week) and so on and so forth. Ad nauseam. 

I ran into the same bunch in Siberia, of all places, in 1993. The evangelical Baptists arrived that summer without warning to spread their Word, as only Baptists can and do, to the Proletariat of Omsk. I was enjoying a nice, quiet summer break between semesters of teaching American English to the intelligent and resourceful college students at the Omsk State Pedagogical University. Of course the Baptists came in force, about 35 of them, but had no clue as to how to go about their task. They first tried going door-to-door in the huge blocks of apartment buildings across the city, with interpreters, of course. But they found that in the newly free Russia, few would open their double or triple locked doors to strangers due to the fear of the newly free robbers.

Unfortunately for me, the Americans lived in the dorm for six weeks in which I lived year around. Thus, they came to me for guidance. How ironic I thought at the time. A bunch of bible thumpers from the western USA in this western Siberian city of 1.3 million, asking me how to preach the gospel to the locals and “where can we get some new interpreters?” The Americans took to preaching in the local Houses of Culture (sort of the local YMCA without the Christian in it) and passing out bibles written in Russian on the streets. The only takers were folks in need of money, thus the bibles quickly ended up in the book stalls of the local bazaar. This in a city that had a high percentage of atheists left over from Soviet days. After about a week, all of the interpreters quit, having either earned enough to get out of town for the rest of the summer, or they had grown tired of the “Brother this and blessed that", and all the rest of the bible language that the Americans were trying to spread.” If you can’t hide from ‘em in Siberia, where can you go to get away from these people? I mean these folks get up in the morning and start the day by telling you that you are going to hell if you don’t let them save your soul?  When the fall semester began, a few of those students came to me and thanked me for finding them jobs paying 50 cents an hour in a land where 10 cents an hour was the minimum wage but questioned me at length about what the entire exercise was really all about.

RH: Only a fool would be rash enough to try to convert Randy.  I suspect that he tried to persuade them to vote for Bush. They replied:Of course, we are part of the Christian coalition. Brothers under the skin. Let's be fair: The Baptist jihad involved just thumping bibles, not assassinating the likes of Randy. The methods of the Baptists may be counterproductive.  I remember how puzzled the people of ecclesiastical Winchester were when  a Mormon mission tried to convert them.  Curiously, the original Mormons included a lot of English people who had been converted, but times have changed.  However, in Latin America and elsewhere the Mormons are having a great success. I bet a lot of Russian wives quoted the Baptists when telling their husbands to lay off the vodka. Perhaps Cameron Sawter can tell us more about the Baptists in Russia.  They were persecuted during the Soviet period, and a group of them were given refuge in the US Embassy.

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: October 11, 2004