Unsplash: Jacek Dylag

Church Plants in the Former Soviet Bloc Bear Gospel Fruit

Ten years ago, Paul Lebowski* was named “Firefighter of the Year” in his home city in Eastern Europe. On the surface, things were good. But amid the accolades and professional success, Paul felt empty inside. His job was tough, and he saw hard things and enormous suffering nearly every day at work.

Over time, the weight of those experiences began to take their toll. He questioned and searched, but no matter how hard he looked, he found no hope. Soon Paul began to look for hope in drugs—secretly drowning his sorrow in chemical oblivion.

That’s when God found him.

“You need to understand that amongst my friends, amongst my family members more broadly, there wasn’t even one true believer,” Paul said. “Somehow, and God often does this, my mother had come to faith and started going to an evangelical church. I didn’t know what that was, but one day I decided to go. The Lord started to work on my life and change me from the inside out.”

Soon, Paul became a Christian. He studied the Bible, kicked his drug habit, and joined a new community of faith that accepted him for who he was, not who he pretended to be. As he grew in the faith and as God continued to work on his heart, Paul became convinced that he was called to be a pastor. According to Paul, there simply aren’t enough Christian leaders and pastors in his home country, and many of those who do exist lack sufficient training, experience, and theological education.

“It’s a real weakness for the Church,” he said.

Eager to learn more, Paul began to read every Christian theology book he could get his hands on. Providentially, a book by Charles Spurgeon fell into his lap. Taken by the depth of Spurgeon’s faith, Paul enrolled in small Reformed seminary, graduating four years later with a richer theology and a useful set of ministry skills. Now ordained, he serves his city as a pastor, working side by side with MTW missionaries Greg and Cara Perkins* to plant a church in the city center.

A New Generation of Christians

Paul is just one of many new Christians who are coming to faith in Eastern Europe—the belated fruit of a missionary movement that started 30 years ago.

“After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was this huge wave of missionaries that poured into this area, and God did some incredible things,” Greg explained. “What I believe is happening now is that that tilled ground is now bearing fruit 30 years later in the lives of the children and sometimes grandchildren of those who originally came to Christ.”

According to Greg, some evangelical churches in the former Soviet state where he lives and ministers have been reduced to standing room only on Sundays—so many people are coming to faith and want to join in. Even with pandemic restrictions on church meetings and movement in place, Paul and the Perkins themselves have many people express new and intensified interest in church during the COVID-19 crisis, with some even becoming Christians.

“We want to be planting churches that are Reformed, evangelical, and gospel centered,” said Greg. “And we want to do that working with our national partners, so it’s not just MTW Eastern Europe coming up with their own vision and running things on their own, but it’s actually us working with our national leaders, national partners, and ultimately national denomination to build together and serve together.

10 Churches in 10 Years

Already, Paul and the Perkins have been leading a house church from their apartments for the last year and a half. Although church planting is at the core, a part of their broader plans include doing mercy ministry in the community, including drug rehabilitation and working with a camp for individuals with special needs.

“We believe the gospel touches all of life,” Greg said. “It calls us to be the hands and feet of Christ, not just planting churches but also doing good works.” They look forward to seeing how God leads them and opens doors for the future.

They hope to move their church into a physical building in 2021—a strategic move that will communicate credibility and permanence in a culture that looks on non-orthodox denominations with skepticism, and which will provide a space for other evangelical churches to gather and host their ministry efforts.

Hand in hand with these ministry efforts, Paul and the Perkins are working to unite a small group of like-minded Reformed churches to form a proto-Presbytery, the first nationally initiated and led effort in the country. From that foundation, they hope to build a church-planting movement that will result in 10 churches planted over the next 10 years.

A lot can happen in a decade. Ten years ago, Paul was lost, fumbling for meaning and hope in drugs and secular culture. Ten years from now, he may be playing an instrumental role in a Spirit-driven movement transforming his country with the hope of the gospel. 

*Names changed for security. 

Andrew Shaughnessy Jan 5, 2021
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