VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 1/29/12)—The Russian Evangelical Alliance reports that Moscow City Church (MCC) led a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 15, 2012. Members of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy came together with MCC for the event. It is believed that this is the first time the holiday honoring Dr. King has been observed in Russia.
Moscow City Church is a member of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. The Russian Union is an active and ongoing partner with American Baptist International Ministries (IM).
“Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, director of External Church Relations for the Russian Union and one of MCC’s pastors, stated that many Russians believe racism to be a distant and foreign issue,” reported Dr. William Yoder, writing for the Russian Evangelical Alliance Press Service on January 22.
But those present at the celebration heard a very different story from Daniel Ekat, a citizen of Cameroon who has suffered physical violence more than once during his ten years in Russia. According to Yoder, Ekat reported: “My friends are often afraid to go out into the street. When a person covered with blood is brought into our dormitory, it leaves many of my friends aghast and uncertain as to whether they should continue their studies or return home immediately.”
The pastor of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy added: “My people are confronted daily with the problem of racism.”
The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy was established in 1962 and is jointly supported by American Baptist International Ministries, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Reformed Church in America. MPC was served in recent years by American Baptists Wayne and Arlene Pipkin, and Charles and Marie Mercer. Its current pastor is Matthew Laferty, a United Methodist. What began as spiritual support to the diplomatic community in Moscow during the Cold War has blossomed into a multi-ethnic/multi-national English-speaking congregation with a wide range of ministries, including the documentation of acts of violence against people of color in Russia.
Speaking for Moscow City Church, Vlasenko looked forward to greater collaboration between MCC and MPC in the future. And, while recognizing the vital legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., he underlined that “the real issue is God’s truths,” and especially, the message of Galatians 3:28, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).
“The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy (MPC) is celebrating 50 years in 2012,” remarked the Rev. Charles Jones, IM area director for Africa, Europe and the Middle East. “This historic cooperation from Russian Baptists–and using the MLK, Jr. service–was seen as a good opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges of racism in Russia, and to broaden the discussion in Russian society and faith communions. We commend and support the efforts of these two of our partners.”
(This article made use of the Russian Evangelical Alliance Press Service news item, “Racism – a Daily Issue for Many: Russian Protestants Commemorate Martin-Luther-King-Day for the first time,” by William Yoder.)
American Baptist International Ministries is a Christian mission organization connecting U.S. churches and individuals to holistic ministries around the world. Organized in 1814, IM is the first Baptist mission agency formed in North America. It serves more than 1,800 short- and long-term missionaries annually, bringing U.S. and Puerto Rico churches together with partners in over 70 countries to share the good news of Jesus Christ in word and action. IM’s partnership with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy is made possible by church and individual contributions to the World Mission Offering.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with 5,500 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.