With help of a local missionary, a Russian Baptist preacher, his wife and translator visited Palestine on their first trip ever to the United States this month to observe the structure and operation of Baptist churches here in the United States.
Bishop Anatoly Krikun from the Baptist Church of Russia and his wife, Tamara, and translator Marina Lyamkina left their home of Kaliningrad, Russia on July 15, arriving in Texas on July 16 with Texas Association of Christian Networks (TACN) World Ministries CEO and missionary Dutch Conditt of Slocum.
Conditt has been to Kaliningrad various times as part of his work as a missionary, getting to know Krikun for the past four years.
“He is the Bishop of the largest Baptist church in Kaliningrad that has 370 members,” Conditt said as the group visited the Herald-Press office Wednesday. “We just returned from a trip in June to Kaliningrad where we introduced the concept of Vacation Bible School to their church there.”
In the Palestine area, Krikun has had the opportunity to visit four of the TACN World Ministries’ supporting churches — First Baptist Church of Slocum, Lakeside Baptist Church, Muse Baptist Church and Lone Pine Baptist Church.
“Mostly, we have been introducing them to the program here like we did in Kaliningrad. When we were in their country, two ladies from the ministry conducted VBS Monday through Friday for the children, working through a translator, using their imagination without a lot of materials and ‘winging it,’” Conditt said. “The kids had a blast. Out of 25, eight professed Jesus Christ as their savior, and that was our goal, to reach the kids.”
Kaliningrad is a city of half a million people on the westernmost point of Russia, separated from the main part of the country by Lithuania and Belarus. The Kaliningrad region borders on Lithuania in the east and Poland in the west and is a major sea port to the Baltic Sea. It was called Koenigsberg in the past (until 1946) and formerly part of Prussia.
While many religions exist in Kaliningrad these days, most residents are Russian Orthodox.
There are less than 13 Baptist churches in the Kaliningrad region — mostly house churches with six to 30 in membership. Krikun’s church, Church of the “Peace,” which also houses Kaliningrad Bible College, is one of two designated churches. Krikun is the president of the college, while Lyamkina serves as the coordinator.
“We are so appreciative to the people who are so open to us, very kind and hospitable,” Krikun said of their time in the Palestine area through his translator. “Our first opinion of precious America has been a pleasure. The people are good, open and honest and we can see people work hard. We are so surprised there are so many churches here — a blessing from God that so many people go to the churches — that is a blessing for all the whole America and whole nation. Unfortunately, we don’t have so many in our country. Most are Orthodox and believe Christianity is just a ‘West’ part of our region. It’s wonderful to be here.”
This morning, the Russian group will visit Lone Pine Baptist Church and in the evening, they will be at First Baptist Church of Slocum for its fifth Sunday associational singing. On Tuesday, they will attend a prayer breakfast at Dogwood Hills Baptist Church.
“We’ve been having a good time. They have looked at several points of interest in Palestine and toured the countryside,” Conditt said. “They have visited the Tyler Zoo, Tyler Rose Garden, Texas State Railroad, a buffalo ranch in Mexia, the Caddo Indian Mounds, Fairfield Lake and Lake Palestine among other places.”
The group will visit the Dallas and Fort Worth area, visit the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, a food bank and visit a few places in Lufkin, including two nursing homes before leaving the area.
“Russian food is fabulous and so are the people. I have gone to Russia since 2002 and I have yet to meet a Russian that I didn’t want as a neighbor,” Conditt said. “While we were there, we ate so good. Essentially, we are doing the same thing here — trying to feed them to death. We got them some Blue Bell ice cream and we taught them to say ‘ya’ll.’ English and Texan are two different languages, you know.”
“What we found interesting is that the cultural problems you have here are very similar to ours — drugs, alcohol and crime,” Lyamkina said.
The Russian group will leave from Houston on Aug. 2 with an almost 24-hour trip home that takes multiple flights and five layovers.
While in Kaliningrad in June, Conditt’s mission group visited a drug rehab center, acquired new Bibles for Armenian refugees in the Dolgorukovo village, visited a senior care facility and an orphanage and visited in several homes.
“We visited several church fellowships and points of interest, taking the opportunity to share the gospel whenever possible,” Conditt said. “Kaliningrad is a beautiful city with very old buildings that are 400 to 500 years old that have survived wars.”
TACN World Ministries is planning more trips to Kaliningrad in the future.
“Marina has been so helpful. She not only does Anatoly’s translations, she does my translations as well, translating letters of invitations for us,” Conditt said.
On Aug. 28, 1970, Krikun became a Christian.
“In the summer of 1971, I was baptized. This happened at night, because such actions were prosecuted by the State. My appeal to God in the family of my wife’s parents, where we have lived at that time, was perceived very negatively. My father-in-law, a former tank commander, a colonel, was an ideological Communist. The name ‘Baptist’ plunged people in shock,” Krikun wrote.
At that time, the Baptist congregation in Kaliningrad consisted of 150 people. Most of them were Russian Germans who had lived previously in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
In 1972, he began his ministry as a preacher and in 1973 he was elected to be a secretary and assistant priest in their community.
“During these years, Baptist believers were under enormous pressure from the state and society. I had also experienced extreme aggression and hostility from the KGB (’’Committee of the State Safety’),” Krikun said. “Of course, all of these circumstances influenced on my relationships with colleagues and a career of an engineer. There were made attempts to ‘fabricate’ a criminal case against me, so that to subject me to arrest. But God has miraculously kept me in this situation, in the situation of humiliation and persecution by the authorities.”
In 1992, his wife Tamara repented before God and later baptized. In 1993, he was part of a deacon ministry in the church. In March 1994, he was ordained to the pastoral ministry in the same church. In 1994, under his leadership, the new House of Prayer (now called Church of the ‘Peace’) was finished in 1998. In 1999, the Church of the ‘Peace” was opened as was the Kaliningrad Bible College to train preachers and church leaders through a three-year cycle of training.
In 1996, Krikun was ordained as Senior Pastor of Baptist Churches in Kaliningrad region and a member of the Baptist Union of the Russian Federation.
In 2002, he graduated from Kaliningrad Bible College. In 2005, he graduated from the University of Wales with a Faculty of Theology diploma. In March 2001, he graduated from Magistracy of Moscow Theological Seminary and defended thesis, becoming a Master of Divinity.
In 2001, he wrote the book “The Emergence of Baptist Community (as a direction in Christianity) in East Prussia and the Factors of its Formation in 1945-80.” This book was published the same year.
From 1991 to 2011, the Church of “Peace” baptized 490 people. Now there are 370 members in the church. In Kaliningrad, there are 11 Baptist congregations.
The spiritual custody and care of the churches in the region also are part of his work.
Lyamkina grew up in a family of atheists, though her mother always told she and her sister that there was a “Great Power which can be called God.”
“I have always remembered my Mom’s words,” Lyamkina wrote in her testimony.
Once, a classmate invited her to a church for Easter, where they sang Christian songs and prayed.
After graduating from college and working as an engineer, she attended the church again.
“But I did not forget Mom’s words bout Great Power, which can be called God, therefore inside my heart there was awe before this unknown Power.”
After marrying and having two daughter, her husband brought home Christian booklets and the Bible for the children.
“With great interest I read the Bible very quickly as I had dreamed to have the Bible at my home, because I heard that in the Bible people can read about their future and the future of all mankind,” Lyamkina wrote in her testimony. “I believed that the Bible is a very mysterious book.”
Visiting the Baptist church at invitation of her husband’s colleague, she once again attended the same church.
At the same time, her mother was resting in a sanitarium, where she met a Christian who was a member of the Baptist church.
“She told a lot to my mother about God’s love, forgiveness and salvation, about Jesus Christ and then invited my mother to the church. Then my mom invited that woman to my house and she told me how God loves people, how He gave His life for our sins,” Lyamkina wrote.
The woman invited her to church with her mother and sister.
“It was that church, which I visited at invitation of my classmate many years ago, it was that church, which my husband visited at the invitation of a colleague, and it was that church where my mom’s new friend was a member. We started to attend this church, and on March 10, 1911, I repented before God and was baptized on June 2, 1991. Now my whole family — mom and dad, my husband and children — attend the church. Praise the Lord!”
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