M o s c o w – European Baptists want to be together. One clear indication is the fact that the Russian “Logos”-Choir hopes to send 40 singers to the festive conference celebrating the 400th anniversary of the European Baptist movement in Amsterdam this summer. But a certain parallelisation is occurring. Following the Baptist World Federation’s youth convention in Leipzig/Germany at the beginning of August 2008, a Russian-speaking youth event followed at the end of the month in Odessa/Ukraine. In Leipzig, 6.300 youth from throughout the world gathered; in Odessa, there were no less than 3.500. “Amsterdam 400” will take place from 24 to 26 July 2009. An East European conference commemorating the same anniversary is scheduled for Kiev from 27 to 29 August.
It would be unfair to complain about the Russian or Ukrainian Baptists in this context. High prices and the extremely restrictive visa policies of the states belonging to the Schengen Treaty have made all-European events on West European turf nearly impossible. The team preparing the Amsterdam conference is opening its arms wide to guests from Eastern Europe, but the number of guests who arrive will in the end not be determined by the committee. Friends in the USA claim that a global church conference is no longer possible in North America. (The Mennonite World Conference 2009 will take place in Paraguay.)
An additional reason for the rise of parallel events is the matter of language. Russian remains the “lingua franca” of Eastern Europe; in the West it is of course English. The issue of differing styles of worship in East and West is, I believe, of less importance.
In mid-March 2009, a tour of Germany scheduled for late April by the Ukrainian music group „Zhivaya Kaplya“ (Living Drop) was nixed by the Germany embassy in Kiev. Staff of Germany’s “Federation of Evangelical-Free Churches” in Elstal near Berlin had done their homework. Virtually all conceivable documents had been sent, including a listing of the location and dates of all concerts. The Kiev embassy gave no reason, adding hat it would take six to eight weeks to respond to the official protest issued by the group immediately following the denial. Any clarification by phone is virtually impossible. Until now, this legally totally “clean” group has gotten no further westward than Estonia.
Back in May 2007 when the Baptist bike expedition left Varel/Germany for Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, cyclists with Ukrainian passes were not able to participate until the tour hit Brest on the border in Belarus. This was also true for “Zhivaya Kaplya”, which took part in that tour.
Apparently no official delegate of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) has yet been able to receive a multiple-entry, six-to-12-month visa to enter the Schengen zone. Which means that every single journey involves major red tape. This is less of a problem in the USA, where foreign church representatives are frequently issued one-year visitors visas.
It would actually make sense to transfer all-European church congresses – and Christian pop concerts! - to Ukrainian soil. Prices there are reasonable and entrance is visa-free for the citizens of virtually all European and North American countries. Christian music groups from Eastern Europe should not attempt to tour the West – their fans with Western passes should rather be coming to them. What else can be done? Because of the nine-day tour that had been scheduled for April, German Baptists are considering a protest addressed to their foreign ministry.
Despite rumours to the contrary, the Russian government continues to liberally issue tourist visas for up to 30 days. At present, one can enter Russia for several days without a visa at all when arriving on a ferry at a Baltic port. But things do get complicated when the entry of humanitarian goods is involved. In June of last year, the Baptist congregation in Krefeld/Germany presented its partner congregation in Ulyanovsk/Volga with a mini-bus boasting a hydraulic lift for the transport of invalids. Now, after being in storage in Russia for a half year, the 1992-built bus with 74.650 miles on its tachometer is back home in Germany. Customs hat demanded a fee of 9.000 Euros ($12.280 US), yet the bus has a present market value of not more than 7.000 Euros ($9.511 US).
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