I have been privileged to go to Russia five different times for ministry. I’ll never forget, though, the first time I went there after the Soviet Union first broke open. Two things stuck out in my mind.
One was a total shift in emphasis from what I have been used to in American ministry. In United States, you often have to convince people that they need to be saved because they don’t see themselves as sinners. I had to convince the Russian people, however, that they could be saved.
They had no doubt that they needed to be saved. But after 70 years of atheism, they felt it was probably too late—that God had given up on them and there is no way they could ever get to heaven. They were convinced that God could save other people; they were not convinced He could save them. They did not blame Him; they blamed themselves.
It was exciting to tell them that no one was beyond God’s reach. I used everything from the “whosoever’s” of the Bible to passages that spoke of Christ dying for all to show them it wasn’t too late.
A second item that sticks out in my mind was that I had to spend time convincing them that if they trusted Christ, they would receive His free gift of eternal life. Their struggle was with the word “trust.” Some made the comment to me, “We trusted communism for 70 years, and it failed us. How do we know if we trust Christ that He will not fail us too?”
That was a harder truth to communicate because it required taking God at His word. I explained that if they trusted Christ as their only way to heaven, convinced that nothing they do would merit them eternal life, He would keep His promise and extend to them the gift of eternal life.
I had to explain that trusting a person on earth who failed you is one thing, trusting the God who would never fail them was another. I showed them promise after promise in the Scriptures to convince them they could rely upon God to keep His promises. As the Holy Spirit worked and as we exercised patience with the people, many trusted Christ and looked forward to living forever with Him.
It still excites me remembering the many faces that beamed with joy as they came to understand the truth of the gospel and placed their trust in Christ.
Editor's Note: The above picture shows Larry teaching with the help of a translator in Moscow during the summer of 1993.