Far Reaching Ministries in Eastern Bloc

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Behind Closing Doors—Part 1

Story by Tim Hoelle
Photos by Steve Shambeck

Far Reaching Ministries Sponsors Youth Conference in the Former Eastern Bloc

As the door closes for sharing the Gospel in former Eastern Bloc countries, believers are finding themselves in jeopardy for sharing the Good News of Christ. Persecution has risen dramatically, so Far Reaching Ministries (FRM) has begun to regard Eastern Bloc countries with the same caution they regard mission work in radical Islamic areas. This division of service is dubbed “Ghost Operations”.

This article omits specific locations and names of countries and people due to heightened security and danger to Christian workers on the ground. In the Eastern Bloc there are pastors in prison for sharing the love of Christ. However, due to the lack of fellowship for believers, FRM hosts several youth conferences a year so that young people can be encouraged in their faith and grow in Christ.

*Name changed to protect identity

Follow this series at… Part 2

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Youth engage in a time of worship at a conference held in a former Eastern Bloc country, where the doors to outreach and evangelism are closing. Pastors have been harassed and even put in prison.

 

In a rented meeting room outside a town in the Eastern Bloc, more than 100 young voices rise to create a warm glow of praise that envelopes the room. The warmth and light inside belie the cold, overcast January weather outside. Gathered together for an annual Christian youth conference are approximately 130 young people ages 15 to 25, a handful of volunteer workers, and several guest speakers. Some of those attending live near the conference location, while others have traveled as far as 2,500 miles.

One guest speaker, visiting the region for the first time, was grateful that the Lord had given him this opportunity. “I felt very blessed when Wes [Bentley of FRM] asked me to participate,” said Jonathan Domingo, lead pastor of Calvary Chapel Horizonte in Ensenada, Mexico. During his time there, Jonathan was reminded of ways in which Christians are the same the world over, and at least one way they’re not. “The experience of these young people is very different from American Christianity. These kids’ parents lived through persecution, having to hide Christian books and literature. Many of their relatives were sent to labor camps from which they just disappeared, never to return. Their meetings were underground. When you are there, you are very much aware of, and have a reverence for, the price paid by many Christians that preceded them.”

But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings.  Hebrews 10:32

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Pastor Jonathan Domingo (left) teaches while Sasha*, standing next to him, translates. Jonathan is the lead pastor of Calvary Chapel Horizonte, located in Ensenada, Mexico. Sasha organized the conference.

Growth from Adversity

Sasha*, the conference organizer, confirmed that preaching isn’t allowed in the streets or in most public places without prior approval, although it’s never given.

Any public discussions must conform to the established rules. In this environment, enthusiasm and passion for the cause of Christ must be combined with wisdom and patience. Much of the ministry is accomplished by developing one-on-one relationships, which can be difficult for Westerners who are often accustomed to a more direct and immediate approach. “Christianity is still not accepted or endorsed by the government, and everything is monitored closely,” Jonathan revealed.

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A native pastor comforts a young believer who is overwhelmed as she begins to understand that Jesus has paid for her sins through His sacrificial death on the cross.

Because of the restrictions—or perhaps in spite of them—the young people attending were eager to learn, interact, and participate, and there were many opportunities during the conference. “We have a limited amount of time with them, so we prepare a full agenda for each day,” related Sasha. “A typical day would include several teaching/preaching sessions, small group study and discussion, worship, and interactive games or team-building challenges. Even when we break out and have small group time, it’s not just to hang out and do whatever; we use icebreaker games so they learn about someone else. Or we have a directed time of study, or we play a game of some sort. All of it with the intent of teaching or encouraging them.”

Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:25

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American Jonathan Berry (left) and students share some laughs as they take part in an ice breaker activity involving paper airplanes.

Blessings and Praise

This gathering of young people wasn’t always in this format, or this large. “We started pretty small, just having small group retreats each year,” explained Sasha. “The vision of gathering everyone together came after about five or six years, and we’ve been doing this event for about five years now.” The conference takes place over four days and for those organizing and serving, there are two primary goals. The first goal is to equip young believers to grow strong in their faith. This is accomplished in part through teaching, preaching, and small group discussions.

The second goal is to bring young people together from a variety of geographic and cultural settings to encourage them—that they’re not alone, despite what they see in their home church. “Most of the youth here come from small churches, which means even smaller youth groups,” reflected Sasha. “It’s not uncommon for a church to have three young people in their body, so those young adults can feel pretty isolated and alone. It’s quite a different experience to be in a place with so many others their age.”

One 19-year-old girl provided her perspective: “Living in a country where being a Christian is rare can be challenging, which is why being able to go to conferences where you can meet lots of fellow Christians your age is so special. It’s a great way to build lifelong relationships which are rooted in Christ. As a teenager, these conferences drew me closer to God through the sermons and provided me with friends who have helped me to continue growing in my faith.”

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Two young women enjoy a playful time of interaction.

Another young woman, age 20, added, “When I came to the conference, I was far from the Lord, but I believed in His existence. After the conference, my life changed to before and after. I found God in my heart, I found new friends. The people who surrounded me at that time became a testimony to me—I saw that life is really beautiful. I found God there, in that place and at that time.”

Sasha and others serving as conference volunteers made certain that the schedule encouraged those attending to stay involved. There were several opportunities to serve, which included leading a break-out group or prayer team, helping with the games, and serving food. “It was also great to see a variety of people taking turns leading in worship,” recalled Jonathan. “I believe several churches were represented, and there was no lack of participation from the youth attend-ing.”

                  

Click to learn more about Far Reaching Ministries; and, to follow this series at Part 2

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A young man studies his Bible during a teaching session while a young woman reads her Bible on her phone.

 

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2021 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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