One hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, on the coast of
the Barents Sea, lies the city of Murmansk, Russia. With a population
in excess of 600,000, Murmansk has a short, but interesting history.
In the past seventy years, it has been built, destroyed, and rebuilt.
It was originally built in 1914 to serve as the only Russian port
with direct, yearround access to the Atlantic Ocean. Because
of its strategic location, it was besieged by Nazi forces during
World War II. Luftwaffe aircraft bombed the city and its harbor
relentlessly. Murmansk was reduced to rubble, with the exception
of hundreds of chimneys which remained standing.
The horror of this warfare, ironically, was the beginning of a
pleasant relationship which continues today between the citizens
of Murmansk and the United States. During the siege, American
ships ran the gauntlet between the coast of Finland and the Arctic
ice to the port where the men, women and children of Murmansk
transferred much needed supplies to boxcars. The forces of Fascism
never conquered Murmansk. Today this city is known as "gerod
geroy," which means "the hero city." Recently,
in honor of Allied assistance during World War II, a monument
was erected in downtown Murmansk.
Mission Work in Murmansk
In these relatively hospitable conditions, Robert Hawkins labors
to build up the Lord's church. Under the oversight of the Pine
Street Church of Christ in Heber Springs, Ark., brother Hawkins
has worked in Murmansk since December 1993. Much has been written
about the fruitfulness of the Lord's work in the former Soviet
Union. Murmansk is no exception. Opportunities to teach and preach
are abundant. As brother Hawkins says, "If one can't get
a Bible study here, something is wrong with him." Although
the initial novelty of Christianity has worn off with most people,
there are still many serious minded individuals who sincerely
desire to learn more about God. In the past eighteen months, 27
souls have obeyed the gospel. Many of these are young people.
Many have come from the denominations which have already proliferated
Brother Hawkins' efforts include teaching in three public schools
on a regular basis and occasionally in four others. Classes are
taught to children who range from 10 to 18 years old are: History
of Religion; Basic Bible; Evidences for the
Existence of God and Conversion Accounts. Also, brother Hawkins,
along with various campaign workers, has had numerous opportunities
to teach in area colleges. All of these efforts have led to personal
studies and conversions.
Memphis School of Preaching Extension
Under the oversight of the Knight Arnold Church of Christ in Memphis,
Tenn., Billy Bland, Memphis School of Preaching instructor, leads
frequent campaigns to Murmansk. Books and tracts by brethren such
as Leroy Brownlow, Curtis Cates, Garland Elkins and Keith Mosher
Sr. have been translated into Russian for use by the campaigners.
Cliff Lyons heads an extension of the Memphis School of Preaching
in Murmansk to train Russian men to preach the gospel. He works
under the oversight of the congregation in Southaven, Mississippi.
As many veterans of Russian evangelism can attest, one of the
critical needs is for more diligent followup teaching of
converts. Many stories have been told of converts falling away
as quickly as they are baptized. One campaign in another part
of the Commonwealth of Independent States claimed hundreds of
baptisms, yet less than 7 percent of those baptized were meeting
for worship just three weeks after the campaign closed.
One of the strongest points of the work in Murmansk is the conviction
of all involved that teachers have a Godgiven responsibility,
not only to preach the Word to the lost, but also to strengthen
the brethren (Matt. 28:19,20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 12:12, 13). Brother
Hawkins studies thoroughly with individuals before baptism and
continues to study with them following baptism to insure that
they have the Bible knowledge to remain faithful and to be effective
workers in the kingdom.
The future of the Lord's church appears bright in Murmansk. Pray
that the Lord of the harvest will continue to send laborers into