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Murmansk: White Unto Harvest

By Jeff W. Jarrett

religion, articles, christianity

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 the area.

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.

Faithful Follow­up

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 the fields.

Published June 1997