Evangelist Anchors Outreach in Russian Culture, Connects With Secularists

3,000 individuals made decisions for Christ and were baptized on the first Sabbath of the meetings.Source: Adventist News Network

[April 30, 2007] It wasn't your typical church outreach effort. You were as likely to learn about Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky as you were the Old Testament prophet Daniel. And if you missed a meeting at your church, you could catch it on a colossal screen in the city square, on local television after work, or even as a cell phone video clip.

"We had to take the secular Russian mindset into consideration," says Peter Kulakov, a Seventh-day Adventist evangelist who led the "Apocalypse Mysteries" meeting series broadcast across 15 time zones from March 10 to 31. In an interview with Adventist News Network, Kulakov explained that he "took an intellectual approach, and also one rooted in local culture" to better connect with the largely Russian audience.

Banking on what he sees as most Russians' unshakable respect for their historical and literary luminaries, Kulakov referenced the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and others to illustrate Adventist values and beliefs.

Drawing on passages from Dostoyevsky's classic novels, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov, and citing the writings of contemporary and historical Russian Orthodox priests and philosophers, Kulakov explained Adventist doctrines such as Sabbath worship and commandment keeping.

Young people particularly found this cultural anchoring relevant. "It's good that they [used] examples from the secular world, because it [was] very easy for our friends to understand everything," said Sergie, a youth leader from Komrat, Moldova, where the meetings were broadcast via satellite and on local TV.

Sergie adds that many others who attended the meetings "know history very well and [are] well-read." He says such people appreciated the intellectual approach, but that the "well thought-out" and "easy to understand" concepts connected with a wide and diverse audience.

But it took more than a pertinent vantage point to pull off the meetings, the first delivered by a Russian in the native language since the fall of the Soviet Union. Kulakov and his team recruited the help of local Adventists from across the region some six months prior to the first sermon.

"The response was amazing," he says. "We expected 1,500 or possibly 2,000 locations to participate, but 4,000 signed up to actively prepare for the meetings. It really showed they didn't just want to be satellites, but to really make this their own personal project."

The local church offices and congregations offered Bible lessons and healthy living seminars and proved indispensable in securing television coverage. "Many congregations went directly to local networks to make arrangements for local satellite downlink of the meetings and rebroadcasts on local cable networks," he says. "Some churches even arranged for huge displays right on downtown squares where [passersby] could watch the full program."

In addition to promotion by local churches, Kulakov and his team launched a Web site for the meetings, www.apokalipsis.info, which charted more than 2.5 million hits in the first couple days of the series. Attendees could download lessons, video recordings of the broadcasts and daily updates on the site.

Despite the instability of the Ukraine's current political situation, Kulakov says the national government fully cooperated with the church and responded to its needs. Aside from a few isolated, local pockets of opposition involving pressure to remove the daily broadcasts of the meetings on TV, Kulakov said the government was "very supportive."

Recorded live from the Central Church of Kiev, the meetings were broadcast across Russia and the surrounding territories where they were translated into Ukrainian and Romanian, as well as some local dialects in central Asia, the Caucasus and Georgia. "We were limited in terms of adding a lot of additional translations," says Kulakov, but since "Russian is widely understood across this part of the world," it didn't prove problematic.

Kulakov says the initial response to the meetings was phenomenal. "We received hundreds of emails and phone calls largely from non-Adventists asking for prayer and personal meetings. It was absolutely amazing witnessing the personal experience of the Lord meeting needs in response to prayer for their recovery or spiritual decisions."

One of those people, a woman named Lilya, attended the meetings in Kiev. "I have visited many different churches," she later shared, "and everywhere I felt like a visitor. But after I came here, I think I am at home."

Another woman, Lesya, reported she had been looking for a church for over a decade, but found many denominations to be obsessed with theological issues, rather than offering a practical guide to daily life. "Your church is like a health center," she told church leaders. "[You] tell about healthy family relations and [a] healthy lifestyle."

Kulakov says one young man stood out early on in the meetings. "At the first meeting, I could tell he wasn't totally sober. But he came to me and asked, 'How do I become a preacher?' I told him, 'Come and listen every night.' He did, and I saw an absolutely amazing transformation in him. I could see that the Lord truly changed his life."

That young man was one of 3,000 people baptized the first Sabbath. Kulakov reports that hundreds of additional baptisms are planned for the weeks to come in Kiev and at many of the satellite locations where the meetings were downlinked.

"Apocalypse Mysteries" was sponsored by Light Of Hope TV ministry and its contributors, based at Lakeview Church in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States. Kulakov says the church in Russia plans to continue a Light Of Hope program in the country to follow up the meetings. Both Hope Channel Europe and Christian Network TV stations across the country are expected to carry the programming.