It was my privilege a few weeks ago to meet the man who joined Innovista in 2003 as its first evangelism/mission trainer. As we talked over coffee and cakes, Slavic Karpyuk (his actual name - most of the Central Asian missioners go by pseudonyms for security reasons) described his conversion from ‘wild punk rocker’ at university in Ukraine, to Director for Innovista in Siberia where he now lives with his wife Olya and their four young children.
‘I don’t know where I would be now if I didn’t hear the gospel from my friends,’ explained this instantly likeable man with his iron-filing haircut and engaging smile. ‘I’m not even sure I would be alive if I didn’t meet Jesus.’ These days Slavic pours all his energy into training young people to share their faith confidently and helping to develop leaders to head up mission themselves. It’s demanding work frequently involving journeys of 24 hours and more by Trans-Siberian railway across a bleak and vast landscape. Since 2003 he has journeyed across Ukraine, Russia and several of the ‘stans’ (the Central Asian republics.)
The early days of Innovista saw Slavic overseeing the translation into Russian of evangelism tools like Becoming a Contagious Christian, adding culturally-relevant illustrations to make it more useful. During a visit to Siberia, notorious as a place of forced exile for Russian dissidents during the Cold War and a region where winter temperatures can plummet to minus 40C, he sensed God calling him to move there. Since then and when he’s not travelling, Slavic has been working with the Siberian Youth Movement and in a local church plant in Omsk one of the largest cities in the region.
There is huge resistance to the Christian message in Siberia, astonishingly even from church leaders themselves. ‘Pastors are often scared of the world and spend much of their time protecting their flock rather than thinking creatively about mission in their particular context,’ Slavic explained. But a new generation of Christians is thinking differently and wants to engage with their friends through soccer clubs, dance classes and other friendship groups. Missional communities in fact!
If reading this story inspires you to get involved you don’t have to travel anywhere! Just think about sponsoring a young leader and follow the link - http://www.innovista.org/get-involved
News update - In the weeks since I met Slavic news has emerged from Russia of a proposal to pass new laws aimed at preventing evangelical Christians from sharing the gospel outside of their church buildings. You can read more here: