By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BELARUS – Organizers of mission trips to Belarus are adamant that ten dollars is a small investment that reaps a huge dividend for Louisiana Baptists sharing the Gospel in this country where 99 percent of its people do not believe in Christ.
This amount is the cost of the Good and Evil Illustrated Bible, a full-color picture Bible, which explains the Bible from Creation to Christ with expressive drawings in a comic-book-type format.
Leaders in Belarus are excited about the impact of this soul-winning tool, explaining that 40 percent of people who receive a copy give their hearts to Christ and commit to live for Him.
Since 2014, Louisiana Baptist churches have sent teams to partner with Byelorussian Mission, an in-country ministry group, and have taken part in Bible distribution efforts to see first-hand the effectiveness of this outreach method.
Wayne Sheppard, partnerships director for Louisiana Baptists, took part in the 2016 mission trip.
“The Bibles we are giving out in Belarus are making a tremendous difference,” Sheppard said. “The Good and Evil illustrated Bible is so well-received by those who are lost, those who are agnostic, those who are atheistic. They are glad to look at it, glad to read it.”
Sheppard said a pastors’ conference held in Belarus was filled to capacity and pastors there shared their faith without fear.
He also said he heard startling testimonies about revival in Belarus.
“An International Mission Board representative told us that during the last two years they have seen more openness to the Spirit of God among Belarusians than they have seen in the last 15 years,” he recalled. “So there is a great receptivity and a great openness; and we Louisiana Baptists have the special privilege of partnering with Belarus’ pastors to start churches and reach people for the Lord.”
Next year there will be a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the printing of the Bible in the Belarusian language, and country-wide activities will include Bible exhibitions, regional conferences on the impact of the Bible on eastern European cultural and historical development, Bible distributions and open outreach ministries in public schools, universities and arenas.
As a preliminary event to the 500th anniversary celebration in Belarus, Byelorussian Mission founders Andrew and Inna Ryzhkov participated in an Aug. 11 ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to donate a facsimile edition of the first Bible printed in Belarus. They also donated the Good and Evil illustrated Bible to the Thomas Jefferson Library in Virginia for inclusion in the European Reading Room.
Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists, said capitalizing on the anniversary is a golden opportunity for sharing the Gospel. Louisiana Baptists will join Belarusian Christians to hand out the Good and Evil illustrated Bibles and will conduct pastor training in the area of discipleship.
The goal for Louisiana Baptists’ mission teams is to visit all six provinces in Belarus by 2018, at a rate of two per year.
“After three trips I have found Belarusian Baptists need to know they haven’t been forgotten by the rest of the world,” Ingram said. “Just our presence is an encouragement to them.
“People in Belarus are searching for meaning in their lives as they enjoy more freedoms today than they have in generations,” he said. “Pastors say they need help in discipling their church members, so we have updated a Russian language edition of Experiencing God, and are working toward raising funds to have Good and Evil Bible copies printed for them. We also need pastors, staff and members from Louisiana Baptist churches to equip Belarusian pastors in how to lead this small group training in their churches.”
Tommy Middleton, director of missions for the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, took a team of eight from his association during his first trip to the country in September. He plans on returning again in 2017 for two weeks.
Middleton said the churches in Belarus are intentional in reaching all of the country with the Gospel and that is impacting on the teams from the United States.
“It’s a type of partnership that is healthy and worth supporting,” Middleton said. “When you go on a mission trip, most of the time what we bring to them doesn’t compare to what God does in us and changes us. What we bring to them is helpful and encouraging, but what God does in us is more profound.”
Wayne Taylor, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Foundation, said the most severe persecution of Christians in Belarus ended in the 1990s, but added that these distant experiences still are fresh in their minds.
He said the government still uses oversight and regulation as a form of persecution, threatening to close churches, for example, because of supposed code violations.
Taylor hopes the work by Louisiana Baptists will lift the spirits of pastors and other Christians in a largely-atheistic country.
“Louisiana Baptists’ time and money will be very well spent there,” Taylor said. “They know and remember persecution, and just a little bit of encouragement from us can go a long way to help encourage them and to spread the Gospel in Belarus.”
For information on how to sign up for mission trips or donate Bibles, email Wayne.Sheppard@LouisianaBaptists.org.