Tragedy and Hope in the Capital of Russian Islam

The light shines in the darkness...
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The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

John 1:5

Tragedy and Hope in the Capital of Russian Islam

You might not know it but there are 20 million Muslims living in Russia. The Mongol invasion of 1237 put Russia under the yoke of the Mongols for 243 years. Most of them were Muslims and were called Tatars. When they were finally beaten back by the Russians, they built their own city in Central Russia, Kazan. Currently half of the 1.1 million population of Kazan identifies as Muslim. The city is ethnic Russian (48.6%) and ethnic Tatar (47.6%).

Kazan is the capital of the Autonomous Region of Tatarstan, Russia and the eighth most populous city in Russia. It is an amazing mixture of ancient and modern. It will be one of the host cities for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is also an amazing mixture of Islam and Christianity, and so far at peace. If you look at the Kazan Kremlin (on the photo above), you can see Russian Orthodox cathedrals and a giant mosque. 

Of all Turkish speaking people of the former Soviet Union, the Tatars seem to be the most faithful to Islam. For a Tatar the Christian cross is like a swastika, a symbol of violence. It is very difficult to convert a Tatar to Christ because he is raised hating Christianity. (This hostility was helped along by things like Czar Ivan the Terrible sending forces to kill almost every Tatar in the city in 1552.) 

It is amazing that a Reformed church appeared in this city at all, but that is what God did!

Pastor Yuri Levchenko's Report On the Current Tragedy and Hope in Kazan:
On this map you can see where Kazan is located in relation to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Hello Dear American Friend,

I wanted to let you know about my friendship with a very memorable pastor, about his untimely death, and how I am trying to help his family and the remarkable group of people who make up his congregation. I do not know all the details of how his church started, but after we moved here to the Moscow area two years ago pastor Valery of the Reformed Church of Kazan stayed at my house and I got to know him with his family. My wife and his wife Natalia became friends. 

It was a great shock to us when a few weeks ago we got the sad news that Valery had passed away of a heart attack. I immediately felt the need to have the churches of Reformed Presbyterian Church of Eurasia offer their condolences and some financial support for his widow and children, which we did. I also felt that God would have me visit them in their time of need. 
I just returned from this trip a few days ago, and though of course everyone is still in shock at Valery dying when he was only 54 years old, this little church which is surrounded by two great religions that are mostly hostile to them is actually quite stalwart in their faith and plans to continue on as a church, Lord willing. 
Left: Valery |  Right: Valery and his wife Natalia with their children: (L-R) Irina, Anya, and Georgi. (Now ages 9, 12, and 14)
First of all I was impressed because they were so hungry to be taught the word of God. They asked me to speak on Friday night about child rearing from the Bible and to preach on Sunday. Which I did. Then on the spur of the moment they said, "Please teach us again tomorrow night, Saturday." So I remembered some of my teaching on marriage from the seminary and John Mahon and taught them that on Saturday night.
On Sunday I preached on 1 Kings 19:1-12, and on Elijah's faithfulness against great odds, and administered Communion.
Here I am preaching on having hope against great odds.
Praying over the bread of communion with their elder, Vlad.
The second thing that impressed me about them was that there were seven grown men in the church. This is very rare in Russia. All these brothers (photo on the right) expressed their concern for a pastor. Right now there is only an elder and a deacon in the church. The elder's name is Vlad, pictured below with me.

They have two prayer requests now. First is of course, how to raise up or find a new pastor. And the second is about denomination in Russia to join. Our presbytery will try to help them with both needs regardless of what denomination they would like to affiliate with.  
Please pray for our brother, Vlad, as he leads the church in the many decisions for their future.
All church members with Yuri.
These wonderful people are trusting the Lord to not just survive but to grow in this predominately Muslim area of Russia. I am so encouraged by their faith and faithfulness, and I hope you are too!

Pastor Yuri Levchenko
Dimitrov, Russia
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