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Russia’s churches screen 2018 FIFA World Cup

Russian president Vladimir Putin holding the FIFA World Cup Trophy at a pre-tournament ceremony in Moscow, September 2017. Courtesy photo.

More than 400 evangelical Churches across Russia have opened their buildings for sports lovers to view the month-long 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The strategy, Churches say, was adopt as a new evangelism plan to avoid the country’s hostile laws on missionary activities.

So since the law requires evangelism to be confined to officially recognized churches and to be led by Russian nationals, the country’s Christian minority in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other host cities, decided that’s what they’ll do. If they can’t reach out, they’ll get World Cup fans to come to them.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is currently ongoing in Russia starting from 14 June and will end with the final match on 15 July 2018. The country was awarded the hosting rights on 2 December 2010.  A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 venues located in 11 cities.

Christianity Today reports that since many of the popular matches have sold out, the churches will offer fans a place to cheer on the Russian team (soccer is second only to hockey in popularity in the former Soviet state) on the big screen as well as snacks like popcorn and sunflower seeds, and, of course, God’s Word.

Part of a campaign through US-based Mission Eurasia, hundreds of church volunteers hope to distribute biblical texts at the church events, including Russian New Testaments with special discipleship materials, and to recruit community members to attend follow-up Bible studies and youth camps.

The viewings, which may sound like standard evangelistic outreach for Americans whose churches regularly host Super Bowl parties and other community events, represent a fresh approach to ministry for the small community of Russian evangelicals, who number just 1 percent of the population.

Russia is listed as one of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom because of its ongoing crackdown against religious minorities.

While newer churches tend to be more engaged with community activities, it’s “really unusual” for established evangelical churches to open their doors for this kind of event, Sergey Rakhuba, Mission Eurasia president told Christianity Today.

“‘How come you can use the building not to worship and glorify God, but to watch the games that are useless?’ That’s what some older pastors would say,” said Rakhuba. “Young people connect to the opportunity, and they convince their leaders to use this strategy.”

The 2018 World Cup in Russia isn’t the first time government, sports, and the church have clashed, according to Christianity Today.  A decade ago, evangelical ministries adjusted their approach when the Olympic Games were held in Communist China, encouraging Christian athletes to share the gospel with fellow participants rather than sending missionaries to the event or organizing large-scale distribution of literature.

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