Moscow -- After four years in limbo, the "Euro-Asian Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists" (EAF) appears to have roared back into existence. Between 9 and 16 April it hosted a Jerusalem gathering of nearly 80 delegates from countries stretching all the way from the USA to Tadzhikistan.
The Russian delegation consisted of 12 members including newly-elected President Peter Mitskevich, Senior Vice-President Viktor Ignatenkov and outgoing President Alexey Smirnov.
The newly-elected President of the Federation is seminary head Leonid Mikhovich from Minsk/Belarus; his deputy is Gia Kandelaki from the "Evangelical Baptist Association of Georgia". Confirmed in his position as General-Secretary was Yuri Apatov, an ethnic-Jewish Russian who had moved from Moscow to Israel in late 2015. It was this transition, along with the eruption of enmity between Ukraine and Russia following Maidan in February 2014, which had brought the work of the Federation to a virtual stand-still.
A Ukrainian delegation was naturally also present, but significant is the fact that for the first time neither a Russian nor Ukrainian resident is among the Federation's top leaders. Ukraine and Russia field the largest Baptist Unions by far. The EAF no longer qualifies as Moscow-based; its base can now be best described as Jerusalem or Minsk.
Many of the delegates, including Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, do not need visas to enter Israel. According to the press release, participants revelled not only in the sunshine, but also in the significance in being in the Holy Lands.
At least since Gorbachev, evangelical Zionism has made major inroads among the Baptists of Ukraine and Russia, perhaps most strongly though in Pentecostal groupings. A detractor, the US-American Stephen Sizer, claimed in an article on 5 January 2018 that the vast majority of Zionists are actually Christian: "Fifty million evangelicals joining in common cause with five million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven." He points out that the dissident "Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism" from August 2006 had been signed by the heads of Coptic, Orthodox, Episcopal and Lutheran denominations in the Middle East. Of Israel's population of 8,8 million, only 74,5% (6,55 million) are Jewish. The native Palestinian Christians of Israel - including their Baptist sector - reject Zionism.
The press release confirms that the Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association had largely funded the event. Interestingly, the SGA had aided the official founding of the Evangelical Baptist Association of Georgia in October 2012. (See our press release from 14 June 2013.) One of its officials, Gia Kandelaki, now has a leading position with the EAF.
The founding of the Georgia's Evangelical Baptist Association was one result of the medical doctor Levan Akhalmosulishvili's split with the more-liberal, European Baptist Federation-related "Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia" in 1997. At its founding in 2012, the Baptist Association had only 600-800 adult members. This Georgian divide between conservatives and liberals is mirrored in the not always intentional divide between the EAF and Europe's mainstream, Amsterdam-based European Baptist Federation (EBF).
The EAF has long regarded itself as the non-legal successor to the erstwhile "All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists" which suffered its demise along with the USSR in 1991. It sees its calling in prolonging the fraternal relations which had existed between the Baptists churches of the various republics during the Soviet period. That makes it a type of Russian-speaking, conservative alternative to the English-speaking EBF.
(The author is a reporter from the Russian Evangelical Alliance and the article was originally published on 24 May 2018.)