Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, General Secretary of Russian Evangelical Alliance: 'We Expect Mutual Christian Relationship With China'

Vitaly Vlasenko (third from the left), general secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, one of the four-person Russian Protestant delegation, visited CCC&TSPM in Shanghai on April 15, 2024.
Vitaly Vlasenko (third from the left), general secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, one of the four-person Russian Protestant delegation, visited CCC&TSPM in Shanghai on April 15, 2024. (photo: REA)
By Karen LuoMay 13th, 2024

Editor's note: Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, general secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, was a leading member of a historical four-person Russian Protestant delegation to visit China in late April. Having visited Chinese Christian leaders, churches, seminary, and organizations in Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, Vitaly Vlasenko shared his insights about China here and introduced the evangelical situation in Russia, expressing his strong interest in building a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship with the Chinese Christian community. 

China Christian Daily: Please introduce yourself and the Russian Evangelical Alliance.

Vitaly Vlasenko: I’m general secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance (REA) and pastor of a local Baptist church in Moscow. I’m married and have three children. I love horses, farming, and people.

[Founded in 2003,] The Russian Evangelical Alliance (REA) is a group of people, churches, and denominations who are working together for the gospel cause. Its role is to bring unity among evangelicals, serve as a national evangelical voice of the Russian Federation, have the common goal of spreading the gospel in Russia and the entire world, and be an economic solution for the needs of the Russian or world economy. Last but not least, REA is dedicated to bringing peace and reconciliation to each other. 

China Christian Daily: How was your visit to China this time?

Vitaly Vlasenko: I had a great experience again, and China surprised me again in a very good sense. I’m so glad that things are going so well in China right now.

We first visited Shanghai and had a good conversation with Rev. Wu Wei, the president of the China Christian Council (CCC). It seemed that we were the first Protestants from Russia to officially meet the CCC. We also visited the national Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and were well received by the professors and staff. Thirdly, we visited the Amity Foundation, and the printing facility surprised us. Its annual production of millions of Bibles is not only for global needs but also for Chinese people. During digitalization, when everybody starts to read the Bible, printing the word of God is important. On April 18, we met with the leader of the Beijing Christian Council and had a promising conversation. The visit to local churches was also a surprise. This visit was well organized, and we are thankful to our Chinese partners who made it possible.

We hope that, as Russian and Chinese evangelicals, we can learn from each other because we have so many similar approaches to things. We expect to receive a delegation from the China Christian Council to Russia, so they can get to know us. We hope we can help each other, pray for each other, and do some projects together.

China Christian Daily: What have you learned about China through this visit?

Vitaly Vlasenko: First, some of my stereotypes about China and the freedom of religion have slightly changed because I have been hearing all kinds of serious stories of what is going on in China. I just got a glimpse of the whole story, but we usually start with the façade when we see a building. When the time comes and the door is open, we can go inside and move around.

In Shanghai, we attended a Chinese-speaking congregation and the church was full of people. It’s a good sign. We went to another international congregation. The preaching and worship were of high quality, and the sermon preached the pure gospel. It’s wonderful that people in China have good spiritual food.

China Christian Daily: Can you introduce the evangelical situation in Russia to our readers?

Vitaly Vlasenko: While the majority religious group in Russia is the Russian Orthodox Church, evangelicals constitute around 1.5%, or 2%, of the population of the Russian Federation. The evangelical church is a minority group in Russia, but Russian evangelicals live in peace with their nation and with other religious groups. We all pray for the prosperity of Russia so that we can have peace and reconciliation with all the nations and neighboring countries.

The oldest and largest Protestant denomination is the Russian Baptist-Christian Union, followed by the Russian Pentecostal Union, the Charismatic Christian Union, the Evangelical Christian Union, and the Adventists of the Seventh Day. There are small groups like the Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. There are around 30 Chinese churches, one of which is located in Vladivostok.

China Christian Daily: How was the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on the churches in Russia?

Vitaly Vlasenko: This is a difficult question because the military operation divided families, relationships, and churches. All evangelicals wish and pray that this conflict will have a peaceful result. We are very sorry that the Russian Federation needs to do this military activity in Ukraine to bring peace and understanding. We hope for fewer civilian casualties because both sides have lost their sons, fathers, and children. It’s very painful for all the nations involved in this. Some people in Russia view this conflict between Russia and NATOs, but Russian evangelicals are looking for a peaceful and reconciliation dialogue with their neighbors.

China Christian Daily: What was the situation of the Russian church during the pandemic?

Vitaly Vlasenko: During the pandemic, many Russian churches, by force of the law, closed their meetings and churches and organized Internet translation. People were watching their services through telephone or television and even took communion without the presence of the pastor.

Secondly, many evangelical churches took a huge interest in helping others who were in a financially difficult situation. Many volunteers offered help. In the Southern Republic of the Soviet Union, it was difficult to bury people who died of COVID-19 because everybody was afraid to come to their homes, but one church organized two special groups to help them take out and bury the dead. It was a great ministry and a huge help to the local society.

China Christian Daily: Do you have any future plans to visit China?

Vitaly Vlasenko: If the Lord is willing, we hope to visit China next year, bring more pastors from Russia to know China, and continue this relationship. We want this bridge to work on both sides. We may create some websites together to exchange news services and get to know more about each other. We understand that this cooperation needs approval at some levels, especially in China, because this is how it works here. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China have good relationships, but we also need to have good and healthy Christian relationships in an open and trustful atmosphere. We also encourage, especially Chinese churches in big cities, to have translations for Russian-speaking people so that they can understand the gospel in their language and what's going on.

China Christian Daily: What kind of support do you expect from China?

Vitaly Vlasenko: We expect a mutually loving and respectful relationship as brothers and sisters in Christ. Since we have huge borders and shared communism with China, we expect mutual respect and relationships. We are looking for all kinds of relationships, regardless of business exchange, education, culture, social work, Internet technology, and all kinds of green programs. Secondly, we have had huge immigration back and forth in the last ten years. We want to provide Chinese people who want to come to Russia with a good environment and spiritual care, and we have the same wish for those Russians who come to China to have a good environment and spiritual care. We also want to learn more about the Church in China. We need to learn from the Church in China how to proclaim the gospel and how to deal with this quite busy nation that has huge potential in the world. When I was in the United States, I heard somebody say, “God created the Chinese, and the Chinese made everything.” I believe that in the near future, the Church in China can send many missionaries and help to make this world better. As Asia is the most-rapidly developing economic block, we want to see how the Spirit of God is moving in this territory.

China Christian Daily: Do you have any words for Chinese Christians?

Vitaly Vlasenko: Dear Chinese Christians, I learned an important lesson in your country: the difference between the kingdom of God and religion. Religion is looking for members, but the kingdom of God looking for citizens. I hope China will become a wonderful place for Christians. Citizens always look for opportunities to bring good news to the end of the world. Russia is such a place where we need your help to bring in the fire of the gospel. I ask each of you to pray for Russia, just as we Russian Christians pray for China. God bless you, and be faithful stewards. Amen.

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