Andrei Cherniak is Scripture Union's co-ordinator in the Former Soviet Republics. He tells Andy Bathgate about the central role of the Bible in his journey to faith, and how Scripture Union's ministry is developing in the FSR. AB: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to faith. AC: I was born in Moscow during Soviet times, growing up like any other Soviet child with no idea about God. In fact I was a convinced atheist for the first half of my life. I trained as a physicist, working for 10 years on a top secret Soviet project, developing the thermal protection for the Russian version of the Space Shuttle.

In 1980 I was introduced to a remarkable man, a faithful Orthodox priest, Father Alexander Men (www.alexandermen.com). He was very focussed on the Bible. He talked about Christ, about Biblical situations. Over the course of a year and a half, following many conversations and much reading, I arrived at the point where I wanted to be baptised. The baptism happened in secret, in a home. Even so, around two years later, the KGB found out and I lost my job as a physicist and had to find another job, becoming a computer programmer. From the very first, the Bible worked inside me and brought what was already in my mind into order. Father Alexander Men's love for God's Word was a very important starting place. As preparation for baptism I attended his catechism class which was basically a journey through the Bible. After baptism the group continued to meet, reading the Bible together, praying, discussing. You know - a small group! Within a year I was leading the group, and have continued to lead catechism classes ever since. That's 27 years! AB: Were there young people involved in the group? AC: Yes, people of different ages. Quite soon I was also asked to do something for teens, which of course happened in secret as it was absolutely prohibited. However at the end of the 80s things began to change. With Peristroika it became possible to do things more and more openly, and it was as if Father Alexander was the only person in the Soviet States who was prepared! During the last two years of his life he gave over 400 lectures in institutes and schools and we started to organise regular events for young people, with our group growing rapidly from 10 to 70. We would meet once a week, working through a book of the Bible, sharing our understanding. There would be prayer, and of course tea! AB: Tell us about how you became linked to Scripture Union. AC: I first met Danilo Gay of Scripture Union in 1992 during a Campus Crusade for Christ mission, but at the time, it was just another mission agency and I have to say I did not pay much attention. It was two years later when I was invited to a Bible Forum in Holland that I really made the connection. There were lots of different Bible agencies at the event and I realised that the things that resonated with my thinking were always said by Scripture Union people. At the end of the Forum I had a long conversation with Danilo. Now I was interested! AB: What especially resonated? AC: That the Bible is not just to be published, it is to be read. The respect for the church experience. The importance of small groups. The work with children and young people. Back in Moscow I received a letter from Danilo inviting me to get involved, suggesting that I visit a real live SU movement. He sent me to what he said was the most efficient movement in the world. Scotland of course! I am so grateful to SU Scotland for that visit, when I met Peter Kimber, Vicki Shaver, Kenny McKie, Christine Murison and many others. AB: Tell us about how SU got established across FSR. AC: Danilo and Michael Rowe were already travelling widely, meeting people and trying to establish things. Gregori Stupak in Kiev became involved at this time and Vera Jouravliova in St Petersburg. When Danilo left I took on the role of co-ordinator. AB: SU has been very successful in Ukraine. Why do you think that is? AC: Gregori was the right man! Also the property at Vorzel, where camps are run, has been a very important focus. The unique denominational situation means that there is no one church that dominates. This means there is more flexibility than elsewhere. And the churches have to cooperate to survive. Also protestants are stronger in the Ukraine and the main idea of Scripture Union comes from the protestant tradition. This summer we will run around 100 camps in the Ukraine, with a staff or around 5 and about 600 volunteers involved. The work has developed differently in the different centres. It is often down to the interests and preferences of the different people who are involved. AB: Tell us about how the work developed in your home town of Moscow. AC: The work in Moscow is the weakest. 95% of Russia's wealth is in Moscow and people there are crazy about money! Outside of Moscow people are thirsty and open. In Moscow it is a struggle. The population is 15 million - 3 Scotlands. Until recently we had just two staff workers and now, following the sudden death of Misha Logachev, just one. We have a good team of young volunteers, but they need leadership and it can take years to train up someone to take that key role. Everywhere there is a need to trust the Bible more. There is a new generation growing up. Some read the Bible. Some become priests. Some even continue reading the Bible after they become priests! Change is happening faster than ever before. There is hope! This is the first generation in Russia that has had both literacy and the Bible. AB: In Scotland at the moment I think we face a major challenge about how far we will trust the Bible. We focus a lot on making the message of the Bible relevant, which is necessary but I wonder if we now need more of an element of just allowing God to do his work? AC: I agree. Of course finding the relevance is important, but we also need to trust more, rather than go too far. Also we need to be careful that the church is not reactive, just following where society is leading. Rather, we need to be proactive to bring change. It is difficult to be one step ahead, but I'm sure this is what God wants of us. One of the interesting things about Father Alexander Men was that if you went to him with a question he always answered from the Bible. It wasn't always a direct answer. What he did really, was put us in front of God. AB: The Bible won't always have direct answers to contemporary questions but I agree that you get the perspective that you need by facing up to the reality of God. Are you producing printed materials to help with Bible Reading? AC: We produce printed cards, rather than notes, but not many. The Internet has become hugely important. We post daily readings and have several thousand visitors on a daily basis, some coming to the site, others receiving by email. The resources on the site are very extensive with commentaries and other resources ideal for pastors preparing sermons. We are popular with them! AB: What would you like us to pray for you? AC: The camps season is just starting, so pray for camps. And for the leadership needs in Moscow. Also, what we can do is always limited by money. All of this is important. The situation changes very quickly. Already we have a generation in FSR who read the Bible. This is different from the Orthodox tradition. Prayerful Bible reading is essential.

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SU has staff based at the following centres in FSR:

  • Russia (St Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk and Tyumen)
  • Ukraine (Kiev, Torez and Crimea)
  • Belarus
  • Armenia
  • Tajikistan
The Britain and Ireland Region of SU is linked to and helps support SU work in the Former Soviet Republics and now also in Israel. It is further from Moscow to Novosibirsk than from Moscow to Glasgow! Find out more about SU Britain and Ireland: www.subi.org.uk

Andy Bathgate

Andy has been CEO of SU Scotland since 2001. When he's not busy with us, you'll find him playing with his grandsons or in an art gallery with his wife.