Following “historic” meeting with Church in China, head of Russia Evangelical Alliance hopes for continuing dialogue, exchange

By CDI Staff |
Russian delegation visiting China Christian Council
The Russian Evangelical Alliance delegation visiting the China Christian Counci represented by Rev. Vitaly Vlashenko (middle-left) and Rev. Wu Wei (middle). | TSPM&CCC

“We hope that, as Russian and Chinese evangelicals, we can learn from each other because we have so many similar approaches to things,” said Rev. Vitaly Vlashenko, General Secretary of the Russia Evangelical Alliance (REA), following the first official visit of a Russian evangelical delegation to China on April 12-20.

In an interview with China Christian Daily, he said that Christians in Russia and China could benefit from stronger connections as they both live in communist countries, share one of the longest borders in the world, and have seen significant migration back and forth in the past ten years. And while the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China maintain good relationships, he said, “we also need to have good and healthy Christian relationships in an open and trustful atmosphere.”

Visiting Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, the four Russian leaders met with representatives of the China Christian Council (CCC), Nanjing Seminary and Amity Christian Charitable Foundation, which prints Bibles for many national Bible societies, including the Russian Bible Society. They also visited several local churches.

Apart from Vlashenko, a Baptist minister, the delegation included Dr. William Yoder, a journalist and writer for the REA who also represented the Omsk-based Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Urals, Siberia and the Far East (ELCUSFE), Rev. Leonid Kartavenko who chairs the Council of the All-Russian Fellowship of Evangelical-Christians (VSEKh) and co-chairs the Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia, and Rev. Igor Karasev, the head bishop of VSEKh who leads the Expert Council of the Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia.

In Shanghai, CCC President Rev. Wu Wei welcomed the Russian leaders and shared about the landscape of Christianity in China, the background of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and current challenges of the Church in China.

“Three-Self” originally refers to a mission principle going back to the 1800s and stands for self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation, which emphasizes financial independence from foreign sources and indigenous mission-efforts. The CCC&TSPM represent the 38 million members of government-registered churches and is a member of the World Council of Churches. The unregistered churches – so-called “house churches” – are independent from the government and are estimated in the tens of millions.

Wei also talked about the ongoing campaign to sinicize Christianity, an effort by the Chinese Communist Party-led government to make Christianity more Chinese. (Christian Daily International has previously reported about the impact on churches with concerns about the increasing erosion of religious freedom.)

Thanking the guests for their “historic visit”, Wei highlighted the importance of developing and maintaining bi-lateral relations between the Russian and Chinese churches, according to comments by Vlashenko to Christian Daily International.

“Since 2017, the REA has been establishing good and friendly relations with the [Chinese churches],” Vlashenko said. “In the summer of 2017, the first small delegation of the REA visited China. Since then, there has been correspondence and exchange of information with the CCC.”

This year’s first official visit came at the invitation of the CCC, he noted, and expressed his hope to welcome a Chinese delegation to Russia in due course.

“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,” he said.

In his interview with China Christian Daily, Vlashenko specified his plans, saying, “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.”

He hopes for a relationship of mutual respect and mutual blessing, which will benefit believers in both countries. “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,” he said.

“We encourage, especially Chinese churches in big cities, to have translations for Russian-speaking people so that they can understand the gospel in their language,” he added, and said he hopes that Russian believers can learn more from believers in China.

“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,” he said.

He added that he learned an important lesson in China, “The difference between the kingdom of God and religion. Religion is looking for members, but the kingdom of God is 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,” he said.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, Vlashenko was also asked how it affects churches in Russia. Acknowledging the deep pain, he said that “all evangelicals wish and pray that this conflict will have a peaceful result.”

“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,” he added, and emphasized that “Russian evangelicals are looking for a peaceful and reconciling dialogue with their neighbors.”

Shortly after the war began two years ago, Vlashenko sent an open letter, which was published by the World Evangelical Alliance, in which he lamented the military invasion and prayed for forgiveness.

“Today, as a citizen and as General Secretary of the Russian Evangelical Alliance, I apologize to all those who have suffered, lost loved ones and relatives, or lost their place of residence as a result of this military conflict,” he wrote at that time, emphasizing the “deep sorrow, bitterness and regret for decisions taken by the leadership of my country.”

“My prayer is that you will find strength from the Lord to extend your hand of solidarity and forgiveness, so we can live as the people of God to our world. May our heavenly Father help us all.”