Baptist union in Russia ends partnership, cuts ties to IMB
April 13 2001 by Trennis Henderson , Associated Baptist Press

Friday, April 13, 2001

Baptist union in Russia ends partnership, cuts ties to IMB

By Trennis Henderson Associated Baptist Press ROCHESTER, Minn. - An international missions partnership between the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention and the Irkutsk Russian Baptist Union has come to an abrupt halt. The partnership ended when Russian Baptist leaders in Irkutsk unilaterally voted to withdraw from the partnership and to sever the union's relationship with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB).

The international partnership, officially launched last year, was scheduled to continue through 2002. The end of the partnership initially was reported in the March issue of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist newspaper.

"This was an unexpected move on the part of the Russian Baptist leadership in Irkutsk," said Glen Land, state missions director for the Minnesota-Wisconsin convention. "The issues involved were local to that particular province of Russia. There was no indication on our part that it was coming."

Land said the Russian Baptists greeted volunteers who participated in a mission trip to Irkutsk last year with "genuine warmth and affection"

"Our firsthand contacts with the Russian Baptists while we were there (were) positive," he said.

Land said Joe Kelley, an IMB missionary serving in Irkutsk, indicated that the crux of the problem was a philosophical difference between the Baptist union and the IMB concerning how mission work should be done.

"We got caught up in a bigger controversy between Baptists in Irkutsk and the IMB," Land said. "Our partnership became one of the casualties. For us, it's been an inconvenience but that's part of the price of partnership missions overseas."

Mike Norfleet, the IMB's Richmond, Va.-based associate for Central and Eastern Europe, said IMB officials and state convention leaders "did everything they could to make the partnership work."

Citing conflicting priorities with at least one senior pastor in Irkutsk, Norfleet said some pastors primarily are interested in receiving financial assistance while the IMB's priority is starting new churches.

"In that particular area, they're struggling with exactly what do to with Americans still," Norfleet said. "They had another agenda rather than the partnership."

Despite the setback, Norfleet added: "There still is hope there. We are praying we can help them see the long-term benefit of working together."

Norfleet said the Baptist union's decision "is not typical of Russia or Ukraine where they have a very warm, open-door attitude toward us. Hopefully we can build a foundation for relationships down the road."

Land said convention leaders in Minnesota-Wisconsin already are exploring other options for partnership efforts in Russia.

"We are hoping to get a new partnership in some other area of Russia, probably still in Siberia but not in Irkutsk," he said. Leaders hope to present a new partnership proposal to convention messengers in November.

"When you sign up for one of these things, you have to be pretty flexible," Land said. "I don't see any widespread dismay about it. We'll go where the doors are open. ... I wouldn't discount the possibility of us going back to Irkutsk some day."

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4/13/2001 12:00:00 AM by Trennis Henderson , Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments
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