Despite Russian authorities detaining three outreach teams, the ministry known as Mission Eurasia, reports nearly a half million people have been affected by the group’s month-long World Cup 2018 outreach.
The organization reported in a news release that authorities in Moscow, Kaliningrad and Ekaterinburg detained the teams for talking with people and passing out Christian literature in public places.
Mission Eurasia’s Russia director Pavel Tokarchuk said law enforcement released them without filing charges but did keep their literature, and it’s not known if they’ll face further repercussions.
However, despite those incidents, Mission Eurasia said participants in the evangelistic outreach handed out around 500,000 pieces of literature, including a special-edition Gospel of John.
In addition, approximately 400 churches hosted World Cup viewing parties and soccer competitions in 50 cities around Russia.
The ministry expects record turnout at upcoming live screenings of the final soccer games.
Tokarchuk said Russians are more willing these days to discuss spiritual issues because of national pride in hosting the World Cup and the success of the national team in the tournament.
“People are excited, and that has provided a real opportunity for sharing the Gospel,” he said.
One example of outreach involved a man by the name of Arsen, a shoe-seller in Omsk, Russia. While chatting with Mission Eurasia volunteers, he expressed frustration with the Russian soccer team’s coach.
“We then told him about a team that could change the entire course of humanity, because they have the best coach: Jesus,” said the local coordinator of Mission Eurasia’s School Without Walls (SWW) leadership training ministry.
The coordinator said after Arsen received a copy of the Gospel of John, he “asked several questions about what he was reading in God’s Word, because he wanted to make sure he understood everything correctly.”
According to the news release, Mission Eurasia’s outreach is viewed as an innovative way to share the Gospel despite Russia’s restrictions, considered “part of a crackdown on religious freedom in the country.”
“Many Christians have found a new courage and boldness for sharing their faith,” Tokarchuk said. “We are praying they will continue to be encouraged to spread the good news.”
He also said by passing out scriptures and Christian literature, participants show that they believe Russia’s Constitution supports their right to share their faith even though legislation passed two years ago puts limits on evangelism for officially recognized churches.
Ultimately, Mission Eurasia believes the World Cup ministry will reach up to 3 million people. Leaders have in the works thorough follow-up programs, anticipating 1,800 home Bible study groups, as well as sports and day camps for up to 15,000 children.
Technology has played a part in the World Cup outreach. Participants distributed Russian-language scriptures, including a New Testament that contained a QR code link to more discipleship resources and information on how to get to a local church.