Why Should We Pray for the 2018 World Cup in Russia?

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Christian Leader

Today the 2018 FIFA World Cup is starting in Russia. Why should this interest not only football fans, but also all Christians around the world?

You might be surprised by the title of this article that has been written by a Ukrainian and is addressed to the global evangelical community. Russia wages wars in Ukraine and Syriaand commits acts of sabotage in Europe and the USA. But its major front is against its own people that are being held captive in fear and slavery. That is why for many people, including myself, the World Cup is causing mixed feelings, although it promises to be a grand event. Many people compare it to the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936. In both cases, guests from all around the world are hosted by countries that violate international agreements, as well as rights and freedoms; they also commit offenses against other countries, their own people, and against humanity and humaneness. 

Meanwhile, tickets to the World Cup are sold out and people are already on their way there. As for the people who see the crime of the regime, they choose to quietly pray about better times for Russia, for the freedom to share the gospel, and for a revival. Some don’t want to miss the show, and others stay away because they don’t want to be accomplices in the crimes of the Kremlin regime. 

I understand bothpositions and would like to suggest a third opportunity that this event presents to Christians all around the world. We should regard this sports event as a unique opportunity for evangelism. What if this is the last open door for preaching the gospel in Russia? It’s happening in a country that is on a path of isolation and hostility, that restricts its citizens’ freedoms and discriminates against all “unorthodox” people.

It’s possible that this door of opportunity will close one day, but it’s still open today. The words of the Apostle Paul come to my mind: “for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:9, ESV).
The situation in Russia is very much the same. It’s not by accident that the speaker for all Russian Protestants, Bishop Sergey Ryakhovskiy (apart from heading up the biggest evangelical association of Russia, he is also a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and a member of the Presidential Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations), is encouraging all Russian churches to join in fasting and prayer on June 17 “to chasten the adversaries”: “Today we are witnessing evangelical churches in different regions of the country being put under pressure. According to information from the lawyers of the Slavic Center for Law and Justice, in the last two years,there have been more than 600 cases! Basically today we are talking about discrimination and impediment to freely profess one’s faith and worship the Lord in a number of Russian regions.… We believe that not only is it our legal right, but also that the blessing of our land and prosperity of the people directly depends on how much the country and the people are open to preaching the gospel.”
I don’t know who the bishop referred to when he talked about “adversaries,” but fasting and prayer are very timely. 

While churches will be fasting and praying for freedomto share the gospel, the 2018 World Cup will be in full swing (the tournament takes place from June 14 to July 14). 
It’s a rare window of opportunity to use public events for sharing the gospel. Sergey Rakhuba, President of Mission Eurasia, says, “At a time when the Russian government is increasing its restrictions on religious freedom, we see this World Cup outreach as a strategic moment to equip the evangelical church in Russia for potentially reaching millions of lost men, women, and children. We believe that God is holding open this door for us in the West to partner with faithful Christian churches in Russia, to help those who suffer under the darkness of sin and despair. I know from my own experience that dozens of people can be reached through just one Bible.” 

Isn’t the World Cup a “wide door”? Couldn’t our prayers bring victory of the gospel in the World Cup? Will the fact that there are “adversaries” make us fearful?

We know from church history in the former Soviet Union that persecution from the government fueled the churches’ fervor for missions, and external challenges motivated young leaders to be even more creative in sharing the gospel. I remember that during Soviet times believers used all events for spreading the gospel and turned wedding ceremonies and funeral processions into massive evangelism. Why can’t we use their experience? And this is exactly what Russian churches are planning to do: they will open their church doors, establish fan zones, and offer tea to the guests while sharing the gospel with them.

We can’t be there because the activity of foreign missionaries is extremely limited, but we can help local evangelical churches to use this World Cup as an opportunity for large-scale evangelism. Without supporting Kremlin policy, we can support local churches and ordinary people in their spiritual search. This is the reason we should be interested in the World Cup and pray for Russian churches and Russian people. It’s a big and “wide door” for witnessing to millions. And although there are “many adversaries,” there are many more friends. I am sure you are among friends. Why don’t we provide friendly assistance in furthering the gospel cause in Russia? Why don’t we show Christian solidarity with those who – without fear of repression – are using the last opportunities for evangelism in this immensely vast country?

I don’t play soccer and am not rooting for soccer teams, but this World Cup is special. I will be rooting for the gospel and its ministers. Are you with me?
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