Friday 29 January


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

In its response to Keston's enquiry about the dispute over the

affiliation of the Russian Orthodox church of the Protecting Veil in

the village of Chaldovar in Chui region of Kyrgyzstan (see Keston

News Service 5 November 1998), the Kyrgyzstan government's State

Commission for Religious Affairs in Bishkek (which is headed by

EMILBEK KAPTAGAYEV) presented Keston with statistics on the number of

religious communities which have achieved reregistration.

In a written statement of 12 December 1998 the Commission explained

to Keston the legal background to registration in Kyrgyzstan: `In

accordance with the Decree of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic of

14 November 1996 �On measures to realise the rights of citizens of

the Kyrgyz Republic to freedom of conscience and religious

confession�, all religious organisations are obliged to undergo

official registration with the State Commission for religious

affairs, [while] in order to receive the status of a juridical person

they undergo registration and reregistration with the organs of

justice (in accordance with the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on the

state registration of juridical persons of 26 June 1996).'

According to the State Commission's figures presented to Keston, as

of mid-December 1998 there were 217 registered religious

organisations in Kyrgyzstan, the overwhelming majority of them

Christian. The Commission reported that 17 of the registered

`organisations' were Muslim, 10 `communities' were Bahai, and there

were also Buddhist `societies' and a Jewish `community'. The State

Commission gave a figure of 188 Christian `organisations', including

39 Orthodox, 35 Jehovah's Witnesses, 21 Pentecostal, 21 Lutheran, 18

Adventist, and 2 Evangelical, as well as Baptists, Old Believers

(including those of the Pomor jurisdiction) and Christian charitable

groups. The State Commission also mentioned the Christian school at

Chui-Tokmok run by the Seventh Day Adventists and the Kyrgyz branch

of the Bible Society.

In view of suggestions that the State Commission might be hostile to

the concept of registering communities of the Russian Orthodox Church

Abroad, the statement was keen to stress that a number of the

registered Christian communities were of foreign affiliation,

including the Antiochia Evangelical Church (whose headquarters are in

Indonesia), the Grace Mission (from the United States), six

Presbyterian Churches and their Emmanuel Theological Institute (from

South Korea), the New Apostolic Church (from Germany), the

International Correspondence Bible University (from the United

States) and the Source of Life Church (based in Austria and


The low number of registered Muslim organisations is explained by the

fact that the country's registered mosques are apparently recorded

under the Muslim Spiritual Board of Kyrgyzstan. There are believed to

be close to 2,000 individual mosques and other Islamic institutions

registered under the Board's jurisdiction.

Ethnic Kyrgyz made up 52 per cent of the population during the 1989

census (the last census conducted in Kyrgyzstan), with other

traditionally Muslim nations (including Uzbeks) making up a further

20 per cent of the population. Russians made up 21 per cent, with a

further 5 per cent shared between Ukrainians and Germans. Since 1989,

out-migration of Russians, Ukrainians and Germans has increased the

proportion of people of traditionally Muslim background to at least

three-quarters of the 4.5 million population.

In the wake of the new legal measures enacted in 1996, religious

communities were required to undergo re-registration both with the

State Commission (which had been established in March 1996) and with

the Ministry of Justice. Although a handful of religious communities,

including communities of Mormons and Baptists, initially had problems

gaining reregistration, there are not known to be any communities

that have applied for registration but failed to gain it.

TURSUNBAI BAKIR UULU, chairman of the Kyrgyz presidential Commission

for Human Rights, claimed at the Warsaw OSCE Human Dimension

Implementation Meeting in November 1998 that registration was open to

all. `If they observe national legislation, all are registered

without obstacle.' He also stressed that `missionaries of foreign

religious organisations' have free access to the media.

The Kyrgyz government has, however, been waging a campaign against

so-called fundamentalist Muslims, the �Wahhabis�. In December 1997

the Ministry of National Security set up special units to control the

activities of �Wahhabis� and other �sects�. The Muslim Spiritual

Board of Kyrgyzstan, a body under close government control, forced

the closure of the Islamic Centre after accusing Centre leader

SADYKJAN KAMALOV, a former mufti of Kyrgyzstan, of being a �Wahhabi.�

Other foreign �Wahhabis� were expelled.

Bakir Uulu also reported in Warsaw that several draft versions

already exist for a new law on religion to replace or amend the 1991

law on Freedom of Belief and Religious Organisations, a process which

has been underway since 1995 (see Keston News Service 22 Sept 97

�Chairman on Kyrgyz Religious Affairs Committee Denies Intent to

Control Religious Life�; 23 De 97 �Kyrgyz Parliamentary Committee

Considers Draft Law on Religion�; 24 Mar 98 �Draft Law on Religion

Ambiguous in its Treatment of "Non-Traditional" Religions�). He said

that consultations had been held with religious organisations. `The

main complication in this draft is not the interrelation of the state

and religion, but the interrelation between traditional religions

(Islam, Orthodoxy) and non-traditional communities (Krishnaism, the

Church of Moon, the Bahais, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad etc.).

We remember the reaction of the international community to the

adoption of a similar law [in 1997] in the Russian Federation. For

this reason, Kyrgyzstan is adopting a special, cautious attitude to

this draft law.' (END)

Friday 29 January


By Xenia Dennen, Keston News Service

The Russian United Methodist Church has just received the papers

declaring it to be registered as a centralised religious organisation

under the country's 1997 law on church-state relations, learned

Keston on 26 January on ringing the Methodist bishop's office in


The Methodist Church in Russia reports that it is attracting young,

intelligent Russians with higher education who very often have been

baptised as infants in the Russian Orthodox Church but did not find a

home there in adulthood. The students Keston talked to at the Moscow

Methodist Seminary said that their questions were not answered by

Orthodox worship, they had been made to feel unwelcome and, in

contrast, had found in Methodism an intelligent environment in which

they could discuss their doubts and develop their faith.

JARRELL TYSON, an American Methodist presbyter, told Keston how

Methodism had reached Russia through the Baltic states and Finland

and continued there from the late nineteenth century until it was

banned by Stalin. Even then contact was maintained with the Soviet

Union through the Estonian Methodist Church which managed to survive.

In 1991, at a time of severe food shortages, the Russian government

and the Moscow Patriarchate invited the Methodist Church back to

Russia when humanitarian aid was offered by UMCOR (the United

Methodist Committee on Relief). This year the Methodists are planning

to bring in tons of aid from the United States and the European

Union, said pastor Tyson.

The American pastor has himself travelled throughout the Russian

Federation, he told Keston, supporting new bible-study groups--55

have been organised-and building up the 35 churches which have been

registered. He acknowledged that 'some local churches have been

refused registration': in Voronezh there are three churches of which

two have been registered, but the third is having difficulties over

registration as are Methodist churches in Smolensk and Novgorod.

Pressure not to register Methodist groups was coming from the Russian

Orthodox Church, which refused to have any further contact with the

Methodist Church when a bishop--Bishop Minor from former East

Germany-was appointed to Russia in 1992. The Russian Orthoodox

Church does not recognis the Methodists as 'a real church' because

'nowhere in the world are the Methodists supported by the state',

said pastor Tyson. Nevertheless he expressed confidence that the

difficulties which face some congregations in getting registered

would be overcome once the Methodist Church as a whole received its

registration as a 'centralised' organisation.

The Annual Conference (under the overall leadership of the General

Conference--the governing body of the United Methodist Church)

covering the Russian Federation has five districts, with a

superintendent in charge of each. The first conference for Russia was

held in 1997, and the next one is due to meet in May this year.

Bishop Minor and the five superintendents, of whom four are Russian,

form the central structure of the Russian United Methodist Church.

Jarrell Tyson acts as the middle man between American groups of

churches and groups in Russia, finding out what needs to be supported

at a local level. Much Methodist humanitarian aid is being channelled

through a Russian network of Peace Fund groups--a network established

under the Soviet regime-with which the Methodist Church in America is

cooperating, said Pastor Tyson. The recipients of aid are mostly

institutions for children, such as children's homes and orphanages.

As a result of the money and help brought by American Methodists,

volunteers in Russia who help the Peace Fund have in many cases

become interested in Methodism itself and have consequently formed

bible-study groups, explained Pastor Tyson. He and his wife visit

these groups once a month and a monthly income from the Methodist

Church is given to the Peace Fund to support these visits. Pastor

Tyson does not believe that aggressive evangelism works, so he puts

no pressure on these groups to form churches; he sees his primary

goal to be that of teaching people about God and the bible, and sees

as secondary the goal of forming churches. In Orel, Pastor Tyson told

Keston, a certain Sergei was so impressed by the work and behaviour

of a group of Methodists renovating a building for a children's home

that he became interested in the group's motives. Eventually he

became interested in Methodism itself and four months ago formed four

bible-study groups which Pastor Tyson recently visited.

In Tomsk Pastor Tyson and his wife stay with a family of university

teachers who have formed a bible-study group. Altogether there are

3-4 adult groups there, as well as a student discussion group and a

large group of children with whom Mrs Tyson works. In Volgograd,

Pastor Tyson said, a bible-study group has been formed by a girl who

had come into contact with Methodism in Nizhni-Novgorod. So

Methodism is spreading in an organic way, said Pastor Tyson, through

example and word of mouth.

One young Russian Methodist pastor in Moscow, however, in a

conversation with Keston seemed sceptical about the value of these

Peace Fund groups because he felt the church was attracting members

through offering aid. He said that he himself aimed to form a well-

instructed core of believers within his church and that he had

stopped the regular distribution of food before his services. PASTOR

VERA AGAPOVA in Vologda, where a Methodist congregation was

registered in 1996 and meets in a flat, said that she finds the

association between the Methodist Church and the Peace Fund

oppressive. Humanitarian aid from north- west Texas is channelled

through the Peace Fund in Vologda, and has been used to help a

children's home and build children's playgrounds, but, complained

Pastor Agapova to Keston, the Peace Fund does not admit that the

money has come from a religious organisation and takes all the

credit. Pastor Agapova's husband Sergei had worked as an interpreter

for American Methodists invited to Vologda by the Peace Fund, and

after two years was converted to Methodism and then trained to be a

pastor at a Methodist seminary in Estonia. After his death his wife,

a teacher of Russian language and literature, decided to train as a

pastor herself and studied for one year at the Moscow Methodist

seminary as an external student.

'We are trying to create a Russian church', said Pastor Tyson, so a

minimum number of leaders are foreign. Nevertheless, at the

beginning in the early 1990s, there was a strong Korean element in

the denomination. PASTOR CHOI YO HAN exercised a powerful ministry

and influenced a young Armenian student, NIKOLAI DALAKYAN, who is now

working as a Methodist pastor in Moscow. Today the Korean Methodist

Church (KMC)--independent of the UMC--from South Korea has three

congregations in Moscow. The UMC has only one congregation (called

the Moscow Region United Methodist Church) which is entirely Korean

(i.e. consisting of Russian Koreans, American Koreans, and Koreans

from South Korea); it is led by PASTOR INKI LEE, an American Korean.

His assistant, PASTOR JUNSUNG PARK, was brutally attacked a few weeks

ago in south-west Moscow where he lived, and is now seriously ill in

an American hospital.

Today nearly all pastors, said Pastor Tyson--of which there are about

forty--are from the Russian Federation, and in addition 22 young

people with higher education are training at the Moscow Methodist

Seminary on a three-year course. Nevertheless Pastor Tyson felt that

the church did not yet have enough pastors--some of whom are lay

'local pastors'--for all the groups which have now become churches.

For example, he said that in Ekaterinburg there are three churches,

with one in a prison where the prison administrator even offered to

build premises just outside the prison for Methodist gatherings.

Keston visited the office of a Methodist church which meets in the

Research Institute of Civil Building Construction near Belyayevo

metro station in Moscow. The office is tucked away on the fifth

floor, defended by a fearsome padlocked iron grill, while on Sundays

the congregation holds its weekly service in a lecture room on the

second floor. This congregation is led by the young Armenian pastor

Nikolai Dalakyan, who only recently finished his three-year course at

the Methodist seminary in Moscow. He was brought up in Baku,

attended the Military Engineering Academy in St Petersburg and served

in the army, which he left to return to Baku where he continued his

education in metallurgy. During the Nagorno-Karabakh war his family

had to flee to Armenia, so he finished his education in Yerevan. In

his twenties he was interested, he said, in eastern religions and Zen

Buddhism, occasionally attending the Armenian Apostolic Church. In

1991 he came to Moscow; one day in 1993 he went to a Methodist

service where one of his relations played the piano and where he

heard the preaching of PASTOR CHOI YO HAN, an elderly Korean from

America. Dalakyan told Keston that Pastor Han's powerful sermons made

this the turning point in his life. He then began to help this

pastor and eventually decided to train for ordination.

Keston attended a Sunday communion service led by Pastor Dalakyan.

About forty were in the congregation--mostly young, apart from a few

elderly women, one of whom sat all the way through, not singing or

taking part. All were Russian except for one American family. A

young trainee woman pastor led the singing which was accompanied by

professionally recorded music. After the service those who had

organised and led the worship gathered upstairs in the office where

tea and cake were served. Keston interviewed MKHITAR KHACHETRYAN, a

prosperous-looking Armenian in his late 20s. He told Keston that he

had been baptised into the Armenian Apostolic Church but preferred

the Methodist Church because of its order and honesty.

VALERI PATKEVICH, in his third year at the Methodist Seminary, was

from Voronezh, had been a teacher of languages at university level

(he was remarkably fluent in English, French, German and Spanish),

and had travelled extensively in Europe. He told Keston that after

meeting a Korean Methodist pastor (of Russian origin), SLAVA KIM, he

found that his questions about the Christian faith had been answered.

His mother, an Orthodox believer, began praying for him, he said,

'and God began to answer my prayers'. Two years ago he formed a

bible-study group of non-believers who he said all eventually became

Christians. In his year at the seminary there were nine about to

complete their course, he told Keston. Pastor Dalakyan's

congregation had been the largest in the Moscow region with 200

members, he estimated, but many in those days came mainly to collect

the bread which was regularly distributed. Valeri related how Pastor

Dalakyan had taken 'the heroic step' of giving up the distribution of

bread, whereupon the congregation immediately lost half its members.

While Pastor Dalakyan was on study leave in America, Valeri and LEV

MIKHAILOV-another young man training to be a Methodist minister-

preached. 'Now we have a normal congregation,' said Valeri, 'and aim

to reach members of the intelligentsia.' He had sampled the Baptist

Church before becoming a Methodist, but 'I found it hard to

communicate there,' he said. In Methodism he found 'a common

language' where his teachers talked to him as an equal.

Keston also visited the Methodist seminary at 2-Goncharny pereulok in

Moscow where the seminary students seemed to form a warm community of

mutual support. The seminary's director TOBIAS DIETZE, son of a

German Methodist minister, said that since 1992 there had been

'steady growth' of Methodist groups and churches. The seminary had

been founded in the spring of 1995 after which he was appointed that

autumn. It was difficult to find qualified staff in Russia, he said,

so he brought in lecturers from the west to lead seminars for 2-6

weeks. At present there are 22 students at the seminary, and 15 have

graduated since 1995 (out of these 12 became pastors). A large

proportion of these were women. The director of the St Andrew's

Biblical College, ALEKSEI BODROV, told Keston that he had been

approached by Tobias Dietze for help over staffing at the Methodist

seminary. One of the Biblical College's teachers, YELENA BELYAKOVA,

a church historian and traditionalist Orthodox, had gone to teach at

the Methodist seminary, Mr Bodrov said.

TATYANA MISKE, one of the students, had been drawn to train as a

Methodist minister through the lively congregation in Samara led by

PASTOR SPEKTROV. Her mother, who had trained in Tallinn to be a

minister, had also influenced her. VLADIMIR KONEVETS, another

student, told Keston that he had been a television journalist and

came from Stavropol. He had been baptised into the Orthodox Church

in 1991 when he was forty, had been led to the Methodist church in

1993 by UMC missionaries, mostly retired American pastors, and last

year a new church had been registered. He had not felt welcome in

the Orthodox Church: 'they didn't care, whereas the Methodists came

to us'. Another student, LYUDMILA MISHINA, from Karelia, had

graduated from Leningrad University and then worked as a journalist.

Later she became a social worker in Novgorod and after meeting some

Methodists from Colorado, she told Keston, decided 'I have to change

direction, and I began to study again at 40'. She was impressed by

an American woman pastor and saw what she called Christianity in

action. YUGAI TEZEI, a middle-aged Korean, born in Tashkent, who is

also training at the seminary, told Keston that his family had been

deported to Central Asia under Stalin. He was an engineer with a

further degree, he said, and a member of the Moscow Region United

Methodist Church.

All the students at the Methodist seminary, commented its director

Tobias Dietze, had higher education, and were teachers, musicians,

engineers, journalists or social workers. Unlike its parent body in

England which has traditionally been associated with the poor, the

uneducated and the underprivileged, the Methodist church in Russia

was not finding much response in rural areas and was mostly

attracting educated city-dwellers. He added: 'We don't want to become

a middle-class church.' (END)