What do you think has been essential in the Irkutsk church-plant making it to the 20 year mark?
JS: In the very beginning, we tried to instill basic values of loving Jesus, meeting with Him daily, intentionally investing in discipleship relationships through Lifegroup and being committed to reaching out to the lost and broken of their city. The leaders and friends have kept these values personally and corporately over these last twenty years. Basically, they are doing what is often referred to as the great commandment and the great commission – loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, loving our neighbors as ourselves and making disciples of all nations.
How would you describe the believers in the Russian church? What do they have that we need?
JS: When I think about the Russian people, I think about perseverance. They are submitted and committed to their convictions. Many of our leaders were saved at 13, 14, or 15 years old, and many of them are still serving in the church and walking with God. Though Russia has only been opened to the Gospel in the last twenty years, it is still a minority group as far as evangelical believers go. Our guys have not only persevered but have stood strong, pure and true in the journey. I am so proud of them!
What is exciting to you about going to Irkutsk?
JS: Anytime you see a promise fulfilled, there is great joy. Isaiah 54:2-3 says, “Enlarge the place of your tent; Stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; Lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities.” God spoke to us in 1991 to begin planting churches in Russia, and what’s so awesome is one church has planted four other church plants, started a rehab center and continued to grow and be healthy. It is incredible to see a promise God spoke over twenty years ago fulfilled and the church still thriving.
Has anything that has happened in Irkutsk surprised you? How would you say it matches up to your expectations and vision from twenty years ago?
JS: One of the most encouraging things has been their drug rehab center. They have opened up their doors to restoration for those who are addicted and broken. Several of their churches say up to 90% of their people are HIV positive. People are coming out of a broken lifestyle, getting saved and their families in turn are also getting saved. We didn’t know this incredible place would become such an integral part of our work there. It is always exciting to see God reach into broken lives and set people free.
How can we be praying for the church in Irkutsk?
JS: The Church in Irkutsk wants to continue to reach out to their nation and to the nations of the earth. They have continued to make short term trips to different cities in Russia and are taking an international trip as well. Their desire is to continue to raise-up leaders who desire to church-plant outside of Russia. The Russian mentality is a little different than that of America; most of the Russian people do not have vision for or know people who have been sent from their own locale, and we want to be a part of seeing that vision come to pass.
Can you share some other highlights from your trip?
JS: Our time in Irkutsk was quick, only three evenings. I preached the first two nights and Joe Ewen preached the last one. On the second night, we presented a plaque, gifts and affirmation to Alexey and Rita Kuschenko, who lead the church and the movement. They then surprised me by giving me a key to the city. They said, “You guys came and unlocked the key to our hearts and the key to Irkutsk, and we want to give you this key to the city for what has happened. But we also believe God is giving you this key as faith for new nations that have yet to be unlocked.” It was a powerful moment, realizing this church we have raised from birth was turning around praying, prophesying and blessing our future. It was so exciting and encouraging.
Eighteen months ago at the 20th year celebration of the church plant in Ulan Ude, I prayed for a couple who could not have kids and were broken over it. One week after I prayed for them they got pregnant. During this trip they asked me to pray over and bless their child.
One night during the service, many of the unbelievers who were invited prayed to receive Christ. One lady stood at the front, even before we started ministering, and repeated loudly in front of everybody a simple prayer to give her life to Jesus. God is at work, and it matters that we continue to reach out to those who have never heard; the fruit of it is above and beyond what we could ever ask or think.
Jimmy Seibert is the Senior Pastor at Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas. He recently traveled to Irkutsk, Russia to celebrate the 20 year anniversary of the Antioch church plant there.
Hear more about the Antioch story in Jimmy’s books: The 3 Loves and Passion and Purpose (to be released in November).