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Reaching the peoples of the Caucasus with the Gospel

I have visited the region several times and have been surprised each time by the vitality of the small but growing evangelical circles among the Caucasians.

EUROPEAN PERSPECTIVES AUTOR 273/Johannes_Reimer 01 DE FEBRERO DE 2024 17:00 h
A town in Georgia. / Photo: [link]Thomas Malik[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

Where the peoples gather



Hardly any other region in the world fascinates me as much as the Caucasus, a relatively small mountainous territory between the Caspian and Black Seas where 15 million people from 50 nations live in close proximity to each other. They speak different languages and maintain their centuries-old traditions and beliefs. Countries such as Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia and Azerbaijan are among them. A large part of the Caucasus has been within the borders of the Russian Federation since 1864 [1]. And the Caucasus also extends into Turkey and Iran.



The Caucasians are proud people. In the areas that belong to the Russian Federation alone, they have organized themselves into several autonomous republics with their own state language and administration. In addition to Adygeya (capital Maykop), Karachay-Cherkessia (capital Cherkessk), Kabardino-Balkaria (capital Nalchik), North Ossetia-Alania (capital Vladikavkaz), Ingushetia (capital Magas), Chechnya (capital Grozny), Dagestan (capital Makhachkala) also belongs to this group with 14 official languages. In addition to the Azeri, Armenians and Georgians, the largest peoples include Chechens, Avars, Dargins, Ossetians, Ingush, Kumyks and Lesgins. The Stavropol and Krasnodar regions are also administratively part of the Caucasus region.



 



Christian history - Islamic faith



The Caucasus is like a museum of early Christian history. Christian missionaries have been winning people to faith in Jesus here since the 2nd century. Evidence of their impressive work, piety and faith can be found in almost every corner of this region. Old churches, monasteries and cemeteries are silent witnesses to the Christian history of the region. And in Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia and in certain areas of Azerbaijan, large sections of the population still live out their Christian faith.



The vast majority of Caucasian peoples, on the other hand, have converted to Islam over the centuries of the region’s history. Sunni, Shiite and Sufi religious communities characterize the religious landscape today, especially in the southeast of the Caucasus. However, small groups of Jews and representatives of pagan pre-Christian and pre-Islamic religions also exist in the country. For example in Abkhazia.



Attempts to Christianize the Caucasians by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 19th century or by Protestant pietist groups such as the Basel Mission, were largely unsuccessful. The settlement of Christian settlers from Russia and abroad, for example the Germans, encouraged by the Tsarist government did little to change the situation of the locals. Even the atheistic propaganda of the Soviet regime was unable to shake the Caucasians’ strong religious ties to Islam.



 



Christian mission after the collapse of the Soviet Union



Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet empire, the vast majority of Caucasians had remained largely faithful to their traditional beliefs. I wrote my book Prayer for the Peoples of the Soviet Union in 1988, [2] in which I also listed the almost 50 peoples of the Caucasus. With the exception of the traditionally Christian peoples of the Georgians, Udines, Armenians and some of the Ossetians, there were hardly any Christians in most of these peoples. Armenians, Georgians and Udins have organized into a number of different Christian denominations. Most of the Caucasian peoples professed Islam.



Today, after 35 years, many Caucasians are still waiting for the first messengers of the Gospel. But in contrast to the end of the Soviet Union, many things have changed considerably. In many of these peoples there are now larger or smaller groups of committed Christians.



According to the Evangelical Alliance in the region, at the beginning of 2024 there were followers of Jesus in the Russian part of the Caucasus and among them 3,000 Ossetians, 700 Adygeans, 200 Kabardians, 100 Balkars, 70 Chechens, 50 Karakha, 40 Circassians, 15 Abasins, 15 Nogais, 3 Ingush and around 300 representatives of Dagestani peoples [3].



The larger groups among them are all organized into independent congregations. In Dagestan and Chechnya, believers gather in house churches [4]. In Azerbaijan, 7,000 people belong to Protestant churches. In addition to many Russians and Germans, several hundred of them are Azeri.



I have visited the region several times and have been surprised each time by the vitality of the small but growing evangelical circles among the Caucasians. With their few people, they support refugees in the region, tackle social projects such as rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and offer prayer and support to the sick.



Six months ago, I asked the leaders of the regional Evangelical Alliance what their biggest dream was for their region. And their answer warmed my heart. “We need a Caucasian Bible school”, said one of the senior leaders. “Our own people need to be trained here locally, so that they don’t disappear into the vastness of the Christian world like others before them. There is a need here, we need good church workers”.



There are  still relatively few Christians among the Caucasians. They obviously need the help of their brothers and sisters in faith from other regions of the world. And surely also from Europe.



 



A Caucasian mission to help



Christians from several Western countries founded the Caucasian Mission at the beginning of 2024. Through this organization, they want to help their brothers and sisters in the Caucasus to make their mission more effective, plant churches, expand training centers and optimize social projects. And, all Christians, regardless of their denomination, are invited to help.



Every prayer can move mountains in the Caucasus and every donation works a miracle in this region. If many Christians worldwide come together, many things can happen and the Caucasus can once again become a Christian region. Are you interested to join hands with us? If so contact me, the autor of this article under johannes.reimer[at]worldea.org. Thank you.



Johannes Reimer, Professor of Missiology at the University of South Africa (UNISA) and a long-standing member of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).



Notes





1. Eleonora Goldman: Who lives in the Russian Caucasus? In: Russia Beyond, June 10, 2022, https://de.rbth.com/reisen/86340-wer-lebt-im-russischen-kaukasus





2. Johannes Reimer: Prayer for the peoples of the Soviet Union. Information-Background-Possibilities. (Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler Verlag 1988).





3. Ibid, 59-88.





4. Letter from the Russian Evangelical Alliance dated 31.01.2024. Private archive Johannes Reimer.





5. Open doors in Dagestan. https://www.fcjg.de/horizont-blog/155-offene-tueren-in-dagestan (29.01.2024).




 

 





 
 
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