“The Soviet Union is opening up wider and wider to the gospel. Now is the time for Christians in America to take full advantage of the situation.”
This description of the current spiritual state of the Soviet Union comes from Jim Gilbert, an American missionary, who has been travelling inside the Iron Curtain for several years. Gilbert believes that the Soviet Union is on the verge of an awakening of unprecedented proportions akin to the Great Welsh Revival at the turn of this century.
The underground Christian church in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine is presently experiencing great revival. Soviet states such as Georgia and Armenia are currently in a state of social upheaval. This scenario could ultimately lead to the establishment of freer Soviet states and possibly the emergence of independent, democratic European countries separate from the control of the Kremlin.
“Gorbachev is an intelligent man,” says Gilbert. “It is likely that he sees that the communist system will inevitably fail and is in favor of dismantling it while remaining the power broker.” Gilbert sees three possible scenarios for the Soviet Union in the next 10 years. The first two are possible outcomes but they are unlikely to happen. According to Gilbert, “The third one is the most likely to occur by the year 2000.”
The first possibility is that Soviet leadership could fall back into the hands of a conservative communist like Andropov or Brezhnev. Gilbert says this is unlikely and most political analysts agree that Gorbachev will probably remain in power for many years.
The second possibility is that Gorbachev’s reforms will work and that the concept of infusing new life into the old system will be successful. This is Gorbachev’s hope – that somehow capitalism can revive the communist economy of the Soviet Union – but Gilbert disagrees. “It is obvious that perestroika has failed. The word means reconstruction – you can’t revitalize something that is dead.”
The third possibility is a total failure of the communist system and a breakup of the Soviet state into separate self-governing nations. The Ukraine, with a population of almost 50 million people, would be the largest nation in Europe if it is restored to self-rulership. Gilbert believes that this is likely to happen within the next 10 years. Gorbachev, he says, could emerge as a benevolent dictator over the remaining state of Russia and the Siberian states.
Presently, public demonstrations for freedom in the Baltic states, Soviet Georgia, and Armenia are common occurrences. Worker apathy coupled with natural disasters have made the retention of these satellites economically unprofitable. Gilbert believes that the policy of glasnost may be Gorbachev’s way of speeding up a process which he sees as coming to an inevitable conclusion. In the meantime, the new openness has paved the way for mass evangelism by American missionaries.
“The situation in the Soviet Union is a lot like what happened when Peter was in jail in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. The other disciples had been praying for Peter to be released. However, when this finally happened they couldn’t believe that God had answered their prayers. In the same way, Christians in the United States have been praying for 70 years for freedom to preach the gospel in the Soviet Union. Now that it is happening we are being caught off guard.”
Gilbert emphasized that American Christians should be taking bold initiatives, but dispensationalist thinking has gained such a stronghold in American churches that most are unprepared to do anything. “There should be a greater emphasis on victory,” Gilbert said. “I believe that Jesus is concerned with seeing an expression of His glory in the Soviet Union before He returns.”