Free to Be the Church: Russian Christians Doing the Church's Work
Volunteering as a way of giving oneself and finding self-fulfillment is a very new concept for people in Russia and the former Soviet republics. During the Soviet period, people were often asked to “volunteer” for various tasks or jobs. The “request” could have come from any level of authority—from city government to a school principal.
While the tasks often were ones that a worker would have taken care of (cleaning a schoolyard or putting together a party for a coworker), it was not really volunteering, because the people knew they would be punished if they did not do it. Throughout the Soviet Union, the dreaded Black Saturdays were days when people had to “voluntarily” work on their day off, returning to their regular jobs with no additional pay or appreciation.
Not surprisingly, this made them very skeptical about the whole idea of volunteering.
I still remember my high school days when Communism required that students had to be involved in various types of social work throughout the school year. This ranged from helping with younger, primary school children to working on the school newspaper to assisting people who were elderly. A school would get a list of World War II veterans who lived near the school, and students would be asked to go and help them to clean the house or do grocery shopping for them. All these were good things, and I enjoyed doing some of them. The problem was that there was no way to say no. “Volunteering” was compulsory! Then, in 1991, when I was 17, the Soviet Union fell apart.
Nearly two decades later, Russia lives in a sort of ideological vacuum. When the Soviet system collapsed, people had to come up with their own systems of values and ways of interacting with their communities. For Christians, this ideological crisis was not as dramatic as it was for the atheist majority.
Learn more about the work of our sisters and brothers in Russia and the former Soviet Republics by reading the full text of this article in the May/June 2009 issue of Horizons.
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Zhenya Pustoshkina is an international regional director for Youung Life.
photo courtesy of Young Life Russia.
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