From Russia with love
A strange dream became life-changing reality for KGB officer’s son
Alexey Vlasikhin was just 11 when he began to long for God. The old state church was ritualistic and that did not satisfy him at all. And everything else was effectively banned.
His dad was a KGB officer, so there was no help from home.
“Even before I came to the church I had a strange dream to be a church minister.” – Alexey Vlasikhin
Then the thaw came. Perestroika, they called it. His native land was Russia, and dramatic events in faraway Moscow sent ripples deep into the provinces where young Alexey lived.
Those events allowed missionaries, Swedish ones, into his town.
“I was 15 when I was invited to evangelistic meetings which were led by the missionaries. When I was 16, I came to church, and they were praying for someone else, and suddenly I understood ‘he is here for me and he loves me personally.’
“I understand that as my starting point in consciously following Jesus.”
After studying political science in Nizhny Novgorod – the ancient city once called Gorky – in western Russia, Vlasikhin went to the evangelical seminary in St Petersburg.
To be a Christian in Russia is to be part of a very small minority …
“Even before I came to the church I had a strange dream to be a church minister,” he recalls. Except he had dreamt as a boy of wearing robes instead of the street-wear of a Russian Protestant. “But when I was invited to the seminary, it fulfilled that dream.” It was when he became a teacher at the seminary that a student invited him to take part in a radio programme on the local FEBC station called Radio TEOS.
“I am a bit ashamed to say it, but I am a shy person. I don’t like big crowds,” Vlasikhin confesses. It turned out that a radio studio – a medium that works if you speak as if it is a one-to-one conversation – worked for him. Alexey Vlasikhin is now programme manager of FEBC’s Radio TEOS in St Petersburg.
But there was a more important reason, besides Vlasikhin’s personality, for radio to be his future.
To be a Christian in Russia is to be part of a very small minority and, although post-Communist Russia has an official state church, Vlasikhin explains there’s really low church attendance. The evangelical/Pentecostal numbers are very low too.
“There are very few people who are conscious Christians here in Russia. In Russia, to be a Russian is to be Orthodox; it is part of our national identity. But, in reality, very few of the Russian people go to church and can explain what it means to be Christian. According to statistics, it is less than 2 per cent of the population.”
How do you get Russians to listen to a Christian radio station?
This means that Radio TEOS has really only one goal – to reach non-Christians.
“So how do you get Russians to listen to a Christian radio station?” Eternity asks.
“You have to come to people as they are – on their terms,” Vlasikhin responds. “We found that they are on social media.”
And Vlasikhin tells Eternity a hard-luck story that wasn’t – the sort of story that some readers will have heard before about Christian radio, of tensions with governments over licences. “Maybe you have heard that we had trouble here with our radio licences. We used to a be traditional AM radio station.” As Vlasikhin suggested, in taking TEOS online over the past couple of years they have gone where the audience really was. FEBC Russia now has a million listeners a month and 30,000 interactions with listeners.
A recent programme that offered “after-programme counselling” saw 160 come to Christ.
“The sort of person who really listens to the good news are those who are somehow wounded by life,” says Vlasikhin. “For example, in Russia, there is a huge problem of drug addition. Or alcohol addiction, or orphans. There are excellent rehab centres and this has been an effective ministry for Russian evangelicals. And we make programmes that connect people to them, using testimonies. We invite those who have sons and other relatives in trouble to go to the Christian rehab centres. They get real results.”
Alexey Vlasikhin is in Australia this month and will speak at the Christian Media and Arts Conference.