Muslim population in Russia grows quickly

MOSCOW, Russia (BP)--Outside Resurrection Gates, the northern entrance to Moscow's Red Square, tourists stand on a bronze plaque, toss coins over their shoulder and make a wish.

The circular plaque set in gray cobblestone marks ground zero for measuring distances from the center of the capital to the far reaches of what was once the Russian empire.

With each toss a small group of Russian women vies for the discarded coins. One particularly quick woman angers the others each time she plucks the flying currency from the air. She is nonplussed in the face of protests from her fellow infielders, as well as from scowling tourists who seem to think their discarded cash should at least hit the ground.

This is Moscow, where modern-day citizens stand on centuries of history and try to interpret new rules for living.

The city, as well as the Russian Federation, has grappled with wave after wave of change as Russian society struggles to refashion itself from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

One ongoing wave has brought in a tide of Central Asians, said Daniel Powell,* a strategist for International Mission Board teams working with Muslims in Russia. Across the nation, low Russian birthrates and rising immigration from former Soviet republics fuel the tension, he said.

"Fifteen years ago, less than 1 percent of Moscow was populated by Muslims. Now, up to 20 percent of the population may be Muslim," he said. Demographers estimate Russia's Islamic community may account for a majority of the nation's population by mid-century.

"There are approximately 3.5 million Muslims in Moscow who have little chance to hear the Gospel of Jesus in a way they understand," Powell said. "They have traveled to Moscow to find better-paying jobs, but I'm praying they will find more than just steady work.

"I'm praying Southern Baptists will respond to this call and join us in a new campaign of distributing the Gospel message in Moscow," he added.

Powell labors with other IMB workers to establish groundwork for a long-term effort to distribute evangelistic materials to Central Asian Muslims now living in Russia.

Great barriers must be overcome for Central Asians who come from a Muslim background. Powell and his team are working on those barriers.

"If Southern Baptists respond to this need and join us, we will start to tackle some of these barriers," Powell said.

That could mean another wave of change for the nation of Russia, and such a shift would help the society stand on the foundation of Christ, not a tourist spot for cast-off change.


*Names changed for security reasons. This story focuses on missionaries who serve in the former Soviet Union as well as churches partnering with them, exemplifying the global outreach supported by Southern Baptists' gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Michael Logan is a writer for the International Mission Board.

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