European Baptist missionaries establish new church in Russia
That was nearly three years ago. Today, Pettis and his wife, Kandy, serve St. Petersburg Baptist Church as missionaries of the European Baptist Convention.
Pettis, a native of Hot Springs, Ark., is among several European Baptist ministers whose Arkansas Baptist roots have been affirmed during the Arkansas Baptist State Convention's six-year missions partnership with the EBC.
In their role as church planters, the Pettises are jointly supported by Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock and Emmanuel Baptist Church in Paris as well as the EBC. They also work closely with the Russian Baptist Union.
"What's happening in St. Petersburg is God's activity," Pettis said. "He called us there but he also called out intercessory prayer teams in Paris and Little Rock. These people are as called to this ministry and are as involved as Kandy and I are."
Evaluating the partnership which officially concludes the end of this year, Pettis emphasized that Arkansas Baptist churches have been "responsive and positive" throughout the international missions emphasis. "They are willing to work and are flexible and have a servant attitude," he said. "It's a true partnership because they come together for the work of the Lord under the Lordship of Christ."
Reflecting the spirit of that cooperation, a team of volunteers from Immanuel Church recently traveled to St. Petersburg to evaluate ongoing ministry opportunities there.
David Napier, Immanuel's senior associate pastor, said the congregation voted 18 months ago to be the primary financial sponsor for the new work in St. Petersburg. "The objective," Napier explained, "was to start a church for internationals coming to St. Petersburg."
Stan Parris, Immanuel's associate pastor for missions and evangelism, also participated in the recent trip. "It was a wonderful experience," he noted. "We saw immediately what God had accomplished through David and Kandy in 18 months. There is a definite touch of the Lord on their ministry."
Describing the survey trip as "a humbling experience," Napier pointed out, "We have it so good over here and accomplish so little. So little goes so far over there. I felt like I was walking in the middle of something God is doing."
What has God accomplished through the Pettises' ministry efforts in the past year and a half? After arriving in Russia in August 1997, they began leading worship services the following month and soon developed a core group of participants.
"The first 10 months were primarily getting accustomed to the culture and praying for vision and direction," Pettis said. Since then, the congregation has grown to include more than 40 members, ranging from Russian and African students to American, British and Scottish teachers and businessmen.
With five different Bible study groups under way, "the Lord is in the process of allowing us to move into almost every dimension of the international culture," Pettis added. "We're watching the Lord absolutely put this thing together in a beautiful way -- bringing all these avenues of ministry together."
Even amid the initial ministry growth, the Pettises still face extensive challenges. Although "we were not kidding ourselves about what we would find here," Kandy Pettis explained, "I don't think anything adequately prepares you for what you see in the East. The living conditions, you don't get used to it, but you come to expect it. It becomes a part of the routine of your day.
"As a Westerner, you want to fix things," she said. "You have to trust God as things go unfixed, knowing he is working on a bigger plan."
Pettis, who was in the military for several years before serving as pastor of European Baptist churches in Baumholder and Bitburg, Germany, noted the poverty, hunger and other needs in Russia "are overwhelming to us." He added, however, that those same needs help provide "a magnificent opportunity for people to hear the Lord."
Half a world away, Parris agreed "there are opportunities right now to make an eternal difference" in St. Petersburg. "When anybody gets an opportunity to see, touch, taste and feel missions, it changes their lives," he said. "To have an opportunity like that in Russia is a great privilege."
Affirming those ministry opportunities, Pettis said he and Kandy moved to St. Petersburg "trusting the Lord."
"It's hard, but it's where we belong," he added. "We're honored and privileged to be there."