Evangelical churches’ involvement in running a large number of rehabilitation centers for substance abusers in Russia is bringing a new wave of participants into congregational life, but is also causing conflict with the more middle-class constituencies they are also reaching.
Christianity Today (April) reports that this is particularly the case in Siberia, where visitors to Baptist, charismatic and Pentecostal churches “will sometimes see rows of silent men between the ages of 20 and 50, unaccompanied by women and children. They represent the success of evangelism efforts among Russian drug addicts and alcoholics.” There are over 500 evangelical rehab centers in a country where a reported 6.5 million people suffer from drug and alcohol dependency.
A Russian journalist notes that this ministry is changing the composition of Russian evangelical churches, and also introducing some strains among members. He cities the example of congregations in the regions of Leningrad and Perm that have experienced splits among middle-class members over this ministry. The centers have also drawn criticism for their non-medical approach, stressing Bible reading and recitation, prayer, and confession.
An Orthodox priest running a rehab clinic in St. Petersburg said that the evangelical programs substitute dependency on drugs and alcohol with dependency on the evangelical churches or “sects” (Orthodox churches have recently become more active in rehabilitation work; see January/February 2011 RW). One Baptist program in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region claims a success rate of 30 percent, while government rehab centers report a long-term success rate of just two percent.