Despite Russian Restrictions, Evangelism Prospered During World Cup

Russia’s 2016 law restricting evangelism may have curtailed some traditional Gospel-sharing efforts at World Cup venues this summer. But through innovative witnessing techniques — like soccer viewing parties at churches and jazz band concerts — evangelicals still have managed to harness the world’s largest sporting event for Gospel witness.

“I don’t know anything about soccer,” said Justin Pierce, assistant professor in instrumental music at Oklahoma Baptist University. But “God orchestrated everything and lined it up” for members of the university’s Bison Jazz Orchestra to take a mission trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, at the height of World Cup play.

A 10-piece jazz group led by Pierce partnered with St. Petersburg Christian University and the mission groups International Sports Federation and Young Life to play concerts, conduct sports camps and do other service projects in St. Petersburg June 13-24.

The June 14-July 15 World Cup has featured 32 teams playing in 11 Russian cities, including St. Petersburg. The World Cup final, featuring a matchup between France and Croatia, will be held Sunday in Moscow.

Former International Mission Board worker Jerry Barnwell teamed with the OBU jazz band in the outreach effort as part of a mission team from Gateway Church, a nondenominational congregation in Austin, Texas. Barnwell served with the IMB for 17 years in Europe.

Together, the two teams planted Gospel seeds at their concerts and camps, with at least two young men they worked with coming to faith in Christ following the teams’ departure, Barnwell told Baptist Press. The teams also built relationships and engaged in Gospel conversations at “fan zones,” where locals and tourists gathered to watch soccer matches.

Barnwell remembers one fruitful spiritual conversation at a jazz club the mission teams rented for an afternoon concert.

“We had a big party on the rooftop” of the club for attendees of soccer and volleyball camps, Barnwell said. “We just had chances to talk and then walk downtown, where there was one of the fan clubs, and we watched one of the games.”

Pierce said the jazz band presented the Gospel at its concerts and shared testimonies of how God has worked in band members’ lives through music.

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Source: Baptist Press