For more than 15 years, Young Life across the former Soviet Union has been impacting lives.

By February 9, 2006

Russia (MNN) — In 15 countries across the former Soviet Union, Young Life is impacting for Christ the lives of countless young people. Through various ministry outreaches, Young Life leaders are evangelizing and discipling students toward a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Young Life’s regional director for the former Soviet Union, Gary Parsons says there are many similarities with Young Life work everywhere with club meeting and sports ministry. They also have outreaches to orphans, disabled kids, drug addicts and the homeless. But there are some differences, says Parsons, “Most of our ministry — and this is important to understand, it’s very different than America — almost all of our ministry operates out of centers that are in the center of the cities, and they’re open, a lot of times, 18 hours a day. So they’re a safe place for kids to come and go, and that’s really where a lot of our ministry takes place.”

In such a huge area, Young Life recognized a key part of ministry. Parsons explains, “In that part of the world there are literally hundreds of cultures, small groups of people that lived in that part of the world long before it was the Soviet Union. And in order to influence those cultures and those different, very unique and special groups of people, you really must raise leaders out of that culture. And so that’s really been our focus and God’s really honored that.”

Parsons says that early on in developing Young Life in the former Soviet Union, they saw the importance of having a national staff. “The best thing we can is to develop a ministry that will stand alone and that therefore, you’re looking for very special people, and you’re not just taking anybody comes through the door and adding them to your own U-S team. But instead we really hoped along the way and prayed for great nationals that we could hand it off to.”

They currently have 40 fulltime nationals leading the way, with a group of 300-400 volunteer leaders who are working alongside the staff. “I think the biggest issue is the transference of it being our idea and then really being theirs. Currently we have no American staff overseas in the former Soviet Union at all.”

Another reason that investing in national leadership is key to ongoing, successful ministry is because of political uncertainty, says Parsons, “In some of these countries where there’s the very real possibility and in fact it’s an ongoing reality that you do not know how long you’re going to be there. Might be there two years or two days, depending upon the political climate. So you know there’s a lot of reasons why that’s important, because as a foreigner certainly in that part of the world and the Middle East, you just don’t know how long you’ll be able to be there. So it just, for a lot of reasons it’s wonderful, I think the best plan it to invest in nationals.”

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