Published November 19, 2009
When the Russian policeman saw the gun pointed at him, he thought it was the end of his life. Then he watched the man pull the trigger.
The gun misfired. Then it misfired again.
Pavel Sennikov did not die that night, but his life changed forever.
“I was so grateful that I was alive that I wanted to do something for God,” he told the congregation at Annistown Road Baptist Church’s deaf mission.
Although he was not a Christian, Sennikov believed there was a God who had saved his life. When he heard about a group of people that met for philosophical and religious discussions, he went. There he learned the meetings were actually a house church led by Southern Baptist missionaries from America. There he learned more about the God who had saved his life.
“But I had one foot in the world and one foot with God. I finally asked God to give me an undivided heart and I became a Christian,” he said.
As Sennikov grew in his knowledge and faith, he became a regular Bible teacher for the church. While teaching a twice-weekly Bible study on prayer a small group of deaf people joined the study.
“They just came with an interpreter. We were not expecting them. We didn’t know where they came from. They said they wanted to hear the Word of God,” he recalled.
He welcomed them and their unique question: Can deaf people pray to God?
“I never thought about that, but they all had that question from childhood because they believed two lies. They thought God hated them and that’s why they were deaf. And, they believed that God doesn’t understand sign language.”
Sennikov continued to teach his study on prayer and the deaf members began to pray, many for the first time.
“They were so excited because they knew God was hearing their prayers,” he said.
The deaf members began to bring their friends and the Bible study grew. It wasn’t long before the house where they met was full, but they kept coming. With no room to sit, people stood against the walls to hear the Word of God.
“More and more came and that’s how our first deaf church was born,” Sennikov said.
In 1997, as the deaf church grew, Sennikov and others planned a deaf conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. They expected people from four or five cities to attend. Instead deaf Christians came from 25 cities.
Curious, Sennikov asked many of the people how they became Christians.
“It was always the same. They decided to go to church, find someone to instruct them, and then became Christians,” he said.
Years later, Sennikov visited friends in Memphis, Tenn. There he met Ben Cox, a national leader in deaf ministry who had visited Russia on a mission trip in 1991 – one year before Sennikov faced a loaded gun.
“He told me he looked, but he did not meet one deaf Christian. So he went home and prayed every day for deaf people to become Christians. Then he got his friends to pray as well,” Sennikov recalled. “That’s when I understood why deaf people were coming to churches to hear about God. And I knew why I was a Christian. It was because Ben Cox and other people in the States were praying for deaf people in Russia,” he said.
Since then the Christian population among deaf communities throughout Russia has exploded. Multiple house churches for deaf Christians have begun and some have already sent out missionaries to the deaf throughout Russia and Central Asia.
Sennikov is the pastor of one of those churches and recently he spoke to the Snellville congregation about the work. The deaf church is not unfamiliar with the deaf Christians in Russia. They’ve been part of a church partnership in another part of Russia for 10 years.
“We took our first mission trip to Russia in the late 1990s. By 2000 it really took off,” said Vernee Burris, one of the founding members of the Snellville deaf church. “We helped train interpreters in Russia. Our goal is to train the Russian hearing to interpret. That was the primary need at the time.”
Burris and other members of the church, as well as members of the Georgia Baptist Conference for the Deaf, expect to become an active part of the new partnership between GBC and Moscow and St. Petersburg.
The newly formed five-year GBC partnership marks the first time that deaf ministry has been included from the beginning of the planning of an international partnership, said Jerry Baker, specialist for GBC intercultural church planting and missions ministries.
“This partnership is a great blend of things that have already been happening and expansion through a partnership. It’s an opportunity for people who are deaf in Georgia Baptist churches to be involved in missions,” Baker said.
It will have its challenges, said Beth Rosenzweig, chair of the missions committee for Georgia Baptist Conference of the Deaf.
“We know American Sign Language and Russian Sign Language is completely different,” she said. “They send us videos and we watch and learn, but when we get there it’s never exactly what we learned. But we figure it out.
“And it’s worth the work. I love it. “
Your gifts through the Cooperative Program provide support for Georgia Baptist Conference of the Deaf and also support for GBC partnerships. For general information about the new GBC partnership with St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, call Mission Volunteers at (800) RING GBC. For specific information about Georgia Baptist Conference for the Deaf and its trips to Russia, see the website www.gbcd.org. Information is also available from Intercultural Church Planting and Missions Ministries at (770) 936-5217 or (800) RING GBC or at www.gabaptist.org.
You and your church may send Cooperative Program Offerings to:
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