When Jan and Nel Kits began ministering in Russia in the early 1990s, they faced challenges that could be expected within a country that had been under communism for 70 years.
“We were ministering in cities where large evangelistic efforts were taking place,” says Jan. “We were there to train people and churches to follow up with new believers.” But the Kits noticed that many Christians, while free in their minds from the fear and bondage of communism, were not free in their hearts. “We told them they could freely talk about Christ, but if they had done that a year and a half before, they would have gone to prison.” Jan said it reminded him of a Holocaust survivor who once told him, “I’m out of the concentration camp, but the concentration camp is not out of me.”
“They felt guilty because they wanted to share their faith, but they couldn’t do it. We wanted to help them be able to share their faith and bring people to church—which also used to be a crime.”
For five years, Jan and Nel, who live in the Netherlands, traveled in and out of Russia doing evangelistic training and teaching churches to use tools such as the Four Spiritual Laws booklet and the Holy Spirit booklet. It wasn’t long before they realized that families in Russia were being neglected, so they began an outreach to families. The issue of family would soon become the key to unlock the communist-hardened hearts of this broken country. They could conduct marriage conferences using FamilyLife’s materials. For the first time in their lives, they began to see significant numbers of Russian men come to Christ.
“Russians are a very proud people,” Jan explains. “Men especially. But in some cities, divorce rates were hitting 85%. The men felt that they were failing because they couldn’t keep their families together. They wouldn’t come to church or listen to an evangelistic presentation, but they felt the need to improve their marriage relationship. So they attended our marriage conferences, and many prayed to receive Christ.”
Jan and Nel taught couples to deliver talks on marriage and to lead HomeBuilders small groups. They realized the importance of HomeBuilders groups to sustain a family ministry, so every time they conducted a marriage conference, they also offered HomeBuilders leadership training. Attendees received materials, became equipped to start groups, and learned how they could train others to do the same.
A HomeBuilders movement in Siberia happened partly by accident when an electronic field-test copy of a Russian HomeBuilders book began making its way into e-mail boxes of some key leaders in Siberia. A few people began using the materials and forwarding the files to others. Then more people gained access to the files, and the HomeBuilders ministry spread further and further. People everywhere were printing their own books and beginning HomeBuilders groups.
“We had no control over it,” says Jan. “It went like wildfire throughout Siberia.”
One couple they trained now lives and works in the Eastern part of Siberia, near Irkutsk. Sergey and Lena Aleev have seen remarkable results in nearby Buddhist-populated cities. Numerous Buddhists have attended the FamilyLife conferences and indicated that they prayed to receive Christ. One church in that area is made up of about 97% former Buddhists, many of whom are there as a result of FamilyLife conferences.
“Now when people introduce us, we are introduced as the trainers of so-and-so,” says Jan. “And that is exactly what we want—we want the Russians to do the work. When we are finished, we disappear. Our goal is to work ourselves out of a job. People have asked me, ‘Why haven’t you stopped working there yet?’ I say, ‘I’m not working. I’m doing what I love to do,’ ” Jan says.