Russian society is not yet ready to see the true value of philanthropy, thinks Bishop Vasily Evchik, the head of social department of the Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith. You can agree with him or not, but we recommend to read his interview to Primiritel magazine.
- Vasily Ivanovich, what rules do you follow when deciding on the provision of charity, donating money?
- When we want to provide any assistance to individuals, we do our best to collect complete information to prove the need. Often the words of people are not true. We also deal with the opinion that the church must give. Indeed, to serve is our privilege, but the Bible teaches us: "Add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge" (2 Peter 1:5).
In our region, and the church where I serve, we collect donations designated for various social projects: for children, elderly or disabled people and so on. The funds received cannot be used for other purposes. Therefore, allocating funds for social projects, we ask to provide reports (receipts or supporting documentation that funds have been used intentionally).
Sometimes, as they say, "it is empty in one place and full in another", – some social organizations own media, present themselves nicely and get donations, but others have no capacity to do so, and they are in a real need. It is important to pray to God to give vision and understanding of each situation.
- Is there such a thing as professional beggars?
- Unfortunately, today because of the problems of the society (unemployment, lack of control), more and more people believe that they can live without working. Often these people present themselves as victims: the government did not provide them with subsidies, or work. But I see that it is becoming a spiritual problem. Most people who come to us for rehabilitation, or who are accepted to shelters for homeless people, want to leave that place in a week or so. They say that everything is fine, but they need freedom. When we ask them what, in their opinion, freedom is, they answer that it means not to obey anyone. We ask if they would be willing to work, and in response we hear that begging is much better. This is certainly a negative phenomenon.
Among poor people there are those who are really in need, but there are also those for who make begging their business. Seeing this, people close their hearts to the poor, and as a result, even those who really need help, suffer. As a minister, I find that very often begging is a spiritual dependence and we need to pray for these people to be free.
- When charity becomes sacrificial?
- One of the problems of contemporary and in particular evangelical Christianity is that it got a habit of getting something for free. In the 90s, many churches in Russia received humanitarian aid, literature and other support from abroad. Some Christians got used to it. But as time passed, circumstances changed, foreign brothers started to help other nations. And many Russian believers still think that someone must help them. Some even say that without sponsorship they will not be able to implement any projects. But we, as Christians, need to understand that we must give, not receive. God changes this consumerism mindset. Today, many begin to see that inside the church there is a great potential. But we need to properly present projects and not to overwhelm the church.
Frequently we encounter biased attitude towards business people in church. They are constantly reminded that they have to sacrifice. As a result, it creates internal problems within churches and businesses. It takes time for a business to get on its feet. As a church, we need to pray and bless these people. They will be willing to give out of their desire to serve God.
- There is a passage in Scripture, which says: "Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of faith". How can we find a wise balance here?
- I noticed that there are extremes in churches. Often we try to help orphanages, shelters, we carry out social projects. And it's done out of good intentions. However, in the same church there are people who are in a greater need, but their needs are somewhere in the background. Speaking of this Scripture passage, quoted above, I am for the church to firstly pay attention to the needs within the congregation: elderly people, large families, disabled people, who sometimes barely make ends meet. I would like us to give priority to church members, and then assist others.
Many people refer to it negatively, believing that they themselves can direct their tithes and offerings to where they want. But the Bible clearly teaches us: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Malachi 3:10). I support the idea that church members before making donations should bring the tithes to their church. And giving tithes, there is no need in directions, pointing where to spend it. Each church has a council, which determines expenses. Therefore, it is important for those who are willing to make donations to keep in touch with the church, ministers, and God will give insight how to do it the best way.
- What are the areas of social work of the Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal Union)?
- In the Russian Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal Union) there are the following areas of social work: rehabilitation of drug and alcohol addicted people, centers for social assistance to families and children, ministry to orphans, street children, children from poor and dysfunctional families, including the organization of summer camps for these children; charity (hot meals for homeless people – both adults and children), and humanitarian aid; prison ministry, ministry to the sick and disabled people, assistance to elderly people and large families.
Many areas are still under development. There are regions that have high potential for social service. We want to have representatives of social ministry in all federal districts. Then we will have the complete picture.
- Do you think that it is necessary for Christian volunteers when carrying out charity programs in secular institutions to preach the Gospel?
- Up to a certain time, I thought that we don’t have to present ourselves as a church doing charity programs. But in the Bible Jesus says very clearly: "I am the gate for the sheep" (John 10:7), and "who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1). We live in a country where by the law we have the right to practice our faith. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, some laws prohibit certain activities, so we do our charity work, not as a church, but as Christian missions, foundations and public organizations. In the past five years, I decided that, when we make arrangements to hold some events, be sure to warn that we are a church and we will pray and read God's Word. If the administration says that it is not allowed – it is their choice. But we should not put ourselves in an awkward position, hiding who we really are. In this case, the situation can only get more complicated.
Today is the time for church. In the Song of Songs we read: "Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely" (2:14). We should not fear our name "church." Of course, in each given situation, we need wisdom.
Today’s economic situation has opened the door to where we were not allowed before. For example, our activities in orphanages were limited, but today they invite us. For volunteers it is important to understand that there are different types of institutions. There are hospitals, nursing homes, shelters, prisons and so on. Each volunteer needs wisdom, where and how to preach Christ. Somewhere you can preach with words, but somewhere start with work. In Russia, there are more than 130 nationalities and ethnic groups, there are different cultures and religions. Therefore, Christians are to consider all these nuances.
- In Russia people donate mainly to social work, rarely – to science, art and literature. What's the reason? Who needs more help?
- When I visit churches in Russia or abroad, I've noticed a trend. People are reluctant to donate to constructions of houses of worship, or to evangelism. But when we ask to assist in projects for children, homeless people, many express their compassion and desire to help. In our society there has been a good trend – people are starting to realize that it is better to invest in preventive work rather than trying to help people who already got into some kind of dependency (alcoholism, drug addiction and so on), although our society is not yet ready to see the true value of philanthropy. But I think that the time will come when the church and society will be aware of it. In Russia there are many good traditions, that's why they say about Russians "generous soul". In fact, our people are generous, sometimes they just do not know and see how to apply their generosity. And another thing: people are often willing to invest in science and culture, but they face tax and law limitations. But I realize that this trend will change.
- Do you agree with the statement of the historian Klyuchevskiy: "The true purpose of charity is not to do good, but that there would be no one needing this charity"?
- I do not agree. Jesus clearly said: "The poor you will always have with you". Note that in the Old Testament, God called his people to share with disadvantaged people their blessings: "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow" (Deuteronomy 24:19-21). We can try to refute it. But the example of the rich and developed countries shows that, despite all attempts to create social conditions, there are still needy and poor people.