Washington Post article
November 30, 1991

Soviets Seen Welcoming Evangelical Christians

Atheistic System Perceived as Failure, Activist Says

by Carey Kinsolving

An American academician went to Moscow for a religious experience that would have been unthinkable only a few months ago: He saw Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev join a group of Christians in prayer.

Kent Hill, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, was with a group of U.S. evangelicals who met earlier this month with Gorbachev.

Hill said one of the Americans closed the meeting with prayer. Gorbachev, a declared atheist although his mother is believed to be a Christian, did not offer an audible prayer, but photos showed him with his head bowed and his eyes closed.

Meeting in a Kremlin conference room with pictures of Marx and Lenin on the wall, leaders representing 18 evangelical organizations told Gorbachev about “Project Christian Bridge.” The project enlists U.S. Christians in providing spiritual and material aid to the soviets.

Hill reported that Gorbachev said, “It has been a long time since I met with a delegation that came offering to help and not to criticize.”

Hill describes the Soviets as people who have been humbled by their experiment with atheism. “They know what doesn’t work,” Hill said. “They know state-sponsored materialism, atheism and hostility to Christianity have produced nothing but chaos. Even the atheists will often concede this point.”

The Soviets are looking at other world views. As proof, Hill will teach for eight months at the prestigious Moscow State University and academy of Social Sciences. His subject: apologetics.

Hill seems suited for the task. In 1978 he spent seven months in Moscow on a Fulbright scholarship. He speaks fluent Russian and has a master’s degree in Russian studies.

The title of his 520-page book, released shortly before the Soviet coup attempt in August, has proved to be prophetic: “The Soviet Union on the Brink: An Inside Look at Christianity and Glasnost.” Hill accurately predicted hard-line communism would attempt to halt the rapid move toward democracy, but he also said that the Soviets could never go back to the way things had been. Too much change already had taken place.

In Hill’s view, a telling sign of the radical changes occurred when the Christian delegation met with a top KGB officer in Lubyanka, the headquarters of the KGB. The headquarters, with its labyrinth of underground prison cells, had become a symbol of political and religious oppression.

But now, a top KGB official is admitting past abuses and extolling Christian missionaries. According to a statement released by the Christian delegation, Gen. Nikolai Stolyarov, KGB vice chairman, said: “The role of the missionary is necessary. Any good that unites us as a people is important.”

During the meeting, Hill asked Stolyarov whether there was an official link between the KGB and the Council for Religious Affairs, the official committee that oversees religious affairs.

“I will not deny that such a connection existed,” Stolyarov said in a statement quoted in Izvestia, a Moscow newspaper. But he also said the connection no longer exists.

For a top intelligence officer to admit the KGB tried to manipulate Russian churches is a huge step forward, Hill said.

During the meeting, the Rev. John Aker, a pastor from Rockford, Ill., moved Stolyarov to tears with his account of how he had been involved in U.S. covert activities.

“Before I became a Christian,” Aker said, “I worked in Army intelligence, and my wife did as well. I did some things of which I was very ashamed, over which I had tremendous guilt. At one point I considered taking my own life.

“But I came to know Jesus Christ and found forgiveness. This gave me a sense of forgiveness, the promise of eternal life and a reason for existence now.”

Aker, who recounted the incident, reported that Stolyarov said, “I’ve only cried twice in my life, once when my father died and on this occasion.”