Whatever Happened to Operation Bearhug/Magadan?

Hundreds of Northwest members traveled to the former Soviet Union during the 1990s, sharing their faith, their talents, and their dollars.

Sometimes, through the inevitable absence of valid reports and rumors of attrition and apostasy, questions are raised as to the validity of these types of initiatives.

Recently, I was with Ivan Khiminets, president of the East-Russian Union Mission, at which time he followed up a previous email to me. Let me share a rough translation of that emailed letter.

Greetings and Blessings

“Dear Elder Jere D. Patzer, greetings and blessings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…. In the first words of my letter, I would like to express our gratitude for the marvelous help you have rendered for the church in Magadan.

“We are thankful that you keep on assisting in the proclamation of the Gospel in the Magadan area. We are grateful you have constructed the house of worship there. It is the biggest church, not only in our union, but in the division.”


“Thanks to the Lord and our brothers’ help, during the past five years, our East-Russian Union has nearly tripled in size. In 1996, there were 72 churches and 6,500 members of the church. God blessed us, and now we have 16,000 members and 210 churches.”


“As a result of this increase, the Euro-Asia Division (ESD) proposed to reorganize our Union. And we have begun the process of dividing our conferences.

“We have divided already the East-Siberian Mission into three parts. We organized the fields as the Baikalskay Mission, Eniseyskay Mission, and Yakutia Missionary Field.

“In May, we reorganized the Far Eastern Conference and West Siberian Conference.”


“Why do I write about it? The reason is that we would like to reorganize the Far Eastern Conference into two missions—southern and northern. There is one important consideration: The majority of churches are located in the southern part. We have only six churches in the north, in three areas—Magadanskay, Chukotskay, and Kamchatskay.

“We want to headquarter our mission in that area in Magadan…. We wish to hold crusades and proclaim the Gospel. Here is my request. I know you have always assisted northern areas of our union; could you please help support us in this project?

“If you wanted, you could adopt this as a sister Mission. This Mission is too far from us. In other words, this Mission is located closer to you than it is to us.

“We look forward to hearing from you…. As we work together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Lord will give us the daily wisdom and courage we need to accomplish His work. Wishing you much of God’s blessings each and every day, with Christian love, Ivan Khiminets.”

The Impact

As you read this, you can almost sense what the Apostle Paul felt when he realized the impact his ministry had in fostering the growth of new churches. Northwestern members have and are making an impact around the world for Jesus. I encourage you to renew your support of missions through your offerings, prayers, and on-site visits.

An Appeal

In a separate letter Artur Stelle, ESD president appeals to us: “Greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ in the Euro-Asia Division. Probably you have heard about the church planting project that is under way in our territory, called the 300 Lay-driven Churches Project.

“One of the greatest opportunities, and also one of the greatest challenges, is that we are providing a small house church for each of these newly established congregations.

“As I write this letter, we have already purchased 121 of them, and we have funds in hand for perhaps 50 more. The poor economy in our territory has made buying these houses incredibly inexpensive—some for as low as $5,000.

“However, that is changing quickly, especially in Russia. Real estate prices are beginning to go up, and we are feeling the pressure to move quickly, before the situation becomes impossible for us.”

President Stele goes on to appeal for help in purchasing one of these house churches.

If you would like to be involved with the former Soviet Union and help in this Phase II initiative, please phone our North Pacific Union Conference Office of Global Mission, at (360) 816-1430.

Praise the Lord we have and will continue to make a difference—a difference for eternity.

Featured in: December 2002