"During Victor Ignatenkov’s youth under the Soviet regime, Christians could meet only for worship.
"No Sunday school.
"No midweek Bible study.
"And definitely no proselytizing.
"Today, Ignatenkov, 59, said he’s free to lead whatever activities he wants as pastor of the Central Baptist Church in his hometown of Smolensk — a city situated between the capitals of Russia and Ukraine — and as regional bishop for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist. The union is a group of evangelical Protestant churches that began emerging in Russia about 150 years ago as an alternative to the Russian Orthodox establishment.
"The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s International Peacemaker Program sponsored his U.S. journey, which included stops in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and several other states.
"Ignatenkov, speaking through a translator, hedged on discussing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin helped resurrect the church, which the state once crushed. And though there is no state religion, the Orthodox Church receives preferential treatment.
“'Putin can be of whatever confession he chooses,” Ignatenkov says. “What’s important to us, what we value, is that Putin as president holds a neutral stance. We do not experience governmental limitations because we are Baptist...”