The history of the Lutheran Church in Russia during the twentieth century is tragic. Lutheranism came to Russia just after the Reformation. The first church building in Moscow was dedicated in 1576. From this time the Lutheran Church in Russia steadily grew. At the invitation of the Tsarina, Catherine II, many Germans came to Russia to establish farms, businesses and communities. The Reformation spread through the German communities of the Baltic nations and to Finland. These nations were absorbed into the Russian Empire as it expanded. At one time, the Lutheran church was the second largest Christian Communion after Russian Orthodox Church.
All this changed abruptly with the coming of Lenin and the 1917 Russian Revolution. Under Stalin, all of Russian Christianity suffered. Stalin ruthlessly persecuted these immigrant communities. During the 1920’s Lutheran churches were closed and by the early 1930’s all Lutheran pastors had been exiled to gulags in Siberia. Virtually all of them did not survive the imprisonment or may have been sentenced to death at their trials. We will never know the horrific details. As a result, the millions of Lutherans in Russia were without trained leadership for many decades.
During the early 1990s, Dr. Wallace Schulz, 2nd Vice President of the LCMS, organized a series of theological seminars on the campuses of the Fort Wayne and St. Louis seminaries. Among more than 200 visitors from the nations of the former Soviet Union were Pastor Vsevolod Lytkin and several young members of what became the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1995 Pastor Lytkin asked Dr. Schulz for help in training pastors and deacons in Siberia. The Russian Project was established in answer to his appeal. Since 1996, the Russian Project has trained nearly 40 men for the ministry. The majority is now serving as missionary pastors in Russia as well as in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. Several women also studied at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and now serve as translators and church musicians.
It became clear that it would make sense to train theological students within Russia. The Lutheran Theological Seminary has been established in Novosibirsk. The seminary is a separate entity from the SELC and is not supported financially by the SLMS, but the organizations work closely together. Novosibirsk is the central location for activities of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
There are currently over twenty students at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, where an LCMS pastor, Dr. Alan Ludwig, is the senior professor. In addition, LCMS pastors and scholars teach intensive seminars. SELC currently has 13 ordained pastors and deacons who serve congregations and mission stations across six time zones in Siberia.
Socially, there is a huge divide between rich and poor. It is believed between 30 and 40 million Russians live below the poverty line–$30 of income per month with unemployment approaching 25 percent, certainly greater in rural villages and remote cities. The spiritual bankruptcy in Russia is staggering. The people wither without teachers of righteousness, without the sacred gifts of God that bring Christ to despairing men; they long for hope beyond the earthly crosses they bear.
The SLMS mission is to support the work of these Siberian pastors and the needs of their congregations by providing financial support which is designated for congregations, rental of church buildings, housing costs, travel, humanitarian aid and mission outreach programs. We also respond to emergency needs and provide opportunities for teaching and preaching for LCMS pastors who wish to teach in Siberia. A number of special projects have been supported by SLMS and congregations of the LCMS.