An evangelistic campaign aiming to reach as many as three million people has begun alongside the soccer World Cup in Russia on Thursday, despite what some faith leaders say is a crackdown on evangelism in the country.
"While soccer fans around the world cross their fingers as their national teams play in the coming days, hoping for a victory, Mission Eurasia urges Christians to join their hands in prayer with a different result in mind," said Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia.
"We have an unprecedented opportunity in the next few weeks as Christians around the world join us in praying that God will use this campaign to reach many people with the gospel to extend his kingdom."
The month-long tournament, which began in Moscow on Thursday and will see matches take place in host cities across the country, has energized 400 churches to join Mission Eurasia's outreach efforts. They will help with the distribution of 600,000 pieces of Scripture, as well as 100,000 special-edition New Testaments with QR codes that give directions to local churches.
The ministry hopes to reach three million people as soccer fans around the world travel to Russia for the games. As many as 1,800 home Bible study groups are expected to be formed from the efforts, alongside day camps for 15,000 children.
Dmitry Lunichkin, a church pastor in St. Petersburg and coordinator for Every Home for Christ, said that Mission Eurasia, which has been equipping young Christian leaders for 30 years, is doing important work.
"We are very grateful that such important evangelistic tools are being made available to us free of charge," Lunichkin said.
"Thanks to Mission Eurasia, we are sharing the living word of God with the people of our city. We believe that Christ will come one day and reveal how many people accepted Him into their hearts as a result."
Some evangelicals have raised concerns over restrictions on evangelism that President Vladimir Putin signed into law in 2016. The law has banned people from sharing their faith in any place that is not a government-sanctioned house of worship and has led to the arrest of some Christian leaders.
The Russian government has claimed that the measures are part of anti-terror efforts, but ministries have warned that they go too far.
"This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church," Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries, said in an interview with The Christian Post in July 2016.
"Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history."
Rakhuba said that Mission Eurasia's outreach will not contravene the law, but urged authorities to act with reason.
"We need people to pray that the authorities will understand that this campaign is meant to help improve the lives of Russian people and be a part of bringing positive change to the country," he stated.
"There are such great needs in Russia — from high rates of various addictions to teen suicide and other social problems."