by Andy Raatz
Area Director for Russia and Belarus
Over 70 years ago, the bloodiest battle in World War II was in Stalingrad, Russia, a battle that claimed a combined total of nearly 2 million casualties. Soldiers battled street by street, house by house, and the streets were filled with corpses.
Stalingrad was a strategic location at this stage of WWII. The battle began with Nazi air raids that reduced the city to rubble and fires. Civilian survivors fled the best they could, crossing the Volga River, even living in holes dug into the river bank.
As the German army poured into Stalingrad, the Soviet army refused to retreat, fighting for every inch. The central train station changed hands 15 times, as the Soviet soldiers fought back each night. It was guerrilla-fighting at its worst: brutal and intense.
The horrors were described vividly, even the “… animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.” Soldiers fought to the last bullet, then fought on with knife and bayonet.
The German army was eventually destroyed, a turning point in the war that helped end the Nazi assault in Europe.
War history is sobering, and there is no one who has ever lived through a war that would ever want to see it return. War leaves deep scars and wounds. But the story of Stalingrad (now named Volgograd) is also a reminder that there are things for which we need to fight. War is never beautiful, but neither is capitulation to evil.
The apostle Paul wrote that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but … against spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). Missionaries and church leaders face a spiritual battle to share the truth about Jesus throughout Russia.
Volgograd has been on my mind this week as we partner with a wonderful church to help buy their building in that strategic city. The churches in Russia are squeezed when they do not own a building. They are at the mercy of landlords. There is an ongoing spiritual battle in this city, and a building gives a foothold for the church to move forward. The amount was significant and time was short, so we have found the means to lend the church the money for three years.
I am praying that this church becomes a turning point in the spiritual war we face in Russia. Rather than the death and destruction of 70 years ago, I pray for a revival of healing and forgiveness to invade Volgograd.
Stalingrad was once described as “hell.” Now I’m praying its church can reflect heaven.