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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baptist Missionary Answers Call

When the superpowers were still battling for superiority in the Cold War and when religious freedom was unheard of in the Soviet Union, Pastor Donald Deel, then an engineer at Standard Oil in Gary, Indiana, says he heard a call to become a missionary.

His 26-year journey as a missionary, which eventually led him to Moscow, began in 1971. During a Sunday church service, Deel was surprised when his pastor, with tears in his eyes, told him that his young wife, Cathy, heard the same call, even though they had not discussed their feelings beforehand.

But once the decision was made, it seems to have been the right one for the Deels, and for those they have served for nearly two years in Moscow's International Baptist Fellowship.

Natalya Arkhangelskaya and her 16-year-old son, Alexei, who regularly attend the church services, are grateful Deel came to Moscow. Arkhangelskaya says she was attracted to the church, and to Deel, because of its stark contrast to Russian Orthodox services.

"From the pastor, I heard words that no one had ever told me. I was struck [by] how he treated people. Not in a didactic tone, not condescending like a high creation toward simple, mortal sinners," she says. "These were the sincere words of a friend addressing his equals."

In April, Deel baptized Alexei, who says it was the "happiest moment in all my 16 years of life."

Deel has touched many other Russian and expatriate lives as well. He is known for being a humble and candid man who treats everyone like family. He views life's hardships as learning experiences and uses them and his knowledge of the Bible to teach the congregation, particularly young people, to avoid making the same mistakes.

In his sermons, Deel emphasizes the importance of prayer and reading the Bible daily.

"The biggest success is that I have taught people how to study the Bible and the joy of learning and reading the Bible," he says. "I've received e-mail from people who've said 'I've read the Bible through, and I never did that until you taught us that.'"

But his job as a missionary is not without challenges, such as overcoming cultural barriers, dealing with the 80 to 90 percent turnover in the church council leadership and finding an appropriate space to hold services.

Because those attending the International Baptist Fellowship come from 66 countries -- more than any other Baptist church in Europe -- Deel must be sensitive to cultural differences.

"By not knowing their culture, sometimes you make mistakes in counseling people, or you don't understand enough about their culture to understand their way of life, particularly in money matters and moral matters," Deel says.

Such challenges didn't start in Moscow. Even getting accepted as a foreign missionary was not easy -- the process took 23 years.

Starting in 1971, the U.S.-based Foreign Mission Board, which is responsible for setting up Baptist churches abroad, requested that the Deels meet a host of requirements, including obtaining a seminary degree for Deel and a college degree for Cathy. She subsequently enrolled at the Indiana University School of Nursing. After obtaining their degrees, the Deels were denied because the board would not place pastors who have adolescent children.

After finally receiving approval in 1994, the Deels packed their bags for Moscow.

But soon the Deels will leave their congregation behind. After 21 months of service at the International Baptist Fellowship, Deel will become director of missions at the Mountain State Baptist Association in Princeton, West Virginia. He will work with other pastors in strengthening the 34 churches in the region and establishing new ones.

Although Deel's daily presence will be missed in Moscow, he plans to return to Russia in an unofficial capacity next year and hopes to maintain contact with the church.