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The CoMission

Summary: From 1992 through 1996, the US Navigators were powerful actors in a complex drama set against the extraordinary organizational and spiritual evolution of what had been the Soviet Union. The decision of the US Navigators to participate energetically in The CoMission generated both profound excitement and strong opposition within our movement. It tested the depth of our relationships and our trust in the Lord, exposing divergent angles of approach to our Calling. Living through the experience placed heavy demands upon our leaders, especially in the northern hemisphere, and occupied much of the space between the launch of our Global Society in 1988 and the birth of The Core in 2002.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Galatians 5:6


Political Changes within the Soviet Union
How The CoMission Emerged
Navigator Participation in The CoMission
Leadership of Terry Taylor and the IET
Tensions Related to The CoMission
Overview of Navigator Contributions and Outcomes

Political Changes within the Soviet Union

The climate for partnership among American evangelicals as the 1990s opened was propitious. There was a move in many quarters to progress beyond dialogue to implementation. Case studies were well-used, such as at the 1991 Wheaton Consultation1 where Larry Keyes observed that: “Cross-cultural workers are placing more value upon networks and partnerships and less upon organizational structures and hierarchies.” In his opening remarks at the same consultation, Luis Bush put it even more clearly: “Partnership is no longer an option. The Scriptures underscore the value of Christian partnership in advancing the Gospel around the world. A changing world requires it. The Christian community increasingly demands it.”

The CoMission was a partnership: a visionary and dynamic response to the extraordinary spiritual openings created by the end of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in December 1991.2 Paul Eshleman had founded the International School Project in 1991 as a vehicle both for The Jesus Film (which by 1995 had been translated into more than three hundred languages). At the end of 1990, the film had been shown in thirteen Soviet Republics and Eastern European countries in many of which school officials had asked to show it to their children. Eshleman proposed to the Russian Ministry of Education that the film be accompanied by curricula (an elementary and a secondary) on Christian Ethics and Morality. In January 1991, three pilot convocations were authorized.

The Jesus Film project therefore organized a new department called the International School Project (ISP) to which Russian officials gave permission on the understanding that such moral education would be educational and not religious. Teachers should not be required to attend, and students would be taught in voluntary supplemental education classes. However, teachers would be trained to use the curricula.3

In God’s providence, USSR President Gorbachev had in 1988 summoned the leaders of the Orthodox Church and “offered them a new deal based on the ‘common cause’ between Christianity and Communism.” 1988 was also a vital year for the Orthodox: It was their millennium, the celebration of the thousand years since the baptism of Prince Vladimir in Kiev.4 US President Ronald Reagan visited Moscow in May 1988 and was shown the Danilov Monastery. He was followed during the celebrations by many other high-profile Western religious and political leaders.

So, the ground was being prepared for a strategic Gospel thrust into a fractured, oppressed, and tumultuous society. The Lord’s work is often effective in such conditions, because the needs of the people are close to the surface.5

As it happened, our existing USSR Nav team—who had struggled for years to sustain a contextual movement within Russia—were developing their strategy in April 1992 in preparation for their Eurasian Network consultation in Moscow in August. Dick Fischer sought a discussion with US Director Terry Taylor.6 This strategy noted realistically that “despite the broad Navigator interest in ministering in the USSR, fewer than ten of the more than forty staff now in the Soviet Navigator network are actually able to minister in the Russian language.” The conclusion was that our chosen priority should now be through resident missionaries: “learning a local language well, developing an in-depth understanding of the lost world around them, focusing clearly on reaching out to people . . . dwelling among people, in their circumstances.”7 In other words, it would be contextual.

Significantly, in terms of the embryonic emergence of The CoMission, this strategy of our existing residential team affirmed: “The Central Europe leadership team8 assumes responsibility for needed decision making and exercising oversight over all ministry carried on by, or in the name of, Navigators in the Soviet Union.”9

To provide some Navigator context, we had conducted a Resource Exchange with our EER Team (Eastern Europe and Russia), which was led by Al Bussard in December 1990. The focus of this gathering in Brighton, England (twenty-two participants) was mainly the USSR. Those present were vested already—or about to become so—in the USSR.

This was an emotionally charged meeting, given the speed of change in the USSR and the abundance of new but small Navigator initiatives emerging. In addition to our existing ministries in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, and Riga, Al provided a list of sixteen such initiatives “representing genuine commitments in twelve out of the fifteen Soviet Republics. All but one are less than a year old.”10 Clearly, even before the advent of The CoMission, our resident team members were under pressure, conscious of many dangers, and somewhat defensive in the presence of eager and resource-rich outsiders.

How The CoMission Emerged

So, how and when did The CoMission emerge? Paul Eshleman successfully recruited Bruce Wilkinson of Walk Thru the Bible (WTB)11 and Paul Kienel of The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). These three agencies agreed to partner and plan. In October 1991, they were unanimous on the large commitment that they should make and recruit others to make. One of those present suggested the name The CoMission.12

The CoMission owes much to the driving enthusiasm and convictions of Dr. Bruce Wilkinson. It originated as an alliance between ISP and ACSI and The Jesus Film project, which was an outreach of Campus Crusade for Christ.

Dr. Wilkinson wrote in early 1992 that, “The CoMission is a strategic alliance of mission and parachurch ministries gathered together to maximize the Lord’s work through partnership and cooperation in the newly organized Commonwealth of Independent States and several other countries in Eastern Europe. It is a volunteer ‘unorganization’ designed to maximize our manpower, materials, and money for the Church in the former Soviet Union.”13

Dr. Wilkinson later wrote that, “when the Iron Curtain fell, the (external) Church responded on an unprecedented level, mobilizing what some have reported to be the largest movement of missions in the shortest amount of time since the birth of Christ.” For him especially, this was an overpowering commitment. He writes, recalling the early Pushkin Convocation of November 1991; “That week planted a love and burden for the people of the former Soviet Union that was so deep, so visceral, so emotional, that I eventually committed myself and my family to whatever God had in mind for Russia and the surrounding Communist republics.”14

By early 1992, twenty-one parachurch ministries had signed up to participate in The CoMission. In Wilkinson’s words, “Everything that I have personally experienced in Russia . . . leads us to believe that what we are observing is currently the ‘whitest field for harvest’ in the history of the church.”

At the end of March 1992, the fifth meeting of the then leaders of The CoMission was held in Chicago. Sixty-seven agencies were invited to attend. Our US Director Terry Taylor returned from this meeting with a strong conviction that the US Navigators should press forward as participants. He called an informational meeting in the Pink House on April 2-3 for some thirty US Nav leaders.15 There was a palpable sense of enthusiasm and a conviction that the Lord was calling us to participate. A sample Nav response:

The sense of transcendence in the group in those two days is beyond anything I have ever experienced. I agree with others who wondered if our organizational changes and new directions were not God’s working for ‘such a time as this.’ It was thrilling to be caught up in something bigger than myself and something bigger than The Navigators. . . . Our hearts were deeply stirred” (Brad Hillman).

The concept was a strategic alliance in which many Christian organizations willingly submitted their ministries to a shared vision of evangelizing and establishing, in response to an invitation by the Ministries of Education in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to come and help establish Christian values, ethics, and foundations for morality based on the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ. This invitation, of course, was quite unprecedented. The dream with which The CoMission responded was to plant Bible study groups or cells of believers in every local public school district within three-to-five years.16

Supporting goals included, “to reach an entire generation for Christ in the Commonwealth through the open door of opportunity and initial point of entry into the public schools by means of Bible instructions and curriculum . . . and to establish an indigenous, autonomous, theologically sound, self-propagating local church in every school (120,000) and to strengthen and encourage the existing Bible-believing churches.”17

How was such an ambitious purpose to be accomplished? By forming and training 1,200 full-time teams of ten members, with whom Soviet interpreters would work.18 “The plan envisions millions of new believers coming to Christ through The Jesus Film being shown in each school to faculty, students, and the parents of the students and subsequently being followed up through a series of evangelistic and discipleship Bible studies. Along with these studies, there will be a video Bible curriculum available to new believers comprising 150 stand-alone lessons spanning three years. In each school district, there will be an initial convocation (a four-day conference) set up by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with The CoMission.”19

Impressive and faith-filled though this was, a primary question for The Navigators was whether it was aligned with our Calling. Was it likely eventually to advance or distract from our ministries, to which we believed God had called us?

A second question for the International Executive Team (IET)20 was how realistic was such an initiative (“millions of new believers”)? How would they be discipled and equipped?

Navigator Participation in The CoMission

The US Navigators decided to become partners in The CoMission in April 1992. Participation was very attractive because they believed that they would be able to:

  • Express our US values and faith directions
  • Involve many non-staff laborers
  • Stimulate further extensions of our missionary thrust
  • Serve the larger Body of Christ in the US by offering our unique distinctives
  • Greatly increase the number of our financial and prayer supporters

On the other hand, our US leaders recognized certain dangers:

  • The size and speed of the initiative could undermine our young and fragile ministries in the CIS. (Bear in mind their emerging strategy; see page 2).
  • The initiative could appear to have a “crusade” mentality, centrally driven, tightly structured, standardized.
  • It could create some tension and mistrust within our Global Society (which is now called our Worldwide Partnership).
  • It could also precipitate adverse reactions among the Orthodox Churches of the CIS.

The prospect of The CoMission generated intense discussion within The Navigators. The International Executive Team saw at once that it presented the first large opportunity to test the principles that we had laid out as the basic architecture of our Global Society. Had we not accepted that a Navigator partnering country could take initiatives into the nations without securing prior approval from the center?

However, was there not within the plans of The CoMission a deep misreading of the cultural context? US Navigators beginning to implement the plans felt they could handle cultural issues, but to the IET the scope and the rapid timeframe made this look very doubtful.

Yet, what was to be done when a large initiative by one country (in this case, the USA) was about to take place in another country (in this case, the CIS) which had existing ministries, albeit small, and feared being swamped by the new initiative? How were conflicting voices about whether The CoMission was in fact aligned with our philosophy of ministry to be addressed? Foundationally, what happens when some Nav leaders believe that they have discerned the will of God, yet others do not agree?21

There are doubtless cases in which the counsel of Gamaliel in Acts 5:38-39 is appropriate. Thus, “Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” However, our challenge was more complex, because all concerned in our internal debate were Navigators and there emerged several streams of thought:

  • IET: largely negative until our part in The CoMission was irrevocably launched, then much more supportive.
  • US Director’s Team: very positive and committed.
  • Field staff already in the CIS: mostly negative, with a few asking to guide the process.

Then, of course, there were the millions of Russian Christians (evangelicals and Orthodox) about to receive this very large foreign “invasion.” Very little such consultation took place. Whether the Russian Christians were lapsed or nominal or committed, they were not part of the planning process.22 Indeed, to the extent that the matter was considered, a prevailing view among the leaders of The CoMission seems to have been that “evangelicals can render Orthodoxy a service in the same way that the Reformation stimulated genuine reform within Roman Catholicism.”23

What was the basic pattern for those enlisting in The CoMission? Each training cycle24 included:

  • Orientation and fundraising training (three days) run by each sending agency
  • Team leadership training (three days)
  • Primary training institute (ten days), immediately following the team leadership training
  • In-country orientation (three days)
  • Ongoing training (half day per week while on field)
  • Sixth week training (five days in-country), conducted regionally
  • Rest, refuel, and refocus (six days in Western Europe)
  • Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry: a year-long, weekly team Bible study with a two-day summary seminar at year’s end
  • Debrief, for the last three days prior to the CoMissioner’s return to his or her home country

Each team was drawn from a single agency. The crucial need was usually to recruit competent team leaders. In Moscow, there was a Campus Crusade team and a team of professional teachers that were an extension of the International School Project of Crusade that served all The CoMission teams because there were so few teachers among the teams.25

The Training and Materials Committee (TMC) was chaired by Terry Taylor and directed by Stacy Rinehart.26 Each primary training institute culminated in a commissioning service with the executive team, including Bruce Wilkinson, participating in the program.

Each of the lead organizations gave freely to the whole from their specialties. The Navigators, for example, were privileged to shape and guide the TMC cycle, as above, with the best materials being drawn from various agencies. Thus, Campus Crusade materials (including The Jesus Film) were used in evangelism and the Scriptural Roots of Ministry27 was used to provide a biblical overview. Most of the training syllabus was written by the TMC Team at or just before the PTI (Primary Training Institute). Broussard recalls that we had to frequently edit and change the curriculum. We were teaching the teams to keep it relevant.28

This may be the place to recognize the TMC’s perspective. As Navigators, we had been committed to “other works” at least since Dawson Trotman developed what he called “The Big Dipper” illustration (1948), and it was in this spirit that God allowed us to contribute to the Lord’s work through our particular influence on fourteen sending agencies and fifteen hundred CoMissioners, all of whom went through our entire SRM study process with their teams on the field. Furthermore, with hindsight, the experience helped equip four Navigators for service on our USNLT: Andy Weeks, Cheryl Meredith, Stacy Rinehart, Eddie Broussard. Indeed, every TMC member developed in effectiveness, for the future benefit of the US Navigators.

Each local team was assigned to a city in which the International School Project was organizing a convocation for school teachers and other educators. From May 1991 (the first) to December 1996 (the last), 136 convocations were carried out in 116 different cities. They drew a total of 41,618 educators. A highlight was always the showing of The Jesus Film, which would be later shown to their students.29

By August 1993, twelve sending agencies had twenty-four CoMission teams (about 230 people) engaged in nineteen cities. Of these, nine were assembled by Navigators and six were assembled by Campus Crusade.30

Meanwhile, under Bruce Wilkinson’s energetic guidance, arrangements were taking shape rapidly among many agencies.31 The CoMission soon had an executive committee32 comprising:

  • Dr. Bruce Wilkinson of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries
  • Paul Eshleman of The Jesus Film project
  • Paul Johnson of Paul E. Johnson Company
  • Dr. Paul Kienel of the Association of Christian Schools International
  • Dr. Joseph Stowell of Moody Bible Institute
  • Dr. Terry Taylor of The Navigators

Taylor and Sanders presented The CoMission to the IET in early June 1992. Taylor emphasized that The CoMission was strategic for the US Navigators in six ways and that the formal launch would be on November 5, after the CIS Ministers of Education had extended an official request “to put God back into our country” at the launch Meeting.33 Taylor outlined the six benefits as:

  • An opportunity to enhance four of our six US Values
  • An unusual vehicle for activating the laity, requiring sacrifice
  • Potential for 200,000 new donors, one hundred for each of our two thousand missionaries
  • Opportunity to plant seeds of a future vision for missions
  • A future “fishing pool” of people for further missions
  • A vehicle to help us progressively work together as a Global Society

Bob Sheffield had been chosen as our director and Stacy Rinehart as our training facilitator.

At this meeting, the IET made clear that they would not have supported The CoMission but, now that the US leaders were so irrevocably committed, they in turn would try to help The CoMission succeed.34 The IET also decided that The Navigators of Russia should not be used as a visa vehicle for The CoMission.

The CoMission accelerated during the remainder of 1992. US Navigators were committed to sending two thousand men and women, or four hundred a year, for the next five years “to help shape the destiny of a nation.”35 According to John Kyle, “The CoMission was the largest people-lift of lay people proceeding to a needy and open mission field in the history of world missions.”36

In July of 1992, after the clamor of diverse Navigator voices had been clearly heard, White wrote to US Director Taylor to outline what he saw as the global leadership responsibilities of the IET—in a general context—identifying seven aspects:

  1. To lead our international partnership and strengthen our Global Society
  2. To develop, empower and connect leaders, so that their contributions multiply in their contexts
  3. To stimulate unity and model cooperation
  4. To support each country’s effort to the maximum extent we can; enabling, encouraging and coaching them
  5. To protect the weak in our Society so that they are not overrun by the strong—intervening if necessary
  6. To resolve conflicts between members of our Society
  7. To give counsel, varying from suggestions to very strong counsel, to members of the Society, regarding their ministry internally and externally

The implications were clear. The IET itself had strong reservations, arising from what White described as “serious misgivings about the appropriateness of The CoMission” for The Navigators. Jerry wrote to Taylor to confirm that, “Each of the four members of the IET had different . . . but significant reservations on both the concept and the process of The CoMission,” varying in strength. He then posed the question: “Among whom should there be the leading of the Spirit for such an effort as this?”37

Leadership of Terry Taylor and the IET

Letters of invitation from The CoMission had been sent at the end of May inviting representatives of at least twenty-two other organizations to meet in one of four US locations “to join together to deploy resources according to a tightly integrated plan . . . and to eliminate duplication of effort, resulting in an effective approach to reaching an entire nation with the Gospel.” This letter, signed by Terry Taylor and Lauren Libby, ended with the passionate plea: “If you believe in the cause of presenting Christ in a complete way . . . not just evangelism but also discipleship, throughout an entire nation, including children and adults—and seeing virtually the entire face of a nation changed for the cause of Christ—don’t miss this opportunity to be involved. . .”38

Terry and Ray Hoo had traveled both to Vienna and to Moscow to dialogue with our existing leaders.

Then, early in July, enclosing the briefing paper that he intended to present to our US board,39 Terry wrote to our leaders in Eurasia: “I am grateful for the spirit in which you and the men received us. . . . It was good to be able to discuss this. . . . Thank you for your memo and crystalizing your concerns and reservations. I think you know that the advantages and disadvantages I list are still present in my mind.”40

Also in July,41 White wrote to our International Team (basically our geographical directors) to summarize the decision that had been made in April by a consensus of our US leaders, and after subsequent dialogue between the USDT and the IET, “to participate by sending four hundred short-term people for a year to Eurasia, in each of the next five years, and by taking responsibility for overall training of all those being sent.” He emphasized that Taylor and his team were listening to the expressions of concern from those in our Eurasia network. Thus, for example, the US would not use the name of The Navigators while in Eurasia, and Taylor and Hoo had traveled promptly to Russia in June to consult with our resident Navigator team, as well as Al Bussard and Gert Doornenbal in Vienna.

Jerry White’s letter continued:42

When the IET heard about this decision, in late April, we were very uneasy. We have presented our concerns to Terry Taylor and his team in two long meetings and received their responses. Our concerns addressed both the project itself (especially the contextual aspects) and the process through which the US Navigators decided to participate.

Terry and his team are listening to our concerns. They have also received expressions of concern from many of the key players in our Eurasia network. They have made some adjustments. For example, the name of The Navigators will not be used by our participants in The CoMission, while they are in Eurasia. Also, Terry and Ray Hoo traveled at short notice to St. Petersburg in June to consult with our resident Navigator team, But, the basic thrust of US Navigator involvement in The CoMission is proceeding as planned.

The relationship between the USDT and the IET continues to be very constructive and amicable.

Nevertheless, The CoMission is the first major test of the principles underlying our Global Society:

• How should we balance the autonomy that our mature countries enjoy with the expectations of those already engaged in ministry within a receiving country such as Eurasia?
• How do we assess the urgent spiritual needs of Eurasia as against our traditional preference for careful contextualization?
• When do we consult and when do we act?
• In a major international initiative, what does it mean to be an interdependent partnership?
• Who is part of the process and who decides?
• What is the role of the international team in such situations?

I am glad that such issues have surfaced. So is Terry. We both look forward to a solid discussion when we meet as an International Team next February. It will strengthen our self-understanding and mutual commitment as a Society.

Meanwhile, both The CoMission and the participation of the US Navigators in it are proceeding.”

Sanny wrote to Taylor soon after, expressing his concern “that the US board not get into a discussion of the merits and demerits of The CoMission: It is a ministry decision residing with the staff. However, the board should be vitally interested in who has the right to make the final decision and accept the consequences for it.” Thus, Sanny proposed to submit a resolution to the board that “all US Navigator overseas activities will be done under existing global policies or understandings. Where none exists, an initiative will be taken only with the approval of the general director.” He ended his memo by saying that a board resolution of this nature “would be very significant in solidifying ourselves as truly a Global Society.”43

In Russia, an intimation that the Moscow Patriarchate was “swinging into action against non-orthodox groups” came as early as May 1992. According to a report from Neil G., they were “particularly frustrated with Protestant missions, especially those trying to work through the educated class and schools.”44 One can in part attribute the speed at which The CoMission launched to the likely (later) spread of such a climate within Russia.

Taylor, in particular, was exercising his strong gifting as a visionary leader, and anticipated that others would see the opportunity as clearly as he did.45

When the US board met at the end of July,46 Taylor gave them a detailed briefing, including both advantages and disadvantages of the initiative. He conceded that the US process for launching The CoMission was less than ideal and recognized a failure to consult all those affected. After extensive discussion, the board affirmed “the initial steps taken by the US director with regard to The CoMission initiative and the open doors before us in the former USSR, and we are looking forward to further clarification and information on the initiative at the next board meeting and will then take steps to give further counsel and guidance to the project.”

This resolution marked a turning point in the board’s desire to be apprised of ministry initiatives taken by management. Hitherto, they had concentrated on the legal and financial affairs of The Navigators. Now, they expressed a consensus that:

  • Future ventures of this magnitude should first be presented to the board.
  • Any involvement of The Navigators, functioning under the umbrella of another organization, should be approved by the board.

We have to realize how frustrating such questioning, even negativity, was to our US leaders. Were they not capturing a unique opening for the Gospel? Did not the interagency request that The Navigators conduct all the training allow us to exercise our particular skills for the common good? How could we hold back?47

Tensions Related to The CoMission

Al Bussard, the then director of our Eastern European ministries, had written a seminal paper48 in June 1990 entitled “Tension in Mission: the Dilemma of Western Energy.” His thesis, broadly, was that:

Missions are riding the wave of the current ‘triumph’ of the western worldview as it sweeps across much of the world. . . . On the other hand, we see examples of courageous creativity in contextualization on the part of many developing world disciples and low-profile Christian leaders. Yet these fragile efforts at times get snuffed out by the sheer momentum and resources of the current Western missionary movement . . .

Al argued that much of the missions movement in recent years had gained momentum from a mix of technology, curriculum, projection,49 and wealth. He advocated attempting to replace these four major sources of energy with community instead of technology, apprenticeship in the place of curriculum, incarnation as opposed to projection, and a poverty orientation in the place of wealth.50

Walter Sawatsky voiced similar concerns. In his 1992 article about missions in the former Soviet Union, he expressed reservations about approaches that did not consider ecclesiastical issues. He said:

These missions show minimal interest in church and state questions, the social role of Soviet Christians, or their potential contribution to economics and national education. Yet the capacity of Soviet evangelicals to respond to such issues will determine whether they will be a serious factor in Soviet society, or whether they will become increasingly irrelevant. . . . Much of the missionary energy now being expended is based on the theory that in the great cosmic war between God and Satan there is a temporary respite. Soon the door of opportunity may be closed again, hence we must get the minimal proclamation51 to as many as possible. Such missionaries are too busy to wonder whether their style of work might be a precipitating factor in closing doors.52

The Navigators were by no means the only US organization that encountered internal resistance to The CoMission. Paul Eshleman tells how, at an interagency gathering of leaders in Chicago in March 1992, several participants arrived late. Then, “When it came time to discuss the strategy, they vehemently opposed the course of action agreed on in the La Habra meeting. They felt like everything needed to be done in and through the existing local church in the Soviet Union. They also felt that our stated objectives for the movement had to be church planting.”53 This impasse was smoothed over by an address from Andrew Semenchuk, a long-time veteran of the Slavic Gospel Association, and by Jerry Franks from the Curriculum Redesign Committee.

Engagement with the Russian Ministry of Education

The formal invitation from the Russian Ministry of Education to train public school teachers and administrators how to teach innovative courses on Judeo-Christian principles in some 120,000 public schools in the CIS was given by Dr. Aleksandr G. Asmolov, deputy minister of education for the Russian Federation. Asmolov, responding to a reporter’s question on why the Russian Ministry of Education was accepting help from these Western Christian organizations said, “When a person is in a waterfall and he wants to save his life and he sees a hand extended to him for help, can he think, whose hand is that? He will accept the hand which is first. The first hand was of The CoMission.”54

By 1993, thirteen55 of the sixty-three CoMission members were active sending organizations such as The Navigators.56 Taylor’s letter of invitation to a US recruiting conference included a recent letter from Navigator Tom Eynon, who was The CoMission team leader for the city of Pushkin. He wrote to Jerry White: “Never in my life have I experienced what we’re living through. Sitting in the office of the Minister of Education of this township, planning the evangelization of the entire area through the public schools. . . . This is the most amazing ‘go-type’ ministry of the century and possibly of all time until now. And it’s serving our former enemies. You’ve got to get the word out. People are volunteering from everywhere, but the critical shortage is qualified leaders for these teams.”57 Tom, incidentally, was our first CoMission team leader in Russia.

Here are a few statistics58 on the expansion of The CoMission (see linked document):

Table 1: Numbers of Commissioners Sent by Year59

We can obtain a snapshot of the motivation of our Nav CoMissioners by noting that, of the 188 sent out during the year from January 1993, thirty-nine elected to return for at least a second year.60

In similar fashion to the internal tensions among Western agencies, illustrated above, so did the Russian receivers struggle with the mixed blessings of initiatives such as The CoMission. Two examples, one positive and one negative:

Thousands of missionaries have now come to Russia to help with spiritual revival, and I deeply appreciate their time and deeds. May God bless them! I saw people whose lives were completely changed by the Lord Jesus Christ through those missionaries. Before their conversion, people had anxious looks, but then their faces became clear and smiling. It means that God’s peace has come to their hearts…praise the Lord for those missionaries who have brought light to Russia (Alexander Sorokin, a Christian publisher in St. Petersburg, 1996).

In Moscow alone, over one hundred western organizations were registered. And each one wants to accomplish its program by using the existing church infrastructure, which is still so weak that it cannot resist this pressure, neither organizationally nor spiritually. . . . Indigenous missionary organizations cannot compete with strong Western missions and the best people prefer to work for Western organizations and, naturally, for better payment. . . . Evangelization campaigns, which had been formed under the influence of Western showmanship, produce feelings of protest against Protestantism as a Western way of thinking and culture which is alien to them61 (“Open Letter to All Western Missionary Organizations interested in spreading the Gospel in the former Soviet Union, 1993).

One should promptly add that The CoMission was largely innocent of the objections raised by the “Open Letter”: It did not “use the existing church infrastructure” and was largely devoid of “Western showmanship,” at least when presented in Russia. However, we are creatures of our cultures and it was understandable that The CoMission promulgated Western ways of thinking which were alien to the hitherto cloistered indigenous congregations, though the TMC made significant efforts to contextualize ministry approaches in partnership with the sending agencies. Although Christopher Shore, who had lived in Moscow for several years, opined that “The approach and methodology do not lend themselves to easy incorporation into the Russian culture or mindset,”62 the TMC struggled to engage the existing church structure because of:

  • The degree of difficulty in finding congregations with whom we could partner
  • The dissonance most of our CoMission fruit experienced when attending such churches in that their conservatism and control repelled new believers whose experience in such churches was so different, undesirable, and unhelpful compared to their experiences in Bible study with CoMission teams.

The convocations continued to face “a difficult balancing act between evangelism and education.”64 As Glanzer points out: “Marketing The CoMission to American churches, parachurch organizations, and fundraisers required a different language from that used to convince former education officials.”

Bourdeaux goes on to point out that Orthodox and Evangelicals “have great difficulty agreeing on a single definition for proselytism—stemming from conflicting understandings of what constitutes a believer. . . . Orthodox Church leaders in Russia “would like to assume a territorial, spiritual protectorate over at least their Slavic populations.”65

In this context, Bourdeaux affirms that, “Navigators, (as well as) International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and its affiliate, InterVarsity, have made concerted efforts to study Orthodoxy, to develop meaningful relationships with Orthodox believers and to sponsor inter-confessional theological dialogues.”66 The training and materials committee (assigned to The Navigators) designed a non-sequential program with godly-servant values but around a kingdom orientation. Field surveys and literature research confirmed several striking and negative tendencies in the Russian soul.67

In November 1994, the Navigator training and materials committee led by Stacy Rinehart produced a dozen pages on “The CoMission Leadership Development Effort.”68

Jerry White’s Views

As general director, Jerry White wrote twice69 to our staff family during 1994, providing positive updates on the progress of Navigators engaged in The CoMission.

Extracts from his February 1994 letter:

Two years ago, the US Navigators joined some fifty organizations in planning a special outreach to people of the former Soviet Union. The plan included sending teams of ten to cities of Eurasia for one year, to be replaced by successive teams in rotation. They would use The Jesus Film, produced by Campus Crusade in many languages, in evangelism. They would receive orientation training from The Navigators in cultural adaptation and basic discipling. Now over 20 percent of the CoMissioners’ year is spent in pre-field and on-the-field training.

God has blessed this remarkable short-term effort as eighty-two organizations now cooperate to recruit those who will go out for one year under fifteen sending agencies, of which we are one. Moody Bible Institute, for example, has committed to recruit one hundred volunteers for CoMission teams. Some 250 have signed up to go out in August through these fifteen agencies. As most of the volunteers for the eight Nav teams will not have Navigator background, Bob Sheffield would like to provide team leaders who have Navigator experience.

Eleven Nav teams now work in Russia, two in Ukraine and one in Bulgaria. There have been some bumps in the road. Most of our teams in Russia and Ukraine are doing quite well. Those in Bulgaria got off to a rough start but now seem to be doing much better. We are learning much and changing as we go. For instance, we found that more shepherding is needed on the field, so several Nav staff have been assigned to shepherding.

The teams have the rare privilege of training school teachers in the use of a new Bible-based school curriculum. In the process, they show the JESUS film and get those interested into Bible studies. Many teachers, some principals and interpreters have come to Christ along with a large number of students and parents. Each team’s goal is to leave behind one or two disciples who can help others grow in Christ.

The first two Nav teams have already returned from their year – and nearly half of them want to go for another year or as long-term missionaries. All can tell stories of how God is using ordinary people to bring others to new life in Christ. They also deeply appreciate the helpfulness to The CoMission of the resident Nav staff in Russia and Bulgaria as they give generously of their time and language proficiency.

Extracts from his December 1994 letter:

The US Navigators report a steady stream of volunteers enlisting for one-year service in Eurasia with The CoMission. We sent forty-nine people out in August. Another thirty-four are preparing to go out in January. Five of these have already served one term and are going back. Thirty more are in the application process to go out next August. The Navigators, as one of many cooperating agencies sending laborers to help in the Eurasia harvest, now have CoMission teams in eight cities in Russia and four in Ukraine.

As of next month, just over nine hundred CoMissioners will have been sent out by the various agencies. We are thankful that The Navigators recruited over 30 percent of these laborers.

These one-year teams work mainly in and through the schools, following up teachers’ convocations and helping them learn Bible skills. Conducting separate Bible studies for teachers, students and parents, they hope to develop local leadership on many levels.

Bob Sheffield directs our contribution and has moved to Ukraine to oversee the local work until Rich Leary can move there with his family. “Nancy and I love it here,” Bob says. “My hope and prayer for The CoMission is that God will put us in touch with men willing to take their places as Christian leaders in their families and in the nation.”

Terry Taylor and Gert Doornenbal [(our US Director)] brought together the US Nav leaders of The CoMission and resident missionaries in Eurasia to discuss how to conserve the fruit of the short-term CoMissioners and enhance our long-term ministry of spreading the Gospel within these societies. “For two days we had an excellent interchange of information about current ministry situations,” Gert said. “It was a true Hebrews 10:24-45 time.”

A law just passed in Ukraine names The CoMission as one of the groups not permitted in the schools. But The CoMission curriculum remains popular with some of the school directors. And now the labor union has asked them to teach Christianity to its members! So this is a matter for prayer, that the door will remain open despite political opposition.

Non-CoMission Work in the Soviet Union

Lest it be thought that The CoMission was the only vast and enthusiastic response to the opening of the former Soviet Union, two other plans may briefly be mentioned:

  • Dawn Ministries, working with a few other agencies, announced that their goal was to see 300,000 churches planted in the fifteen republics of the former Soviet Union, by sparking “Saturation Church Planting” movements. Their plan was to provide the Western personnel to work with national evangelicals to develop an SCP congress for each country within one year.70
  • The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) had been working in the CIS for several years. Regent University joined this effort and wrote to their constituency inviting them to participate in a networking and partnership strategy with CBN and Regent to follow up “a massive harvest of responses to their programming. Their intent would be to pass on the names of two million CIS citizens enrolled in Bible studies.71

Also in the background, during the 1990s, were the siren calls to join the AD2000 Movement, another persuasive mobilizing vision which seemed unconnected with our calling. Yet, we went hard and fast for The CoMission.

Ethics Teaching and the Russian Ministry of Defense

Then, the anticipated letter to The CoMission arrived from the Russian Ministry of Education, cancelling the Protocol of Intention.72 The CoMission HQ pointed out to our team leaders that this cancellation had only limited a few of our teams as regards access to some schools in some regions, and was in fact proving negligible in impact. Local officials in many communities requested that our teams resume their work in the schools during after-school hours.

As regards Ukraine, the minister of education issued an order expressly prohibiting CoMission teams and “Ethics and Morality” materials from being used in schools. It began also to be used to stop teachers who wanted to teach the curriculum from doing so.73 Again, the severity of the impact of this order had local variations.

To add to the complexity, also in 1993, alongside The CoMission but as a separate event, The US Navigators joined with the Russian Ministry of Defense to organize a six-day conference in Moscow on the topic “Spiritual and Moral Education for Servicemen.”74 Some 550 Russian senior officers and fifty peers from the US and Western Europe participated. The program was designed to teach former Soviets how to improve their military by applying Christian principles. Patriarch Alexei II addressed the delegates on “the great spiritual vacuum which exists in the armed forces.” More than a dozen Western officers told how Christ had made a difference in their lives.

Jerry White, in uniform as a major general in the US Air Force Reserve, gave a plenary address on “Morality, Ethics and Values.”

The formal invitation to organize and participate in this conference came in January 1993 from the minister of defense of the Russian Federation to the American secretary of defense. It was certainly a very successful event, but the subsequent impact was probably among younger serving officers.75

Discussions about IET Role

The CoMission was by no means the only initiative in which we were experiencing questions and tensions during the 1990s as the Lord led us forward into the nations. To illustrate this, without local detail, we should take note of our new international guidelines and of what became the Fundamentals of Navigator Missions.

When our International Team met in Malaysia, in early 1993, we had a useful and transparent discussion of what the emergence of The CoMission was teaching us. Doornenbal urged that, when future developments of this kind were gestating, the IET should teach, as a fruitful balance between silence and endorsement, “Teaching promotes balance, yet avoids conclusions.” Then, some participants asked whether the IET should take a public position on The CoMission, but McGilchrist argued that this would place the IET in the role of “judging” initiatives, which would be contrary to the spirit of our Global Society.

After discussing various initiatives, we formulated some guidelines for launching new cross-cultural initiatives which the ensuing International Council (twenty-five people) accepted as guidelines.76

At the end of 1993, White wrote to Gert Doornenbal who was trying to cope also with other smaller semi-independent Nav initiatives in Eurasia with a clear statement of our international policy. Thus:

The central point is that each of our international leaders should be ultimately responsible for everything that is done by The Navigators in the countries for which he has responsibility.

You are the Eurasia director. Therefore, Navigator ministries resident in or traveling into Eurasia are your responsibility. Their leaders report to you unless you agree to a different arrangement.

This statement applies to all ministries under the Navigator banner. The CoMission, as you know, is not under the Navigator banner.77

Both the International Team and Council continued to explore our philosophy of missions, drawing from the Scriptures.78 Then in May 1995, Jim Petersen79 introduced preparatory material to the team and asked each participant to send him their own “philosophy.”

By May 1996, in Budapest, Petersen and McGilchrist were charged by the team with jointly leading this project, now better named Fundamentals of Navigator Missions. Neil G. soon joined them.

US Navigator Philosophy of Missions and The CoMission

It would be simplistic to conclude that the turbulence created by US participation was merely between the sender and the receivers, or indeed between the IET and the USDT. For example, here is Rod Beidler looking back critically in 2007 as our USIMG director:

From the US perspective, the fact that The CoMission did not completely align with the Navigator mission and aim seemed less important than the enormous potential of the opportunity. The US saw The CoMission as an opportunity (1) to energize the US ministry with a fresh, outward-looking vision; (2) to recruit hundreds of laborers into The Navigators; and (3) to make an immediate impact in a country with desperate need.

What created concern in the Global Society was the unilateral nature of the US decision. No Navigator leaders in the Eurasia region were consulted80 in the decision-making process, nor were the Navigator staff serving with The CoMission considered regional Navigator assets. The US completely by-passed the existing leadership structure and trumped the Global Society protocols. The strategy of The CoMission was driven primarily by non-Navigators unfamiliar with, and insensitive to, the nuances of cross-cultural ministry.81

Nevertheless, the US recruited nearly five hundred people to serve with The CoMission during its five-year existence, more than all other agencies combined. Today, of the hundreds of “non-Navigators” recruited to serve with The CoMission, only a handful remains on the staff of the US Navigators. The most positive outcome of The CoMission was to ‘instruct’ the US Navigators that it was no longer the managing partner in global missions for The Navigators. Learning from that experience, the USIMG has learned to work diligently to avoid any appearance of unilateralism, and coordinates closely with regional and national leaders in accordance with their strategies and plans. This has resulted in the forging of strategic partnerships between the US and a multitude of receivers around the world.82

The CoMission Beyond Russia

The CoMission entered not only Russia, but also Ukraine, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Kazakhstan. This was not simple. We could not assume that each of the smaller countries83 subscribed to the Russian worldview. Here’s an example from Bulgaria, using extracts from the report of our country leader Ed Cox. A convocation was set for July 1993.

Around sixty-five good-hearted Americans were involved. . . . Some good things happened at the meetings, and the vast majority of participants responded favorably. The Americans felt that the event was a great success. I sensed, though, that the US organizers were not in a position to understand various cultural differences and sensitivities. Afterwards, I heard comments from various Bulgarians, including believers, who pointed out some cultural offensiveness in the convocation. . . . One of the leading Bulgarian newspapers printed a stinging criticism of the convocation . . . prompted by disgruntled convocation participants.

This was not just a reaction to the content but to cultural insensitivity. The article started by quoting a teacher who said that the convocation was ‘a mockery to Orthodoxy and to us teachers.’

Ed asked why someone with extensive overseas experience had not provided cross-cultural input into a large and costly event. And the urgency! Dr. Svilenov was asked to set up the July convocation but was not even aware of the residential CoMission team concept until June . . . nor was the Ministry of Education.84

According to the usually reliable East-West Church and Ministry Report (Spring, 1995), the twenty-five largest sending agencies of Western missionaries in the former Soviet Union accounted for 3,190 residential missionaries; of these, the most numerous in descending order were:

  • Youth With a Mission (1,600)
  • Institute in Basic Life Principles (320)
  • The Navigators (193)
  • Frontiers (118)
  • Church of Christ (104)85
Navigator Report on The CoMission, 1996

The Navigators published a ministry report on The CoMission which provided statistics through July 1996. Highlights included:

  • Forty thousand teachers and administrators (all nationals) have participated in 131 convocations.
  • More than 1,500 volunteers have served as CoMissioners, including 438 sent by The Navigators. Of these, more than one hundred Navigators have returned for additional terms.
  • Fifty-seven cities have been reached by follow-up CoMission teams.
  • Some eight hundred nationals have been raised up as committed Christian leaders, with more than 50,000 videos of The Jesus Film given to teachers.

What were some of the numerous positive legacies86 of The CoMission?

  • Those who served on one or more of the committees of The CoMission were themselves equipped and enthused to return to their home organizations with fresh ideas and spiritual principles.
  • The mobilization of hundreds of lay people and the spirit of godly cooperation among them.
  • The spiritual impact upon teachers and translators. For example, a math teacher named Nina wrote:

We’ve been in need of these materials for a long time. In schools there is nothing like them, not even a copy of the Bible. The curriculum is excellent. I have read them without pausing for breath. The tapes attracted the attention of students immediately. We’ll keep applying them.

  • Mobilizing for prayer. More than 20,000 people committed to pray daily for The CoMission, with every CoMissioner having his or her prayer team.
  • Relational channels through which practical aid87 flowed to Russian believers. As regards such aid, random examples included clothing to Orenburg, wheelchairs to Vladimir, tuberculosis drugs to Magadan.
  • Frequent repentance was also required among those chosen as leaders: sins of pride, territorialism, individualism, resistance to ministering with other agencies, taking credit for ourselves—these were some of the vices for which repentance was needed again and again to keep God’s work moving forward.88

Chapter 5 of Glanzer’s book contains many individual quotations on what Russians felt about the impact of The CoMission and the extent to which it provided spiritual value for them. Broadly, this is an encouraging collection of testimonies.

Concerns about CoMission Ministry Ethics

However, the pressure continued to mount during 1994. The Orthodox Church was seen by many Russians—and still is—as a principal source of identity and moral order, a link to their pre-revolutionary past, but also some of whose hierarchs had too often been in league with the KGB. But the most frequent complaint among educators was simply that the Church failed to teach the faith in an understandable way. After all, services were in Church Slavonic! Here’s an example of an attack published by the Archbishop of Krasnodar: “It is very easy to understand that all of this program is very Protestant. . . . This is the propagation of morality alien to us. . . . This is again leaving the true way, which Orthodox Russia was taking for centuries.”

Furthermore, the Archbishop claimed that allowing The CoMission access to public schools was unfair. “We still don’t have free access for teaching Orthodoxy in public schools, but this access was given by the Ministry of Education to Protestant teachers.” What is the result? “Destruction of young Orthodox plants. We need to stop this and not allow Protestants into our Russian schools.”89

In 1996, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk spoke in front of the World Council of Churches. He claimed: “As soon as freedom for missionary work was allowed, a crusade began against the Russian church, even as it began recovering from a prolonged disease, standing on its feet with weakened muscles. Hordes of missionaries dashed in, believing the former Soviet Union to be a vast missionary territory. They behaved as though no local churches existed, no Gospel was being proclaimed.”90

Elmer Thiessen, in The Ethics of Evangelism, mentions The CoMission as an example of moral failure in apparently having “no moral qualms about using a state-run education system to accomplish the aims of evangelism and church planting” and instances “dishonesty” in representing their aims. “The 1,500 people recruited to help train teachers in Russia were not educators but missionaries.”91

We may note that InterVarsity had in the 1980s taken an initiative to bring together leaders from the Christian, Jewish, and agnostic communities to define ethical standards for communicating our beliefs.92 The crucial paragraphs in the resulting code of ethics were:

We believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and affirm the role and goal of the Christian evangelist. However, we do not believe that this justifies any means to fulfill that end. Hence, we disavow the use of any coercive techniques or manipulative appeals that bypass a person’s critical faculties, play on psychological weaknesses, undermine relationships with family or religious institutions, or mask the true nature of Christian conversion.

While respecting the individual integrity, intellectual honesty, and academic freedom of all other believers and skeptics, we seek to proclaim Christ openly. We reveal our own identity, and purpose, our theological positions, and sources of information, and will not be intentionally misleading. Respect for human integrity means no false advertising, no personal aggrandizement from successfully persuading others to follow Jesus, and no overly emotional appeals that minimize reason and evidence.”

Incidentally, some ten thousand evangelists and theologians met in Amsterdam in the year 2000 to pray and plan for world evangelization.93 Their declaration urges that “our evangelism be marked both by faithfulness to the good news of Christ and humility in our delivery of it. Because God’s general revelation extends to all points of his creation, there may well be traces of truth, beauty and goodness in many non-Christian belief systems. . . . As we enter into a dialogue with adherents of other religions, we must be courteous and kind. But such dialogue must not be a substitute for a proclamation.”

Overview of Navigator Contributions and Outcomes

Soon after the last Nav team of CoMissioners returned home, from Kupchino, a formal summary of what The Navigators had been privileged to contribute to the overall thrust was circulated. As follows:

  • Bible Study groups conducted (408)
  • Number of groups that are continuing (49 with 32 nationally led)
  • Nationals discipled (280)
  • Nationals continuing in ministry (170)
  • Nationals who have led others to Christ (230)
  • Nationals who are discipling others (44)
  • Nationals who are potential Nav staff (14)
  • Nationals touched by The CoMission (10,000-20,000)

Nav CoMissioners raised almost $14 million during the six years. A very large part of this was from donors who were new to The Navigators. It averages over $30,000 per CoMissioner, most of whom had no prior experience in fundraising. It was anticipated that we would end with a small surplus and that our accounts would be closed by August 1998.94

There was of course what might be called a “hidden cost,” namely what could The Navigators have accomplished around the world if we had not deployed our resources so aggressively within The CoMission?

Overall, when The CoMission officially ended in 1997, “there were no assets to distribute. The $60 million or more that was raised and invested through the scores of established ministry organizations that comprised its membership nearly all found its way to ministry right on the field—not in corporate overhead.”95

Dave Uhles, who by 2000 had become our Nav leader in Russia, gathered the personal reflections of six of his team on The CoMission after they had lived with the results for some time. His was an informal and qualitative survey. He set out “those inputs that I believe were common to all the responses”:

Positive Comments
  1. Most felt that The CoMission project was clearly from the Lord and it was very effective as an evangelistic, short-term endeavor. It was a sowing ministry by its nature and as such is difficult to evaluate.
  2. The project benefitted the kingdom of God, generated interest, prayer and finances for missions in America, and gave new spiritual life to those who participated. It mobilized untapped resources of personnel and finances. And the energy, perseverance, and heart of all those involved was a great spiritual boost to The Navigators and the church in America.
  3. The Navigator participation in The CoMission was an act of servanthood of benefit to all the other agencies. The CoMission was going to happen and, as full participating members, we were able to have influence in areas of our strengths—especially by contributing a training mentality to the entire project.
  4. Our participation also enabled The Navigators to receive fresh ideas and new ways of working together with other groups and ministries with different philosophies. The great cooperation between agencies was a significant benefit of the project.
  5. The emphasis on teamwork was stretching for many, yet pacesetting provided a much needed paradigm for The Navigators. Many people feel this issue of teams, teaming, and what we have learned for it was a very positive result of The CoMission.
  6. The CoMission unleashed a torrent of materials and educational resources that have made their way into the Russian language and continue to be used now and will be in years to come.
  7. A spiritual harvest occurred among the translators who worked with The CoMission teams. We know of many who have come to Christ and have been established, some even becoming laborers.
  8. Longer-term laborers were made available to Russia and numerous others have joined the US Navigators as a direct result of their time in The CoMission. By this summer, we project that there will be fourteen staff units in-country who first came to Russia through The CoMission: two of these fourteen were already Navigator Representatives, seven are potential Representatives now receiving training and five will remain in-country serving as international specialists.
  9. Through The CoMission, untold offerings of prayer were given for Russia. There is no way to estimate the significant long-term effects of this activity.
  10. Because of The CoMission, new regions of Navigator ministry in Russia were opened—many of which we would never have had the resources to explore, let alone staff. While several areas have had to be closed, The CoMission laid the groundwork for our ministries in Kiev, Ukraine, southern Russia, and moved us ahead in the St. Petersburg area.
  11. The CoMission was not a Navigator ministry in its values and vision. But thousands of Russian teachers, students, and other have been influenced by the Gospel through its efforts.
  12. We should be glad and proud of this one-time opportunity from God to participate in it.
Shortcomings Related to Our Participation
  1. CoMission involvement by The Navigators was by and large a US Navigator initiative, decided in the earliest stages without field consultation and carried forward with too little input from field leaders.
  2. The project’s scale and necessary speed surpassed the ability of its leadership to lead and manage it well, resulting in some poor decision-making and poor stewardship.
  3. Because of the very nature of blending various missions agencies into a common project it resulted in an unclear vision and fuzzy focus for The Navigators. The Navigators were in the position of supporting the overall goals and vision of The CoMission while at the same time trying to be good Navigators and take steps toward our calling. This was a difficult task. [In my opinion, it was a critical moment when the project became The Navigators CoMission instead of The Navigators participating in The CoMission. It may be a subtle thing at first, but it took us down a significantly different path.]
  4. There are deep differences that short-termers bring to a ministry versus long-term staff who move into a culture. The complete short-term mentality of The CoMission impacted the ministries that grew out of it; it has taken time to see these works develop a distinct Navigator look. One respondent commented that: “The verdict is still out as to whether this is possible.”
  5. Probably the single short-term impact of The CoMission on the Russian Navigator ministry was the recruiting of new staff and missionaries. While new people are always appreciated, there was a tremendous burden placed on the Russian country team when we inherited a significant number of untrained and “un-Navigatorized” people on the field. For two years after the end of The CoMission, the single greatest expenditure of time and energy by the Russian Navigator leaders has been caring for those recruited to Russia from The CoMission. They are wonderful people but had painfully limited knowledge of The Navigators, our vision and values, our corporate “culture,” or simply what type of organization they had joined. One staff suggest that they should have applied to The Navigators as if a new organization, then asked to receive training in the States, and then gone through the missionary application process as all Navigator missionaries would have. This would have allowed the in-country staff to remain focused on Russians instead of Americans and provided trained instead of untrained people for the field. Another comment: “Among our team there is no one with a strong Navigator background. We are starting from scratch and several of our staff (CoMissioners) have never led anyone to Christ or helped someone grow spiritually. Most have little to no experience with one-to-one ministry.”
  6. One wonders what would have happened if some of the energy given to The CoMission had been expended towards a more traditional Navigator ministry. The reality is that after ten years of staff in-country and with the tremendous efforts and huge influence of The CoMission, we recently could only identify thirty-two Russian laborers among us for a key persons conference. And of those we estimate fewer than fifteen are disciple-makers.
  7. Because of the volume of communications and high-profile character of The CoMission in The Navigators, we find years later that the US staff are weary of hearing about Russia. This has significantly impacted our ability to recruit people and finances. Note: Millions of dollars were raised and spent on The CoMission; it was a great blessing that the project broke even. However, there were no funds remaining for Russia.

Various adjustments could be made to any such future project, in the light of the above, but it is good that Dave Uhles ends with the comment that The Navigators should not have missed the opportunity, nor should we ignore a future one.

By 1996, there was a palpable enthusiasm96 for continuing by means of what was tentatively called CoMission II. The ultimate objective would be “nationally led multiplying cell groups and church assemblies.” A statement of CoMission culture and values accompanied a call to unified action in the Body of Christ, with the concepts being broader and deeper: contextualize, nationalize, multiply.97

The US Navigators decided not to be formally associated with CoMission II.98 We needed Bob Sheffield, for example, to focus on leading Russia.

Then, Christianity Today (October 26,1998) reported that The CoMission was “going global” under the new name of CoMission International with new programs in Africa and East Asia.

A fairly balanced summary of the results of The CoMission appeared in the fall 2005 issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.99 A few excerpts:

Tension existed between the way The CoMission depicted itself to Western evangelicals who constitute its prayer and financial base and the way it described itself to the Russia Ministry of Education . . . . It billed itself to its Russian partners as a provider of a Christian-based morality and ethics curriculum. However . . . the major purpose was to engage in evangelism and discipleship and, in fact, the overall thrust of the Christian ethics curriculum was that in order to live by Christian morality, one needed to receive Christ as Savior. Moreover, The CoMission continually depicted itself to its Western constituencies as the largest evangelistic outreach in history. . . . Far too often, The CoMission has either been portrayed in glowing terms as one of God’s most extraordinary works in history or derided as a clumsy and ill-thought-out act of American religious imperialism. In actual fact, much good has come of The CoMission. Surely it has helped in bringing Christian morality to Russian students, and unquestionably it has brought many people into close contact with the message of Christ. But this good has come at a high cost, including questions of integrity raised by different ways of depicting the project to different audiences, the angry reaction of the Russian Orthodox Church and The CoMission’s tragic act of ignoring the three million indigenous Protestants in the former Soviet Union.


The CoMission was a temporary movement, scheduled to be disbanded in 1997.100 However, as that year approached, it was evident that there was still much work to be done and that it would be wrong to offer newly emerging bodies of national believers a ministry model in which separate ministries pursued individual goals. So the torch was passed to CoMission II “with fresh leadership and a new emphasis on forming communities of believers and training national Christians to assume all ministry responsibilities as quickly as possible.”101

As Bob Sheffield explained, “CoMission II will have a strong discipleship edge, partly because of Navigator involvement.102 Sheffield added: “Since God continues to bring new believers to Him, none of the Christian ministries were going to pull their people out of the former Soviet Union just because 1997 had arrived. . . . Thus CoMission II was born and would function with minor operational changes and a much broader vision. . . . Because eleven of the thirteen sending agencies had historically been involved in church planting, CoMission II would also emphasize multiplying home fellowships where believers can continue to grow together.”103

As Eddie Broussard put it, as regards the failure to link the fruit of CoMission I with resident Navigators, this gap persisted. “For example, our Navigator team of CoMissioners worked in Rostov-on-Don that already had resident Nav missionaries. Within seven months, we had 160 Russians in weekly Bible study. Our teams were calling out for help, but our impression was that the resident Navigators did not appreciate or in some cases believe the new Russian converts. They did not fit our Navigator lenses. . . . Also, what I would call our contemporary missiological structures and protocol gave no capacity to have a conversation on how to bridge and learn what God was doing. Russians were calling out for help and were denied because they did not fit into what we were doing, and they would not last long. They were not strategic.”104 This is a very sobering disconnect.

Reflecting on this four years later, in 2018, Eddie expressed this disconnect with more of a focus on the new Russian believers. Thus:

What we regret most is that because we, the CoMission team and resident team, were not able to talk and hammer out a shared, agreed understanding, the key Russian believers who were growing in their faith lost out. Because of our inability to work through these differences, many of these Russian believers did not receive the kind of ongoing discipling and equipping that would have helped them become laborers.105

This (already lengthy) analysis does not look at the trajectory of CoMission II, though it is fair to say that it took place in a relatively brief timeframe before it was absorbed into the overall progress of the kingdom of God among the countries of the former Soviet Union.

What may be said, by way of summary? As we have seen, this story is complex, agitated, even adversarial; yet focused on the service of uncovering and recovering the Lord of life in a context where death had so long reigned. It saw a clash of religious perspectives, a tussle between contrasting ways of sowing the seed of the Gospel.

The CoMission was far too complex to be discussed in terms of comparative success or failure. However, it introduced Christ to thousands of young Russians and gave many of them a grounding in the faith, in a time of deep need, and it provided CoMissioners with a formative cross-cultural ministry immersion lasting at least a year. For thousands of Americans, it was touched by the blessing of God. As Broussard comments, “Ordinary people made some extraordinary contributions to the lives of Russians that indelibly marked their lives for Christ and His Gospel.”

What about the impact on The Navigators? The debate that swirled around the US Navigator decision to participate was painful. It touched on our Calling and our priorities and our ways of ministering.106 It raised difficult questions as to how and who discerns God’s will for us. It required faith to imagine it, and faith to promote it. Nevertheless, our international relationships held and our partnership survived. For this, we should thank our Lord.

Was there ever anything projected, that savoured any way of newnesse or renewing, but the same endured many a storme of gaine-saying, or opposition?
Translators’ Preface to the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible

By Donald McGilchrist
11,909 words

Published Resources

Johnson, Paul H. ed, The CoMission, Moody Publishers, 2004, 307 pages.

Glanzer, Perry L., The Quest for Russia’s Soul: Evangelicals and Moral Education in Post-Communist Russia, Baylor University, 2002, 234 pages.

Jr. Witte, John & Bourdeaux, Michael eds., Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia: The New War for Souls, Orbis Books, 1999, 400 pages.

Ennis, Ralph & Jennifer and Rinehart, Paula, “An Introduction to the Russian Soul,” Russian Leadership and Development Team, CoMission Training and Materials Committee, 1995, 31 pages.

Sawatsky, Walter, “After the Glasnost Revolution: Soviet Evangelicals and Western Missions,” article in IBMR 16, April 1992, p. 54-60.

Thiessen, Elmer, The Ethics of Evangelism: A Philosophical Defense of Proselytizing and Persuasion, IVP Academic, 2011, 285 pages.

For a full Bibliography, see Glanzer in loc cit, p. 219-227.

See also articles on:
Navigators Among the People of God
Scriptural Roots of our Ministry
Cross-Cultural Missions
Fundamentals of Nav Missions
The Approach to The Core


  1. Working Consultation on Partnership, 5/91 Wheaton: 48 agencies and 8 churches from 5 continents. This was followed by a WEF event the following year, under the theme Toward Interdependent Partnership.
  2. Bob Sheffield notes that the original concept of The CoMission included Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, but not the rest of Central Europe. Ultimately, Navigator teams also worked in Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Bulgaria. Source: McGilchrist to Bussard of January 26, 1994, plus Kazakhstan (one team).
  3. Perry L. Glanzer, The Quest for Russia’s Soul: Evangelicals and Moral Education in Post-Communist Russia, Baylor University 2002, above based on p. 26-38.
  4. Material taken from chapter 10 by Michael Bordeaux in Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia (Orbis, 1999), p. 186.
  5. The fall of the Berlin Wall had taken place in November 1989.
  6. Memo and draft Strategy: Fischer to Taylor on April 9, 1992. This strategy recognized that, “We Navigators have already been significantly used by God in the past to launch a broad and fruitful discipleship contribution to the evangelical church throughout the Soviet Union . . . (and) we anticipate that the Scriptural Roots of our Ministry process, presently being undertaken by the USSR missionary team, will further and greatly develop and sharpen our understanding of our contribution.” Fischer had served as a resident Nav missionary for more than twenty years, mainly in the former Yugoslavia, and happened to be on furlough in Colorado Springs.
  7. Our first field test for the Scriptural Roots of Our Ministry had taken place in April 1989.
  8. Foreign ministries, including The Navigators, had worked in the Soviet Bloc since at least the early 1970s, but there was a dramatic surge in their numbers. Elliott and Deyneka offer estimates from 150 ministries in 1982, to 311 in 1989, to 691 in 1993, to nearly one thousand in 1997, by which time some 561 groups were active in the former Soviet Union. Source: Witte & Bourdeaux, loc cit, p. 199. “In October 1990, a new law on religion not only provided unprecedented freedom for Soviet religious believers but also opened the doors of the USSR to foreign missionaries.”
  9. Source for strategy quotes: see ELT draft on the Navigator ministry in the USSR, dated December 2, 1991.
  10. Bussard to McGilchrist of December 12, 1990. Bussard was a capable leader but was moving back to Bratislava to focus on the national disciples in Central Europe.
  11. He continued with WTB launching a dynamic program known as World-Teach in 1998. Then, in 2002, he was called to resign from WTB and eventually moved with his family to South Africa to serve the Lord.
  12. Glanzer, loc cit, p. 67.
  13. Source: Letter of March 4, 1992 from Wilkinson to Terry Taylor.
  14. Bruce Wilkinson in chapter 1 of The CoMission, Moody, 2004, edited by Paul Johnson, p. 17 and 21.
  15. These were basically US leaders. As regards the IET, Donald McGilchrist and Jim Petersen were not invited, Paul Stanley was unable to attend, but Jerry White was present. We can therefore date the US decision to participate in The CoMission as April 2, 1992, confirmed by letter of April 9 from Taylor to Wilkinson: “God supernaturally spoke to our hearts . . . total unanimity among the twenty-four Navigator leaders present.”
  16. The first meeting of The CoMission planners took place on October 11, 1991. Eshleman, Kienel, Wilkinson, and some of their staff met to pray and discuss the possibilities for working in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Out of that meeting came both the name and the initial cooperation embedded in The CoMission.
  17. Briefing to Navigator US board of directors in July 1992 by Terry Taylor, goals 1 and 2.
  18. Ibid. Taylor briefing to his US board, but see Broussard of February 2018.
  19. Ibid. Taylor briefing to his US board.
  20. This small team was led by Jerry White whose responsibility as general director was then “to lead and guide The Navigators worldwide as an enabling society in their God-given mission and calling.” In support, the team comprised McGilchrist, Petersen, Stanley. We also had an international council that met annually and were about to launch (in February 1992) an intermediate International Team comprising mainly our regional directors and the IET. Jerry served as general director from June 1986 to December 2004 and Terry Taylor served as US director from April 1984 to September 1997.
  21. The IET met with Taylor and Darrell Sanders on June 3-4. It was an animated exchange of views, covering various concerns, but concluded with Jerry White’s assertion that we were now so embedded in The CoMission that the IET would need to support the US Navigators in their endeavor. As the members of the Training and Materials Committee (TMC) of The Commission later observed, for them it was a response to the call of God on their lives, as illustrated in Acts 16:8-10.
  22. A productive exception was that the TMC brought in Nick and Maia M. (a Ukrainian couple of Russian background) to serve on the TMC who, soon after The CoMission ended, launched International Partnerships, which reaches out to Ukrainian educators and other professionals. They made a substantial contribution to the development of training content and the training of the teams. Source: Broussard of February 14, 2018.
  23. M. Elliott & A. Deyneka, “Protestant Missionaries in the Former Soviet Union,” p. 215 of Proselytism and Orthodoxy in Russia, Maryknoll, NY, 1999, Orbis Books, quoted in Glanzer, p. 184.
  24. Source: The CoMission, ed. Paul Johnson, Moody Press, 2004, chapter 5: Terry Taylor, p. 138-1399. There were eleven training cycles spanning October 1992 through July 1997.
  25. Source: Broussard of February 14, 2018. He lived in Moscow from 1994 to 1996.
  26. The TMC was Stacy Rinehart, Ralph Ennis, John Hamilton, Andy Weeks, Dennis Stokes, Miles Lorenzen (World Team), and Eddie Broussard. Andrea Wolf of Campus Crusade was an excellent support. All these except Andrea reviewed a draft of this article in 2018 and I have endeavored to include their perspectives.
  27. This was the SRM 2.1 version (January 1990), contextualized originally for Americans.
  28. Source: Broussard of February 14, 2018. He comments: “We always made edits in concert with the executive committee, who gave us constant direction.”
  29. Source: The CoMission, Paul Eshleman, p. 46. The forty-ninth and final Nav team returned home from Kupchino on June 15, 1998.
  30. Source: Doug Radunzel Schedule of August 12, 1993.
  31. It is interesting to note that Bill Bright’s May 1992 letter to the Campus Crusade constituency did not mention that any other organizations would be participating.
  32. This executive committee naturally expanded. A list is given in The CoMission, Paul Johnson, Moody Publishers 2004.
  33. As the TMC members pointed out in 2018, “The CoMission was not an initiative from the West, but a response from the West to an invitation from the Russian Ministry of Education.”
  34. The Navigators of Canada, under Ross Rains, had chosen not to participate.
  35. Source: Church Disciple, Vol. 6.1, August 1992.
  36. Source: Chapter 10 of The CoMission, p. 243.
  37. Source: White to Taylor of July 13, 1992.
  38. Source: Letter of May 28 inviting Christian leaders across America to one of four briefing meetings between June 10 and 25.
  39. The actual meeting of the board took place on July 24-25.
  40. Taylor to Bussard of July 2, 1992.
  41. Source: Jerry White to International Team of July 14, 1992.
  42. What follows above are some excerpts that relate especially to the dialogue on the impact of The CoMission on the Navigators.
  43. Memo from Sanny to Taylor of July 16, 1992.
  44. This had long been foreseen by us, which is why The Navigators had secured a coveted federal registration, as contrasted with local unpredictability. Quotation of fax from Neil G. to Stanley: May 24, 1992.
  45. His enthusiasm received a passionate boost from the very persuasive Bruce Wilkinson who was our plenary speaker at NavWorld in January 1993, an annual conference run by the IET for their friends and supporters.
  46. Briefing on The CoMission to the July 1992 US board dated July 1, 1992.
  47. Examples in Bussard fax to Taylor, June 30, 1992: “I do not think The Navigators should be involved in The CoMission.” Helmer fax to Taylor, June 21, 1992: “If we had the right to stop The Navigators from participating, we would.” Shore fax to Ford Madison July 14, 1992: “The entire approach . . . is callously insensitive, the methodology is totally unsustainable and will led to enormous problems, and the project is almost certain to fuel the growing backlash that has the potential to shut out those of us committed to a long-term servant approach.” Shore lived in Moscow with his family during 1993-1997, focusing on establishing one of Russia’s first credit, training, and small-business incubators, as well as supporting the Association of Christians in Business. He then moved back to Romania as national director for World Vision. However, it should be firmly noted that not all of our resident team members were opposed to The CoMission.
  48. Paper presented for discussion by Regent College faculty on March 5, 1990, quoting from draft 2. This paper was of course written before The CoMission was conceived, but it was widely circulated within The Navigators and contributed to the general debate.
  49. By “projection,” Al meant “the uncritical transmission of Western theological concerns and formulations into non-Western cultural situations.”
  50. In March 1992, Al Bussard asked to be released as our leader for the former Soviet Union, so that he could concentrate his energies on the many developments in Eastern Europe. Source: Stanley, March 28,1992.
  51. This was not the experience of Eddie Broussard who was living in Moscow and travelled to twenty-two of the cities with CoMission teams to encourage them in the mission. Many team members were invited into Russian homes for dinner and became true friends. Source: Broussard of February 14, 2018.
  52. Sawatsky in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research 16, April 1992, p. 54-60, quoted in Glanzer loc cit. He was a Mennonite professor and scholar of Protestantism in the Soviet Union.
  53. The CoMission, Moody Publishers, 2004, p. 79.
  54. Press release dated November 4, 1992, Anaheim, California, Sheffield. The official launch was on November 5, 1992 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
  55. Sending agencies were: BCM International, Campus Crusade for Christ, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Deaf Ministry Resources, Gospel Missionary Union, Church of God (Anderson, IN), Mission Society for United Methodists, Mission to the World, The Navigators, OMS International, SEND International, Wesleyan World Missions, WorldTeam. Source: One to One, Issue 20, Winter 1996. Among these, only Campus Crusade and The Navigators were not classic church planters, though it transpired that they were sending the most CoMissioners.
  56. A further eight agencies had candidate status. Source: Material sent to Nav-related Christian leaders in advance of the 1993 conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was “to discuss ways to make The CoMission a force for renewal and revival in their own churches.”
  57. Eynon toWhite of February 19, 1993, reprinted March 29, 1993.
  58. Source: The CoMuniqué, published by The Navigators, showing issue number for reference. Sheffield mentioned to the IET on July 21, 1994 that some 90 percent of Russian school teachers were women. Looking back, the TMC observed that, “The CoMission impacted 10 percent of all Russian public school children and their teachers with the Gospel.”
  59. All Nav CoMissioners contributed 14 percent of the money that they raised. Thus: 2 percent CoMission National HQ; 1.6 percent Nav CoMission office; 2 percent Nav national leader services; 8.4 percent Nav national support services. Source: Mark Coyne of December 10, 1992 for the oversight committee.
  60. Source: Jim Schroeder June 20, 1994.
  61. Loc cit, p. 209.
  62. Source: Chris Shore to Grissen: Letter of March 5, 1994. Christopher Shore had lived in Moscow for several years.
  63. Glanzer, loc cit, p. 72.
  64. Glanzer, loc cit, p. 86. “When I asked Wilkinson about this, he admitted the discrepancy between the goals of education and evangelism, but believed it was not something that meant the goal should be abandoned.”
  65. Witte & Bourdeaux, loc cit, p. 214.
  66. Loc cit, p. 218.
  67. Extracts from “An Introduction to the Russian Soul,” edited by Paula Rinehart, 1995.
  68. This was later extended and explored in “An Introduction to the Russian Soul,” edited by Paula Rinehart, 1995. Incidentally, the November 1994 report estimated that about 50 percent of our fruit as of that date had been students.
  69. “Dear Navigator Family” letters of February 22 and December 16, 1994.
  70. Source: Pulse, May 8, 1992, announcement reported on page 5.
  71. Letter from Regent University dated May 11, 1992. It also mentions a consultation on church planting in the CIS to be held in July 1992 for all who were interested in church planting to network and partner with them.
  72. News bulletin from King Crow at CoMission HQ.
  73. Administrative order N198, dated June 24, 1994, sent to all schools.
  74. This was held at the former Lenin Academy for Political Officers. Co-chair was Lt. Gen. Oleg Zolotariov. Also on the organizing committee were Lt. Gen. Bogdanov, Dr. Jeff Jernigan and Baroness von Luelstorff. Most of the administration was provided by Navigators, including Neil Lessman as the main translator. Russia’s military chaplaincy had been abolished in 1917 and many delegates were very surprised to meet the US Chief of Chaplains Matthew Zimmerman, an African-American and two-star General. The OCF was well represented among the western delegates. There were five major tracks: problems in downsizing the military…family and interpersonal relationships…alcoholism and other addictions…worth of the individual…morality, ethics and values. Dates: March 29-April 4, 1993.
  75. Bruce Kittleson of our US Military Mission continued to maintain and cultivate contacts.
  76. IT2 in Langkawi, Malaysia: 13 participants including Terry Taylor (2/11-13/93). The Guidelines, interestingly, were first used in El Salvador.
  77. Letter from White to Doornenbal, Hoo, Taylor on international structure of December 10, 1993. White made it clear that this policy applied worldwide, with the exception of The CoMission which was not “under the Navigator banner.”
  78. Our February 1994 team in Denver generated twenty-seven issues or questions related to Navigator missions! Whatever our future hopes, American Nav missionaries were much less available in the short-term for the rest of the world: Aldo Berndt, for example, had recently asked for eight couples for Latin America.
  79. Working with a cluster group of Baljeu, Taylor, Treneer.
  80. This is somewhat overstated, but consultation does not imply a change of direction.
  81. This statement would be generally true of those on The CoMission executive committee, but we should note that several of the cross-agency TMC had substantial cross-cultural experience and maturity.
  82. Extracted from the “Evolution of the US Navigator Missions Program: 1949-2007,” Beidler February 2007. USIMG = US International Missions Group.
  83. Such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia.
  84. Letter: Ed Cox to Bob Sheffield December 14, 1993. One of the two Nav teams moved in December to St. Petersburg and the other team planned to remain in Sofia with a focus on friendship evangelism, but without any of them having a resident visa for Bulgaria.
  85. Loc cit, appendix A, p. 221. The largest presence from among the Western denominational sending agencies was 104 Church of Christ and eighty-seven Baptists. See appendix B.
  86. These benefits are selected from pages 276-289 of The CoMission.
  87. Source: The CoMission, ed. Paul Johnson, chapter 11, “The Ministry of Compassion to Russia,” by Ralph Plumb, p. 259-272.
  88. Paul Johnson, loc cit, p. 278.
  89. 1994 article in the Krasnodar Isvestia quoted in Glanzer, loc cit, Page 172.
  90. Glanzer, loc cit, Page 179.
  91. Elmer Thiessen, The Ethics of Evangelism (IVP Academic 2011), Page 42, see also Pages 201-3. Thiessen was until recently Research Professor of Education at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, Canada. The thrust of his book is that much of what is negatively dismissed as proselytizing is indeed acceptable. He presents 15 Criteria to Distinguish between Ethical and Unethical proselytizing. He argues for sensitivity to the communal identity of a target people or country such as, for example, we have well displayed in India.
  92. Their Task Force included Jews, Roman Catholics, denominational chaplains, evangelicals and agnostics. InterVarsity’s version of the Code was affirmed by InterVarsity’s leaders in 1989. Accessed on 10/7/2014 from
  93. They issued “The Amsterdam Declaration: a Charter for Evangelism in the 21st Century.” Section 4 on trust and evangelism had some future relevance, but only indirectly in that the period of The CoMission had long since passed.
  94. Extracts from report of Nav highlights dated July 14, 1998.
  95. Perry Glanzer, loc cit, chapter 1 by Bruce Wilkinson, p. 33.
  96. Especially among certain CoMission I leaders such as Cheryl Meredith and Bob Sheffield.
  97. Diagram from King Crow, received September 1996.
  98. “We have handed over our portion of the work to the permanent Russian and Ukrainian teams.” Source: One-to-One Communiqué for August 1998.
  99. Volume 13.4, article headed “CoMission Shortcomings” by Donald Fairbarn, Review of Perry L. Glanzer, The Quest for Russia’s Soul: Evangelicals and Moral Education in Post-Communist Russia, Baylor, 2002.
  100. Remarkably, 97 percent of those sent and trained to live and work for a year in the former Soviet Union completed an effective and fruitful year of ministry. Indeed, 35 percent of them signed up for a second year! Source: The CoMission, J. B. Crouse, chapter 9, p. 222. Each single person was expected to raise US $20,000 in support, couples without children US $35,000 for a year’s support. Source: East-West Church & Ministry Report, Spring 1993, p. 4.
  101. Source: Brochure on CoMission II published by The Navigators. “Remember When You Dreamed You’d Grow Up to Change the Course of History?”
  102. Source: One to One, Issue 20, Winter 1996.
  103. Loc cit, appendix A, p. 221. The largest presence from among the Western denominational sending agencies was 104 Church of Christ and eighty-seven Baptists. See appendix B.
  104. Source: McGilchrist audio interview with Broussard on April 10, 2014.
  105. Source: Broussard to McGilchrist, February 14, 2018.
  106. Jerry White comments that our relative isolationism since we had ceased to work closely with the Graham team was certainly challenged. It had manifested from time to time as an aversion to initiatives that did not originate with us.
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