Today’s Georgia sports a long history of changes in rule. Its ancient kingdoms were taken over by the Roman Empire in the first centuries A.D., which introduced Christianity to the region. Persians, Arabs and Turks preceded a Georgian golden age in the 11th-13th centuries, a time that was ended by the Mongols in 1236. Ottoman and Persian empires fought for control of the area until it folded into the Russian Empire in the 1800s. After three years of independence from 1918-1921, Georgia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1921. It stayed under Soviet rule until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, when Georgia gained its independence. In an effort to combat corruption and government inefficacy, public protests in 2003 led to new elections and democratization. Since this time, strong feelings against Russian assistance have brought about intermittent events including violent conflicts. In 2011, opposition groups came together under a coalition called Georgian Dream, which won control in the 2012 election and began efforts to create a new governmental power structure.
According to the 2002 census, 83.9% of the Georgian people identify themselves as Orthodox Christians, the official religion of the country. Muslims make up the next largest religious group at almost 10%, with Armenian-Gregorians (3.9%), Catholics (.8%) and other/none forming the rest.
The MIWC ministry in Georgia began in 2010, when a Georgian pastor living in Kyiv, Ukraine, asked MIWC missionaries in Ukraine about the possibility of developing a ministry in his home country. Though the Baptist Church has a relatively long history in Georgia, the national union of Baptist churches suffered a difficult split when several of the leaders decided to abandon biblically-based theology and return to an older form of Orthodoxy mixed with Baptist beliefs (such as bringing icons into the church; pastors returning to wearing black robes and long beards similar to the priests in the Orthodox church, etc.) Though the leaders had hoped to attract new people to visit the Baptist churches in this predominantly Orthodox country, the result has been an overall weakening of the association because of a watering down of biblical theology, especially in regard to worship.
Even in these difficult times, a small group of faithful churches (approximately 25 spread across the country, with fewer than 1,000 members total) remain committed to following scripture and biblical authority. To strengthen these churches, the leaders of the newly formed association determined that emphasis must be placed on teaching and training church members—especially those involved in the worship and music ministries—in biblically-based models for worship and with a correct understanding of worship theology. The Christian Music Academy (CMA) Georgia is a result of this effort.
At the request of the Baptist Union of Georgia, the CMA (based in Kyiv, Ukraine) began a two-year training program for music and worship leaders among the Georgian churches. MIWC associates Vitaliy Bolgar and Serhiy Bilokin, who also lead the ministries in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, are currently leading this program. The program has the financial support of the Georgian churches, but additional financial support is required to fully fund the ministry. The political situation in Georgia is extremely complex, and there are many challenges within the church associations themselves. As a result, this ministry requires a special approach with careful consideration of the complicated cultural situation.
Since 2010, more than 25 students have participated in workshops, seminars and training sessions taught by MIWC missionaries and associates from Ukraine, the United States and Canada. The enthusiasm and hunger of the CMA students has been overwhelming. Their passion for God is an inspiration and it is amazing to see how God has blessed this small group of faithful churches.
In the summer of 2012, MIWC sponsored a seven-day youth music camp in Georgia, which resulted in many of the campers returning for CMA training sessions the next year.
MIWC’s Serhiy Bilokin continues to work developing songs for the Georgian people to use in their church services. This includes writing and translating texts into the Georgian language for congregations to sing, as well as compiling a choral collection for students and small groups.
Bilokin’s work culminated with the June 2014 Franklin Graham Festival of Hope held in Tbilisi, Georgia. Bilokin and other MIWC associates were instrumental in the preparation of the Festival’s musical programming.
Like Ukraine, Georgia is situated at a crossroads. The country is located in the South Caucasus region, bordered by Russia on the north, the Black Sea on the West, Azerbaijan on the east, and Armenia and Turkey on the south. Believers from some of these neighboring countries (such as Azerbaijan and Armenia) are able to travel to Georgia for training. We see Georgia as an access point for helping develop the worship ministry in all of the surrounding countries.
MIWC has also been afforded unique access to government educational institutions, such as the central conservatory in Tbilisi. We are thrilled at the doors that are opening in this country and ask for your prayers as we begin this new work.
In addition to supporting the work of our associates in Eastern Europe, MIWC would like to send additional teachers and musicians to provide educational and cultural support for the local church leaders. Please contact us if you are interested in partnering with this project.
Source: CIA Factbook https://wwsw.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/br.htm