The lady’s name was Jill. Her husband’s name was Randolph. They were in their forties. She was English. He was American. Baptist missionaries, or so they said. They rented a building in Simferopol and another one in Sevastopol, and floated between them. On Thursday nights in Simferopol, they gave English-lessons to groups of local kids. Or more precisely, the first hour was an English language lesson, and the second hour was Bible-stuff.
There are about a dozen or more small Baptist congregations in Crimea. Most of them were started during the 1990’s, and cater to people who are now middle-aged or older. Jill and Randolph’s groups were different. The age-range of their groups was not the only thing which made them highly atypical for people claiming to be Baptist missionaries. Of the dozen or so Baptist churches which are currently active in Crimea, most are led by sincere people.
Typically, an American couple during the 1990’s decided that they had been called, managed to scrape $30,000 or $40,000 together, bought a little house in some Crimean village, converted it into a simple church, and stayed for the next 25 years. In most cases, it’s just a story of sincere working-class Evangelism. Their variant of Christianity is hardly the cultural epitome of Russianness, but they essentially do no harm. Within reason, Russian people tend to have respect for any sincere profession of faith, as long as it’s not toxic.
There were lots of little telltale signs that Jill and Randolph were characters in another opera.
For a start, neither of them seemed to be even remotely as religiously literate as you’d expect a garden-variety Baptist missionary to be. I had tested them both, separately, by casually inserting a few lines from St. Paul into our conversation – some line from Galatians or Philippians or Romans, whatever was opportune in the context of the discussion which we were momentarily having.
I already had my suspicions. So I’d buzz them with some line from St. Paul, just as an acid-test, and they wouldn’t recognize the line. Major red flag. An actual Baptist missionary would know the line.
Secondly, both Jill and Randolph seemed extremely reticent about discussing the exact nature of their mission. Again, this would be highly atypical for somebody claiming to be a Baptist missionary. In fact, it would be an outright contradiction. For an actual Baptist missionary, explaining the nature of their mission would be part and parcel of the mission itself. They’d want to shout it from the rooftops. They’d want to explain the exact purpose of their mission to anybody who would listen.
Jill and Randolph were also completely unprepared to discuss anything relating to their organizational structure, partner-organizations or parent-organizations, or their sources of finance.
Thirdly, Jill and Randolph had shown up in Crimea only a couple of months after the State Duma had passed new legislation which significantly expanded the official blacklist of NGO’s which were classified as undesirable or subversive organizations in Russia.
You see where this is going.
They can’t operate openly as NGO-activists, so they start showing up posing as religious missionaries to circumvent the new legislation. The timing of their arrival was just too convenient.
As an alternative to pretending to be religious missionaries, NGO-provocateurs in Crimea also often pose as musicians. Musicians are cool. Sheltered, impressionable kids like cool. It’s always about targeting the most naïve segment of the population, ergo….
The NGO’s tend to use recruitment-techniques very similar to those of religious cults – non-stop validation, love-bombing, basic manipulation-techniques like that. Woundedly narcissistic middle-class kids eat it up.
Crimeans sometimes seem to be bizarrely relaxed about the social presence of provocateurs such as these, but then again, that’s at least partially because Crimea has been a mark for western ideological provocateurs of all shades ever since the early 1990’s. Most Crimeans just shrug their shoulders and politely dismiss these people. Some Crimeans even argue that encountering these kinds of foreign ideological provocateurs helps to “immunize” the kids, as the NGO-operatives in question are almost never well educated, and therefore lack the argumentation-skills to be persuasive, even to kids. For the most part, they are simply purveyors of slogans and clichés – their discourse rarely goes deeper than that. So, in that sense, their presence is seen by locals more as an “inoculation” than an “immunization” – give the kids just a light dose of western liberal NGO nonsense, just enough to immunize them against it.
Personally, I’ve always thought that relaxed attitude was an error of judgment, considering that the most naïve or sheltered or intellectually limited kids don’t get “immunized” or “inoculated” through this exposure, and they are the sub-set of the population which is specifically targeted by foreign NGO’s. The NGO-kids are almost invariably middle-class, “teplichny” as Russians themselves say (“sheltered,” “cloistered,” “coddled” or “hothoused”), but also almost invariably have low IQ and limited academic potential. No historical erudition whatsoever. They’ll be offered opportunities to “study abroad,” postgraduate opportunities which their limitations wouldn’t otherwise give them a chance of earning within the normal academic system at home.
You’re a middle-class kid. You want to go to university, if only to superficially justify your class-status, but you’re not smart enough. You want to travel, but that’s expensive. You received far too much maternal love to cope with the competitive social environment outside your front door, and you want “a career” because it’s expected of you. Just sell out to an NGO. Let them dangle their juicy carrots in front of you. Learn to repeat their mantras.
With the State Duma scheduled on August 19th to discuss the recent unauthorized anti-government protests in Moscow, and those unauthorized protests having been almost exclusively participated in by sheltered middle-class kids, it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that I had seen it all before.