Pastor George Vandeman is bringing that old-time religion to the splintering Soviet Union. On Oct. 20, his Seventh-day Adventist show, "It Is Written," became the first inspirational program to be broadcast into the living rooms of 280 million Soviet citizens. The show, taped in Thousand Oaks, beat out Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral broadcasts and Pat Robertson's "700 Club" to capture a much-coveted three-year contract with Russian Democratic Television. "There are 35,000 Seventh-day Adventist believers in the states of the Soviet Union," Vandeman says. "Our program is not straight preaching. We use news footage and other taped events to get the message across. (The Soviets) especially wanted moral instruction on science and the Bible."
The Adventists also had some agricultural advantages over the competition. "In Russia, tomatoes are one to two inches in diameter," Vandeman says. "Four years ago, we established a seminary in Zaokski, where we are training students in hydroponic gardening as well as theology--and producing some good-looking four-inch tomatoes and potatoes over six inches long."
Vandeman, 74, caught the attention of Soviet television officials late last fall when he visited Moscow to tape a series titled "Comrades In Christ" on the thousand-year history of Russian faith. In trade for his one-hour biweekly broadcasts, the Seventh-day Adventist church in the United States agreed to supply a professional television production studio facility for the Soviet Channel 2 in Moscow; the programs will be dubbed into Russian at an Adventist facility in Tula, 125 miles south of Moscow. "This openness is a godsend," Vandeman says. "Totalitarian restrictions are dropping all over the world. But we don't get into politics. If we did, we wouldn't be allowed in there."