Church Building Projects
BIEM Church Planting Director Rick Barry preached at the 7th anniversary service of a church planted by long-time friend Yuri Trofimov. The next day Rick and Yuri visited the Christian architect who is adapting blueprints provided by BIEM to fit their needs. In faith, the church plans to lay the foundation for their own building (with seating for 150) as soon as the weather will permit. (Currently they meet in a rented room at an institute.)
This church needed $84,700 to construct a building for 150 people. Over $74,700 has been given from generous donors, and the church raised the initial $5000 for the foundation. Lord willing they will be having a church dedication service on December 5, 2010. That is exciting news! They still need $10,000 to finish the upstairs rooms and furniture. If you would like to help this congregation to buy construction materials for this project, checks may be designated “Kazan Church Project.”
In the closing months of 2007, BIEM expanded its areas of activity to assist two church planters in Belarus. Nikolai and Valera Ryzhuk are brothers, both biologically and spiritually. As a two-man team, these church planters established and lead a young congregation in the town of Drogichin.
“When changes took place in the early 1990s, there was a tremendous openness and hunger,” the Ryzhuks explained in an interview. “Now it’s completely different. People are not actively seeking as they were for that limited period of time.”
However, both men agree that even without widespread hunger for spiritual truth, souls have responded to their personal evangelism. As they come into contact with people through friends, family, and the normal course of interaction at school, in the market, and among neighbors, these national missionaries plant the seeds of the Gospel, and God has given the increase. About one year ago, they formerly organized these believers into a new, local church.
However, because of Belarus’ stringent laws geared to control religion, pastors like the Ryzhuks must serve God in the same way the apostles did: without the approval of the authorities.
“To be officially registered is not an option, since we would have to agree to abide by laws that prohibit any witness or preaching outside the church building,” they explain. (Belarus is the last country in Europe that still bans unregistered religious activity.)
The decision to obey God rather than man is Biblical, but they have had to pay a price for it. Five times Valera was summoned by the authorities to answer for the crime of leading an unregistered congregation (twice before the Committee for Religious Affairs, once before the police, and twice before a court to face a judge). Both brothers were equally guilty, but the authorities concentrated on the younger one, who ended up being fined. His wife Luda has also received threats from the authorities.
Other congregations in Belarus feel the pressure too. In November 2007, a pastor named Gennady Ryzhkov in the eastern Mogilev Region was slapped with a fine of nearly a month’s wages. His offense? Leading his church in an outdoor Harvest celebration (similar to our Thanksgiving).
Evidently, a citizen in Belarus may quietly believe or worship alone in peace—but those who want to pray, worship, or study a Bible with others (“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together,” Hebrews 10:25) may not do so legally without explicit permission from the government. Baptists are not the only churches to feel repercussions. Catholics, charismatics, and other faiths have likewise experienced governmental pressure to curb or halt the exercise of their faith.
Congregations that do not own their own property face serious challenges simply finding a place in which to hold worship services. Technically, by law registered churches have a right to rent secular facilities—but only with a contract and the approval of local authorities. In actuality, churches that try to exercise this option repeatedly see the pattern that willing landlords abruptly change their minds as soon as the authorities find out.
In some areas even congregations that accept state registration and possess enough funds to build have encountered legal roadblocks. In the capital of Minsk, for example, such believers declare that it’s seemingly impossible to obtain permission to build a church. City planners reportedly do not plan to grant any such permissions before the year 2030.
The economy in western Belarus poses a separate challenge. “Those fortunate enough to have jobs are not well paid,” the Ryzhuks said in an interview. “A skilled construction worker makes only $120 to $130 a month, which is not enough to live on. Everyone must have alternate means of income, and big gardens are a must for survival.”
Transportation to services is also a problem, since more than half of their church’s members live 12 to 18 miles away.
On the positive side, even though there is a distinct Belarusian language, the government has opted to make Russian the official language. So the same Bibles and New Testaments that BIEM personnel distribute in other post-Soviet lands can also be used in Belarus.
BIEM has provided funds to enable this energetic new church to continue its construction program on private property. Interestingly, a helping hand has come from another source as well. Long-time followers of ministry in the USSR may recall news stories about Galina Vilchinskaya, a young girl who was arrested and locked in a labor camp back in the 1980s for teaching the Bible in a children’s camp. The Baptist church in nearby Brest, which Galina’s father once pastored, has also befriended and aided the new Drogichin church with building funds.
So does the local ministry in Drogichin face obstacles? Yes. But by God’s grace His people have encountered and overcome hindrances ever since the inception of the Church. With God’s help, BIEM plans to aid this church in its building and evangelistic efforts for the Lord.
Completing construction on the Drogichin church will require an estimated $40,000. The local believers have exhausted their funds, but not their muscles. Can you help us to help them?