Prayer – Pray with us!
Dear friends, for November we’re dedicating the entire BIEMs sheet to prayer for Russia. This is unusual, but we believe the situation warrants special prayer.
BIEM president Sam Slobodian and a board member traveled to Russia for face-to-face meetings with Russian pastors. Those discussions helped to clarify the controversial new laws in that land. These laws forbid evangelism outside the church by witnessing or handing out literature, and they forbid foreigners from participating in any religious activity period. Fines for violations can be as high as $780 for an individual and $15,500 for a church. Here are some thoughts and concerns we have gathered from Russian pastors and national missionaries:
- These new laws signify a serious negative stance by the Russian government toward any religious activity other than that conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is exempt from the new restrictions.
- The laws do provide a legal means to witness outside the church, but it requires registration with the government and abiding by strict details, such as proper protocol of how a congregation authorizes named individuals to evangelize outside the church. For example, if a word is capitalized in the wording authorizing this but not capitalized in other church documents, the document legalizing such activity is nullified. Our brethren are very leery of registering their witnessing activities through this provision.
- Our brethren are not surprised by these developments. They have always expected persecution to return. One pastor said, “This whole matter smells like the old Soviet Union.”
- Local authorities are not well informed concerning the details of these laws and have shown a propensity to go beyond them. For example, two Americans (not with BIEM) were arrested and fined. One was charged with violating the law simply for giving a greeting in a church service. The other American was charged with the same offense even though he merely sat in the service. The arresting officers declared him guilty merely for being with the offending party and that even though what was said was a simple greeting, it was an illegal act for a foreigner. Our understanding is that both Americans paid the fines.
- Out of 16 cases the government has prosecuted so far, only one case has resulted in an acquittal. This acquittal involved Hare Krishna members. The other 15 are in appeal.
- There is little hope that constitutional challenges will succeed. One pastor said, “The Russian courts interpret the constitution the way they want to.”
- Attorneys advising Christians say it will take a year to understand the results of these laws.
Keep praying, even after November, that souls may come to Christ regardless of human laws!