Keep your eyes on Sochi

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Russia (MNN) — The world’s eyes will soon be off of Sochi, Russia, with the Paralympics coming to a close this Sunday. But there’s one thing that should stay on your radar: Sochi’s government is trying to auction off the property and buildings of an evangelical church.

According to Forum 18 News, the next court case is coming up on March 25.

“The #1 concern is always the Gospel and the advance of the Gospel, and the right of people to worship and evangelize,” says Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association.

SGA is the official North America representative of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist (UECB), a large evangelical Protestant fellowship in Russia. SGA supports the ministry of these churches in many ways, including missionary sponsorship, biblical training, and distributing Russian-language Bibles and Christian literature.

The fellowship involved in the land struggle with Sochi’s government, the House of the Gospel Church, is a former UECB member.

“Within Russia-proper, you don’t see the registered UECB churches encountering anywhere near this kind of difficulty,” Griffith notes.

A House of the Gospel spokesperson told Forum 18 that he thought the church’s location was a motivating force behind the government’s targeting. Although the church received a property title from Sochi’s government in 2007, and they have occupied the site freely since 1993, authorities started coming after their land and buildings a year ago.

Shortly before the 2014 Winter Olympics came to Sochi, government officials approached the church again. This time, officials suggested the church re-locate, claiming they had legal ownership of the property.

Church officials with the House of the Gospel are expected to demonstrate their rights to the property on March 25, says Forum 18.

Fun Zone at the Mountain Cluster of Sochi, Russia.

Fun Zone at the Mountain Cluster of Sochi, Russia.

Until then, the church will continue to host a “Fun Zone” — a hospitality center that’s using the Olympics to launch Gospel conversations. Multiple ministries have come together with the local church to make the Fun Zone a success.

SOAR International provided the tents, as well as sound equipment and televisions used to watch the Olympics in the Fun Zone. Russian Ministries partnered with the Gideons International of Canada to provide biblical literature.

“On an average, we have about 10 people make a commitment to Jesus Christ. Some make re-dedications,” Wally Kulakoff with Russian Ministries told MNN’s Greg Yoder during his coverage of the outreach.

Funding is needed to keep the Fun Zone open during these last few days of the Olympics. Click here to help through SOAR International.

Pray for courage for church officials to speak boldly at the March 25 hearing. Pray that the Gospel will continue to go forth in Russia.

“I think in all the former Soviet countries, we need to keep that first and foremost in our prayers,” Griffith adds.