Russia (MNN) — While the world continues to watch Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, the country continues putting pressure on evangelical churches there. In recent years, churches have been bulldozed, pastors have been fined, and property confiscated. It’s happened again.
Project Manager for Russian Ministries Wade Kusack specializes in religious liberty issues in the former Soviet Union. Kusask says the Harvest Church of Saint Petersburg, Russia, is devastated. “The church was liquidated because the government decided that the church conducted unregistered educational activities.”
Why is registration important in the Russian church? Kusack says, “In Russia, the church is supposed to have registration. Without registration, no one has the right to practice their religion. The church was stripped of its legal registration.”
Now church members have no right to meet for worship and call themselves a church.
What kind of educational activities were they conducting? Kusack says, “It was extended Sunday school [classes]. It was conducted during the weekdays for the kids whose parents attend the church. It was Christian educational classes.”
Was this the only recourse the Russian government had at their disposal? Kusack says No. “They could give a church a warning. Or they could come and investigate what was really happening. But they decided–when they spotted so-called not licensed activity–they immediately closed the church.”
Kusack reports that church members were shocked by the most-recent decision because they thought the liquidation decision was a mistake. “Many believed that in the Supreme Court, this mistake would be revealed and everything would be alright. But unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld the decision.”
The attorney in the case will be filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights. But even if it’s won there, Kusack says it wouldn’t mean much to the Russian government. “They just partially obey the decision. They obey the financial part because the Russian government will pay the penalty, but they ignore the legal part.”
According to Kusack, there are varying amounts of religious freedom across Russia. “In some regions, some evangelical churches are relatively free to proclaim the Gospel and share the Good News with a lot of people. But in some regions you can observe a completely different story, like the St. Petersburg region.”
Pray for God to give church leaders wisdom as they lead their congregation through these hard times.
“We should understand and realize that those times of persecution of the church are coming back, and it has become more obvious year by year. We unfortunately can observe more and more persecution of the church in Russia.”
Despite the problems, there is a hunger for the Gospel in Russia today, especially among young people. They’re not only requesting Bibles, but they want to talk about it.
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