Tuesday, October 4, 2016

RLPB 378. Russia: victims of geo-political tensions

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 378 | Wed 05 Oct 2016

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International Days of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2016: Sundays 6 & 13 November. Resources: IDOP
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by Elizabeth Kendal

Signed into law on 7 July [RLPB 365 (7 July)] Russia's new anti-mission measures have since been applied to at least nine cases [RLPB 377 (28 Sept)]. Most of those accused of illegal missionary activity have been found guilty and fined. However, the Novosergiev district court of Orenburg Province ruled in favour of Baptist pastor Alexander Demkin, rejecting the ridiculous charges brought against him over his church's popular summer program for children. In some cases, rulings are being appealed and the law is being tested; this is fuelling debate.

Ruth and Don Ossewaarde
Donald and Ruth Ossewaarde started visiting Russia in 1994. Since 2005, they have lived in Oryol, 360 km south-west of Moscow, witnessing and ministering openly and freely. However, on Sunday morning 14 August, Ossewaarde was arrested as he led worship in his home. Police accused him of posting evangelistic tracts in public places -- an accusation he denies -- and engaging in missionary activity without a permit. First, the court refused to allow time for Ossewaarde's lawyers to arrive from Moscow. Then, when the judge found Ossewaarde guilty of conducting unlawful missionary activity and sentenced him to pay a fine of 40,000 rubles (US$640), the court-appointed lawyer advised him to accept the verdict, pay the fine and leave the city. At that point, Ruth returned to the US while Donald and his legal team set about preparing the appeal. The Ossewaardes have closed their ministry in Oryol and referred their local community of believers to the Russian Baptist Church.

In the appeal hearing on Friday 30 September, Ossewaarde explained that he has been living and ministering in the 'new democratic Russia .... without any trouble for 14 years', in line with the religious freedom provisions in the Russian constitution. He told the court that he had studied the anti-mission measures in the 'Yarovaya Law' [see RLPB 364 (6 July)] and was certain that his pastoral ministry and the worship occurring in his home were not in violation of that law. He said he was merely 'exercising the rights guaranteed by the constitution and the laws of the Russian Federation'. Unable to make a decision, the judge suspended the session for several hours. When the court was reconvened, she upheld the original verdict: guilty. Donald Ossewaarde and his legal team will appeal the charges all the way to the Supreme Court if they have to, for the sake of religious freedom in Russia. [Updates can be found on Don Ossewaarde's website.]

These measures, as they apply to Christians, have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with geo-politics -- in particular the geo-politics of Syria, of sanctions, and of the West's involvement in political destabilisation abroad, e.g., 'colour revolutions' and regime change activities. To say Russia is 'cracking down on Christianity' is untrue and unhelpful. Such hostile, anti-Russia language can only hurt the cause of foreigners and Protestants in Russia. This situation requires wisdom and delicacy and above all an acknowledgement that Western governments are fuelling toxic Russophobia (fear of Russia) to further their own ideological, economic and geo-strategic interests at Russia's expense -- specifically with regard to cultural Marxism, gender ideology and same-sex marriage, as well as Sunni rule in Damascus, US and German control of Eastern European markets, and continued US-led NATO expansion (including into the Black Sea). The greater the tensions, the more 'protective' and reactionary Russia is likely to be, and the more victims we are likely to have. As Donald Ossawaarde testifies: 'Up until recently, we had complete freedom to be able to distribute literature, talk to people on the street. We were even able to put literature in mail boxes.' But now, he laments, Americans and other non-Russian Orthodox are being viewed with suspicion.  


* intervene in Russia, to redeem this situation and sanctify the Church; may the Russian people and the Russian Orthodox Church speak out against injustice, so that the Gospel might continue its healing work amongst a needy people shattered by 70 years of Communist captivity.

* give Russia's churches, missionaries, lawyers and judges great wisdom, divine guidance and supernatural courage to do and speak up for what is right in God's sight; may these anti-mission measures be judged and found wanting and the law be amended radically or repealed so that religious freedom is restored.

* give Donald Ossewaarde and his legal team -- along with other appellants -- 'the Spirit of wisdom' (Ephesians 1:17) as well as spiritual insight and amazing grace in abundance; may the Gospel be preached, suspicions be swept away and this whole situation be turned to blessing.

'And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.' (Romans 8:28 ESV).

'Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.' (Romans 12:14 ESV)

PRAY for East-West relationsPsalm 65:5-8
[For another reason why this is SO important, see comment below.]


Russia enacted anti-mission measures on 7 July. In most cases hitherto, the 'missionaries' have paid a fine. As other cases now move through the appeals courts, this law is being tested. Since 1994, US Baptist Donald Ossewaarde has been witnessing in Russia, living in Oryol since 2005, 360km south-west of Moscow. All this time, he and wife have ministered in complete freedom in line with the religious freedom provisions in the Russian Constitution. On 14 August Donald was sentenced under  a predatory use of the anti-mission law. He and his legal team will appeal the charges all the way to the Supreme Court for the sake of religious freedom in Russia. American and non-Russian Orthodox 'missionaries' are victims of geo-political tensions with Russia. Please pray for Russia and for its Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

COMMENT After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East includes considerable detail about East-West relations, and how, since the Crimean War of 1853-6, Islam has exploited these tensions for personal gain. Entitled 'A House Divided' chapter 11 calls for solidarity within the Church across denominational lines, and solidarity within the Dar al harb (House of war) in the face of the ascendant Dar al Islam (House of Islam).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com