Outlawed evangelism

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

This month marks the 2-year anniversary of the Russian Yarovaya Package law, or Anti-Proselytizing Law.

Ministries working in the country approach the challenge in different ways. Some operate clearly within the limitations of the law, while others publicly stand against it.

WORLD Radio’s Paul Butler has our story.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: In July 2016, Russia adopted two new laws that were supposed to protect public safety and fight terrorism. The bills expanded law-enforcement authority, increased data collection, but also regulated evangelism.

CBN Newscast: Some disturbing news from Russia. President Vladimir Putin signed a law outlawing evangelism and cracking down on house churches…the law forbids evangelism outside of churches and other religious sites…

Audio from a July 2016 CBN newscast. The law quickly prompted concern of Soviet-era religious discrimination and persecution.

According to Bishop Sergey Ryakhovskiy—leader of the largest evangelical association in Russia—there were more than 600 cases of religious freedom violations in the past two years.

Despite the risks, Mission Eurasia is one ministry willing to disobey the anti-proselytizing law. During the recent World Cup, it partnered with more than 400 local churches for an evangelism and Scripture outreach—sponsoring screening parties and handing out more than 500,000 tracts, World Cup editions of the Gospel of John, and New Testaments. Pavel Tokarchuk is Mission Eurasia’s Russian director.

TOKARCHUK: We as a church would like to present gospel [sic] to many people. We need to take advantage of this momentum…

Audio from a ministry update posted to YouTube at the beginning of the World Cup.

Officials detained three teams taking part in the tract ministry for passing out literature in public places. The materials were impounded, but they released the believers without charges.

AUDIO: Sound of special needs kids program

The Slavic Gospel Association also works in Russia, and the other countries of the former Soviet Union. Eric Mock is vice president of Ministry Operations:

MOCK: We weren’t sure how it was going to be implemented. We were expecting the police to be arresting people. And actually, initially, there were arrests, but the police weren’t even sure how to even prosecute that, and the people were let go.

The Slavic Gospel Association works behind the scenes to train, equip and supply materials for the evangelical church in Russia. SGA encourages its partner churches to submit to the law.

MOCK: In many locations, what they have done is they have understood that the local leadership expects to be informed in advance to gain the approval for what they’re doing relative to their ministries, both within the church and some of their activities for outreach. They have actually found many of the local leaders to be very responsive…

AUDIO: Sound of Christmas carols

That’s the sound of believers in Far Eastern Russia boldly singing Christmas carols on a street corner this past January. Later that day, they hosted an approved Christmas program and a local leader even encouraged 150 troubled kids to attend, hoping they would find help.

470 miles to the south, in Vladivostok—near the North Korean border, three churches joined together for a public Christmas program. Officials granted them permission to use the municipal auditorium.

MOCK: I don’t want to be timid in the public, but I find that when we respect the government of the country, be it right or wrong, but respect the government and the country, yet respond to God’s command to go forth and make disciples of all nations. We see that both have a level of harmony…  

Even so, some ministries in Russia face substantial challenges due to the law, including Far East Broadcasting Company. For 25 years FEBC operated two large AM stations in Russia—one in Moscow and the other in St. Petersburg. Today, both are silent. Ed Cannon is president of the missionary radio ministry:

CANNON: So both AM stations were notified that the license for those stations were going to be pulled down.

So now, FEBC delivers radio programs all across Russia by cellphone, streaming services, and social media apps.

CANNON: We immediately started seeing huge numbers of people downloading and streaming live our content on these other media platforms.

Evgeny Sarapulov is an announcer in Moscow. He hosts his program online and frequently uses Facebook Live video.

AUDIO: Sound of Facebook live

CANNON: That’s when we started seeing the numbers going up tremendously. So now, we believe that we have more listeners than we did before the stations were shut down.

Cannon admits that while the Russian government has yet to crack down on its new delivery systems, it could certainly use the law to do so.

CANNON: So we are anticipating at some point this may disappear and we’ll have to have yet another alternative strategy to get the gospel in to the people of Russia.

Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia, believes the anti-proselytizing law is a catalyst for ministry creativity—he recently spoke with CBN News.

RAKHUBA: With this new limitations that are posted, we see already how the new generation taking the baton of faithfulness and using any small opportunity to bring the gospel and transform their nation for Christ.

Additionally, Eric Mock of the Slavic Gospel Association suggests that the law may become just one more surprising way in which God builds His church in Russia:

MOCK: Under the 70 years of communism, terrible, wretched things happened. What the country sought to do by stamping out Christianity resulted in the spread of Christianity. The church will go forth, the gospel will be proclaimed, and we’re called to do that until the end comes…

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.

(Photo/Associated Press) Tourists walk near the Saint Basil’s Cathedral at dusk during the 2018 soccer World Cup in Moscow, Russia. 

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One comment on “Outlawed evangelism

  1. Nancy DeHaven Hall says:

    Thank you for this interesting article. I am so grateful that I can turn to the World News Group as a Christian source for quality news reporting. Having said that, I was disappointed that absolutely no reference was made in this article to the Orthodox Church — whether good, bad, or indifferent, depending upon your theology. The best analogy I can think of is that this is like discussing (Protestant) evangelization in Rome with absolutely no mention whatsoever of the Catholic Church. It’s the big elephant in the room.

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