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july 25, 2005

Persecuting Evangelicals in Russia

When I was in college, which really was not that long ago, I used to be a part of a missions group that mailed portions of the Bible to individuals behind the Iron Curtain. This missions group would mail sections of the New Testament to me in the form of a letter. Then they would give me a list of names and addresses of 'operatives' inside the Soviet Union or Eastern Block nations. Then, in my own handwriting, I would address envelopes to these names and mail the Bible portions to these persecuted believers.

Fifteen years ago, in 1990, the Berlin Wall fell and Communism crumbled throughout Europe. This momentous event opened the door for evangelical Christians to pour into the former Soviet Union. Millions of people in Russia and Eastern Europe heard the gospel -- in many cases for the first time in more than 70 years. Countless people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior during this time of mass harvest.

One young man whose life was changed by the gospel during this time was a former Russian drug addict who accepted Jesus at a meeting with an American pastor from Texas. After turning his back on his former lifestyle, and after just four years of discipleship, this young man (we'll call him Alex) felt the call of God to start a church in the large Russian city where he lived.

In a short time, this church grew to more than one hundred members -- actively feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and preaching the gospel. They began an outreach to drug addicts that was so successful, soon the mayor of this small city was contributing government resources to help them. People that society had given up on were getting clean and sober as a result of this evangelical outreach.

As this ministry continued to thrive, Alex felt led of the Holy Spirit to start another church in his original hometown. He was able to rent out a municipal hall to hold his services. He also started another outreach to drug addicts. Soon this new church was also growing and having success. But in this city, the chief Orthodox priest was told how this evangelical church was beginning to prosper. He confronted Alex and told him that he would drive them out of his city.

Within two weeks, a city official contacted Alex and told him he could no longer hold services at the municipal building -- or in any government-owned facility. Alex began looking for another place to rent and discovered that there were no appropriate halls that were not government owned. Though he was discouraged, he knew God had called him to this city and so he began making plans to build a church to house the various outreaches.

Alex is currently in America, travelling to various churches to raise funds to build this church.

And Alex is not alone in fighting persecution in Russia -- from both the government and the Orthodox Church. According to Israel My Glory magazine, the Russian Orthodox have forged alliances with some of Russia's most radical political groups, branding evangelicals as cultists who prey on unsuspecting citizens. "Of most concern," writes Elwood McQuaid, editor-in-chief for The Friends of Israel, "is that evangelical churches, once unregistered and 'underground' during Communism, are now in the open and are exposed targets for the anti-Christian establishment, should the hammer of hate fall once again."

Please pray for Alex and his church -- and for the millions of evangelical Christians working to bring the freedom of the biblical message to the precious people of Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Learn more at Russia Religion News

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