Dagestan (MNN) ― In Russia's Northern Caucasus, bordered by Chechnya to the west, evangelical believers in Dagestan have become almost ghostlike, and what ministry they are doing is facing increased restrictions.
Forum 18 reported that, after five years of outreach to prisoners, Hosanna Church--Dagestan's largest Pentecostal church--was banned from making prison visits, without explanation. They have since been instructed to stop their social projects to all drug addicts and convicts.
Recently, though Dagestan is already primary Muslim, there has been an increase in Muslim presence across the region. Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association said this is one of the main causes of new bans and Christians becoming more discrete: "What we're seeing in Dagestan really is something that we've been seeing in a growing fashion in a lot of the Muslim regions: Islam is on the ascendancy and Evangelical churches are having to fly much more under the radar."
Religions like Islam, which have long been in the area, are critical of evangelical Christians who reach out socially in ways that Islam has not. Griffith said, "You have evangelical churches going in and making quite difference with some of these groups, and some of the other more entrenched religious groups in these areas haven't really had a history of doing all that much. [Christians are] seen as a threat by these other groups."
Rachel with Russian Ministries (last name withheld for security) said the increase of Muslim influence throughout the former Soviet Union puts pressure on the governments, who then in turn put bans on other religious groups, such as Christians.
Griffith is not surprised by these recent occurrences: "The fact that they're undergoing this increased pressure is really no surprise, and we're probably going to see it increase," he said -- a fact Rachel agreed with.
While current bans have mostly been against Pentecostals, and SGA and the Baptist Union have not been directly affected, Griffith said he does not know how long this might last: "Some of this just really seems to be on a hit and miss basis, and the situation is very, very fluid. What seems to be stable today may well not be stable tomorrow," said Griffith, citing the events of the past several years in Kyrgyzstan.
Rachel said she hopes this pressure will decrease in the region. However, "In history, you can see that during periods of increased pressure, the Gospel actually spread more rapidly, and people were more receptive to it," she said.
Whether it increases or decreases, both Griffith and Rachel asked for prayer for the church to remain diligent in the spread of the Gospel, even will remaining discrete. Join them in their prayer. Visit SGA's or Russian Ministries' Web sites to find updates on the Russian church and how you can support missionaries and church planters throughout the region.