Belarus (MNN) — Imagine having the state control where you have church. Imagine having to stay out of sight when you practice religious freedom. In Belarus, officials are often hostile toward Christ-followers: people they see as a threat.
Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) says, "It's Evangelical Protestant Christianity that they give a hard time to, particularly."
New Life Church in Minsk is famous for its back-and-forth battle with the government. In 2002, they had to fight to keep control of their private church property. In November of 2012, they were once again threatened by the government.
In Belarus, members of a religious organization do not have the right to share their convictions or to carry out any religious activity beyond the borders of the location where the community is registered.
"In terms of religious freedom, though, it really has proven to be a mixed bag through the years. The government does indeed keep very tight controls, especially over evangelical Christianity. But it seems like, if you watch it over time; you have periods of ebb and flow," Griffith said.
He adds that there are times when some local regional leaders are quietly supportive of the ministries. "You can see some significant ministry take place, as long as they keep it low key."
Forum 18 noted that in the most recent years, the government has been more reluctant to crack down on religious freedom. Griffith noted, "The reason they attribute to that is that they don't want political opposition to increase."
He adds, "The evangelical churches that SGA serves are certainly dedicated. They're intent on proclaiming the Gospel, and I think one thing that works in their favor…is they try to avoid politics. They really just want to focus on their ministry and proclaim the Gospel."
SGA is very flexible when it comes to supporting local pastors, churches, and other Christian ministries. "We do our best to sponsor missionary pastors," Griffith said. "We help them distribute Russian language Bibles and Christian literature; we're involved in helping evangelical churches there do orphan's ministry through a program we call 'Orphans Reborn.'"
"Our basic purpose is to serve evangelical churches in whatever way the Lord opens up. We don't view it as our place to be a sending organization, to send western missionaries over. We very much believe in serving the indigenous church and helping them reach their own people," Griffith said.
Griffith asks you to pray that the "freedom to worship and minister would open up, that there would be a change of heart in the leadership so that they would really allow true religious freedom there and freedom to proclaim the Gospel openly, without having to be quite so discrete about it."