Russia (MNN) — Now that the anti-terrorism law in Russia has had time to take hold, what has changed for ministries since it went into effect on July 1st?
The law’s intended target was potential terrorist activity; however, it had consequences for the evangelical Protestant community. Mission Eurasia’s Wally Kulakoff explains the religions recognized by the Russian government are: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Orthodoxy. “The word ‘Protestant’ is protesting. Being Protestant, which is evangelical, who are you protesting against? The Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church doesn’t want anyone to be a Protestant or call themselves a Protestant, because they are protesting against one of the traditional churches within Russia.”
An independent Baptist American missionary, Don Ossewaarde, has already been convicted and fined under the law and, as a result, left the country. On one hand, says Kulakoff, there is this side of the law: “We are seeing great restrictions on the evangelical churches, especially those that do not worship in cathedrals, synagogues, and temples. If you worship in a home, you’re a heretic.”
On the other, there is this: “We just recently had the young professionals’ conference in St. Petersburg, with fear and trembling. We were in a hotel and had a conference for the young professionals doing Christian work in their own professional field. We were expecting some kind of repercussion; nothing happened.”
Then, on October 1st, there was the Next Generation Professional Leaders (NGPLI) conference called ‘Calling. Faith. Influence.’ It was held in the heart of Siberia, where 350 influential business people came together to figure out how to combine a biblical worldview and business. That was followed by a meeting on October 15th where nearly 500 ministry leaders met in Krasnodar with a similar purpose.
The key, says Kulakoff, is timing. “Personally, I believe we shouldn’t ‘rock the boat’ as national believers. Wait till the dust settles and then begin to clear our eyes and begin to work.”
Figure out what works within the law. He says the Gospel will go forward, but maybe not the way it used to. “It will continue in a different form, in a different way than we were used to. Public meetings are no longer allowed. We just found out that the government closed down every summer youth camp. They closed them down because the leaders of the camp didn’t have permission from the parents, the mother and the father, for the child to attend.”
In praying for wisdom, here’s the solution they came to: “Every child, whether Christian or non-Christian who attends a Christian youth camp, or a Christian summer camp, or a Bible camp, needs a letter from the parents giving them permission, even if he’s a minor, under 18-years of age. As long as they have a letter of permission from the parents, they can be at a camp.”
So, under the anti-terrorism law, is doing Christian work a choice of ‘either/or’? Kulakoff says it’s more a response of ‘both/and’: “Russian people know they can be arrested, they can be fined. It is very rare that they would be exiled from the country; where would they go? Today, in training the national leaders, we are very, very careful to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to give to God what belongs to God. What belongs to God is prayer, Bible reading, Communion, gathering together, and the fellowship of believers.”
He urges prayer for the ministries working in Russia as they find ways to do ministry within Russia legally and effectively. “That’s where using the national mentality instead of the foreign mentality, we begin to focus on the wisdom and the ingenuity of the local believers.”
Kulakoff believes prayer is a powerful tool activating God’s will to mold the hearts of people. To that end, pray for Vladimir Putin and the members of Parliament — the Duma. It’s on the level of ‘…more than we could ask or imagine’ really: “If we could only pray that somehow the government of Russia would be on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. If we could pray that somehow they could see the light of the Gospel, and then, also pray for the evangelicals.”