Strong testimony of believers even in the midst of harassment.

By November 9, 2006

Belarus (MNN) — There’s been an astonishing move in favor of the New Life Church in Minsk, Belarus. The highest economic court of Belarus has cancelled all previous court decisions against the church and is reexamining the case.

In November 2002, a new religion law, often called “the most repressive law in Europe,” came into effect. That law began impacting the New Life Church, and in the following years, they’ve faced ongoing harassment from authorities.

In 2002, the 600-member New Life Church, on the outskirts of Minsk, purchased a cowshed to use as a church building. They had been given approval to change the designated land usage in order to renovate the shed as a church by every government department except the religious affairs department of the Minsk city administration. The situation took a turn for the worse in December 2004. In the months that followed, the church faced several attempts from authorities to close their doors.

But this new move by the higher courts is an encouraging move. Glenn Penner with Voice of the Martyrs Canada explains why. “What makes this so unusual is that this is a court body that normally only examines matters of what is considered of state importance. So this is quite unprecedented for an independent, non-registered church to get this kind of attention from the Belarusian government.”

What caused the change? Some of the church people started a hunger strike, which gathered international attention. Government leaders from around the world started to contact the Belarusian government protesting the illegal act against the church. The pressure on the Belarusian government seems to have made an impact, says Penner. “The Belarusian government to this point has not shown an awful lot of susceptibility to international pressure and this would seem to indicate that they’re nervous about cracking down on this church any further.”

Despite the difficulties of the opposition they’ve faced, Penner says the church has continued to function normally. “They’ve continued to meet in the church. They’ve continued to operate their programs as a church and their outreach to their community. The church has continued to grow and they’ve continued to worship the Lord regardless of the harassments that they’ve faced.”

In the years of ongoing fines, threats and harassment, Penner says the believers’ testimony has been powerful. “They have really worked hard at maintaining their integrity. They have consistently said ‘we’re going to demonstrate peacefully, that we’re going to be praying for our government. We’re not going to allow them to run all over us and do that which is illegal.’ And I believe that in this they have really responded very graciously and very much in line with the Spirit of Christ.”

Penner is hopeful, because if the federal government rules that the church can keep its building, there’s not much that the local authorities would be able to do anymore. He doesn’t doubt local leaders will try to intimidate and threaten, but Penner says, “I’m very optimistic that this church could continue to function normally, that they’re going to be able to maintain their building and be able to continue worshipping as they have for the last several years. I’m hopeful that this is a sign of good things to come and that we’ve turned the corner and that the New Life Church is going to be able to continue to function as God intended them to.”

Pray for the witness of this church and of churches across Belarus who continue to face harassment, fines and threats of fines by the Belarusian government. This is a favorite tactic of the Belarusian government, says Penner, to fine churches to make life as difficult as possible for non-registered churches. Pray that they’ll continue to reach out regardless of the cost. Pray that the court will allow the New life Church to continue.

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