Welcome to , 04 Feb 2012
Fortnightly Report on Christianity in Former Soviet Bloc Countries,
by Dr. Robert D. Hosken
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FIRST, THE NEWS:
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RUSSIAN MISSION GROUP WARNS OF CRACKDOWN ON EVANGELICALS
from BosNewsLife

Select to read the article (04 Feb) As protesters demanding more freedom and fair elections prepared to demonstrate in freezing temperatures in Moscow Saturday, February 4, a major Russian mission group warned of more difficulties for evangelical Christians and other religious minorities in Russia and other former Soviet Union nations. "Even as demonstrations increase, protesters' hold on religion and civil liberties appears to be slipping in the North Caucasus and Central Asia," explained Russian Ministries in a statement to BosNewsLife.

"The situation in Russia has been building over the last several years, and is as much about religious liberty as it is about political freedom," the group added. Russian Ministries, which is involved in several aid and education projects and evangelism, told BosNewsLife that recent reports "document an alarming increase in limiting the freedoms of minority or dissenting religious perspectives across much of the post-Soviet region." The group compared the situation with the Soviet era: "In Soviet times, cults were targeted for persecution, and evangelical Christians were purposefully labeled as followers of a cult." [read more...]


UZBEKISTAN: "I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE LAW OR YOUR RIGHTS"
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(24 Jan) Three members of the same Protestant church in Jarkurgan, a town north of Termez in Uzbekistan's southern Surkhandarya Region, are facing administrative charges to punish them for their religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learned. The charges follow police raids on 3 January on the homes of two of the three, Shokir Rahmatullayev and Lyudmila Suvorova, during which officers confiscated Christian books and DVD discs.

Police chief Bahrom Tursunov, Captain Ruzi Nazarov from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and other police officers used physical violence against Rahmatullayev, and threatened him with criminal charges, to compel him to sign statements against himself and his fellow believers, Protestants told Forum 18. "I don't care about the law or your rights," one officer told him during the beatings. Captain Nazarov adamantly denied to Forum 18 that any violence was used, but refused to discuss the case.

Meanwhile, a married couple in Fergana Region have been fined, while it remains unknown if Christian literature and discs confiscated from them will be destroyed. A Protestant in the capital Tashkent has had his fine reduced, but the judge has upheld the decision to destroy his confiscated Christian books. Religious literature confiscated during raids - including Bibles and other Scriptures - is often ordered destroyed by Uzbek courts. [read more...]


RUSSIAN PROTESTANTS CONFRONT RACISM AND COMMEMORATE MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY
from Russian Evangelical Alliance

(23 Jan) Probably for the first time ever, Russian Protestants have commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This occurred on 15 January in a worship service held by "Moscow City Church" (MCC) at Hotel Milan in the south of the city and attended by 70 mostly young people. The actual holiday, first celebrated in the USA in 1986, takes place on the third Monday of every year. Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of External Church Relations for the "Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists" and one of MCC's pastors, stated that many Russians believe racism to be a distant and foreign issue.

A report at the service by Daniel Ekat, a citizen of Cameroon, made clear that such a view can only be held by the white residents of Russia. Ekat, an engineer, has been beaten up twice during his ten-year stay in Russia. He reported: "My friends are often afraid to go out into the street. When a person covered with blood is brought into our dormitory, it leaves many of my friends aghast and uncertain as to whether they should continue their studies or return home immediately. Russians think only hooligans are involved in such practices, but that is only part of the truth. We are beaten on by all those who regard us as dark-skinned monkeys." [read more...]


RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CALLS FOR MORE TRANSPARENT NGO'S
from Interfax-Religion

(03 Feb) The Moscow Patriarchate believes that the activity of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia should be highly transparent. "At least we need to ensure that all data concerning NGO financing from abroad be open for publication," head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin said during a State Duma roundtable on legal regulation of NGO activities and funding from foreign sources. He expressed concern over the "dubious legitimacy of the influence those organizations that serve external interests, i.e. those that have been founded and assisted by foreign political structures and seek their sponsors' approval of their plans and activities, exert [influence] on domestic politics and government decision-making."

He acknowledged, however, that "it's not always bad when some NGOs have their activities financed from abroad or when international organizations award grants or provide organizational support to Russian NGOs," adding that "this is a long-standing practice used in a significant number of countries." At the same time, he warned that "he who pays the piper calls the tune." In the 1990s, many religious organizations received, and some of them continue to receive, significant funds from abroad. "Sometimes, they used overseas donations to finance pseudo-missionary and extremist activities or attempts to change the people's historic choice against their will," he said. [read more...]


KYRGYZSTAN: "AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION AND DISCRIMINATORY"
by Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 News Service

(16 Jan) Officials continue to enforce Kyrgyzstan's repressive Bakiev-era Religion Law, Forum 18 News Service has found. No progress has been made in dealing with registration applications from hundreds of unregistered Protestant churches and other religious communities. Unregistered religious activity is - against human rights standards Kyrgyzstan has agreed to implement - banned.

One major obstacle to gaining legal status is the Religion Law's requirement that those wishing to found a religious organisation - at least 200 adult permanent resident citizens as founders under the Law - must identify themselves to national and local authorities, which many are afraid to do - even if their community is that large. Human rights defenders Valentina Gritsenko of Justice, a human rights group in Jalalabad, and Dmitri Kabak of Open Viewpoint in Bishkek, both describe the Law as "against the Constitution and discriminatory. Why should communities have to collect 200 signatures to worship or pray together?" Gritsenko asked Forum 18. [read more...]


MINISTRY OF CULTURE TO CHANGE UKRAINE'S LAW ON FREEDOM OF WORSHIP
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

(02 Feb) In order to improve the current laws in the area of inter-ethnic and inter-denominational relations, the Ministry of Culture prepared alterations to the Law of Ukraine "On the Freedom of Worship and Religious Organizations," stated the Minister of Culture, Mykhailo Kulyniak at the extended session of the Ministry collegium on the results of the activity of the last year and objectives for 2012 held on 31 January, in the National Philharmonic Society.

According to the Minister, the new wording of the Law on the Freedom of Worship is aimed to strengthen the legal basis of the freedom of worship to create favorable conditions for the realization of the spiritual mission of the Church. "It is crucial that the state should clearly define its obligations with respect to the Church, the range of the powers within its capacity, which will make its policy on the Church transparent and open to the public," said the Minister. But representatives of the denominations informed the Ministry's leadership at once about the position of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), which considers it inexpedient to make hasty alterations to the current Law in the present situation. [read more...]


OTHER NEWS HEADLINES:

BULGARIA'S HIGH CLERGY INFECTED WITH EX-COMMUNIST SPIES
from Novinite.com

TWO HOMELESS MEN BEHIND BLAST AT PREACHING HOUSE IN BYELORUSSIA
from Interfax-Religion

CHECHEN CHILDREN READ THE GOSPEL AS PROJECT HOPE COMES TO A CLOSE
from Mission Network News

EVANGELICAL PROTESTANT LEADERS TO DISCUSS MEDIA CAMPAIGN AGAINST THEIR CHURCHES
from Religious Information Service of Ukraine

THE COURSE "FOUNDATIONS OF RELIGIOUS CULTURES AND SECULAR ETHICS" TO BEGIN IN RUSSIAN SCHOOLS
from Interfax-Religion

See HOSKEN-NEWS Daily for more of the latest news!


NOW, OUR VIEWS:

Now that the focus of the western world has shifted from the former Soviet bloc countries to the economic crises in the U.S. and Europe, it appears that those former countries are reverting more and more to their former behavior of persecuting and discriminating against religious and ethnic minorities, as we see in several of the news articles. At the same time, the author of the article "RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CALLS FOR MORE TRANSPARENT NGO'S" implies that most foreign funded non-governmental organizations have "dubious legitimacy," that they serve "foreign political structures" and promote "pseudo-missionary and extremist activities." This is little more than xenophobia, projecting all of Russia's problems on foreigners.

The article also states that foreign-funded NGOs "seek their sponsors' approval of their plans and activities." Isn't that the normal thing to do? Apparently the author expects that foreign governments and mission agencies should simply hand over suitcases full of hundred dollar bills to Russians without requiring accountability for the use of the funds. This attitude isn't limited to Russian Orthodox, I've heard it expressed various times from Russian Evangelicals as well: "Just give us money, but don't tell us what to do with it."

Law versus Freedom

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How to we achieve the right balance between law and freedom, order and chaos, works and grace, ritual and simplicity, formality and sincerity? Not only modern mankind, but people from time immemorial have struggled with this problem. Law says everything must be done "just so," according to specified patterns and rules. But people often struggle against these laws and rules that "stifle freedom and creativity," so they say. To be sure, there can be such a thing as excessive control by laws and rules, insistence on senseless order, empty ritual and stiff formality.

The problem arises when people keep the Law and observe religious ritual insincerely, with a hardened heart: "For You do not desire sacrifice; or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (Psalm 51:16-17). But we shouldn't conclude from these verses that all God wants from us is sincerity, that keeping the Law and observing religious ritual doesn't matter: look at the next two verses - "Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then shall You be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then they shall offer bulls on Your altar." When we are sincere, when we have a humble and contrite heart, then God will pour out His grace on us, and then our sacrifices and whole burnt offerings - our rituals - will be acceptable to God.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). There should be no conflict between the Law and the teachings of Christ. And in John 14:21 He says, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him." If we sincerely love Jesus Christ, we will keep His commands.

St. Paul builds on this foundation in Romans 3:1-3 - "Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Because first of all, they were entrusted with the oracles of God. For what if some were without faith? Will their lack of faith nullify the faithfulness of God?" Do religious hypocrites nullify sincere keeping of God's commands? Does the act someone passing counterfiet money to you mean that genuine money doesn't exist? Of course not! In fact, it is all the more proof that genuine money exists: if the genuine didn't exist, it would be senseless to make a fake - you've never seen or heard of a counterfiet $3 bill. So there is a real benefit to keeping the law and observing religious ritual, IF it is accompanied by sincere faith!

(To let us know what you think, please use the online feedback form!)


Prayer and Praise:

Sun. - Pray for religious liberty in former Soviet bloc countries, so that true faith can continue to exist and flourish there.
Mon. - Pray for the soul of the police officer who said, ""I don't care about the law or your rights," as he beat Christians.
Tue. - Thank the Lord that some Russians are starting to practice racial equality and show respect to non-Russian peoples.
Wed. - Pray for transparency by all non-governmental organizations in Russia, including the Russian Orthodox Church.
Thu. - Ask the Lord to overturn the law on religion in Kyrgyzstan that is "against the Constitution and discriminatory."
Fri. - Pray that Russian Christians will realize the need for accountability in receiving and using funds from foreign agencies.
Sat. - Thank God that Christ didn't come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it, and pray that we all find the balance of law and grace.


Select to see full-size!   Please remember to pray for Christians in the former Soviet bloc countries, and for...

  Your fellow-servants,

  Bob & Cheryl

p.s. The measure of a man isn't how much he has accumulated for himself, but how much he has done for others.


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