RUSSIA: DEACON BEGINS SECOND YEAR IN PRISON AS CHURCH CELEBRATES “GLORIOUS VICTORY”
Authorities demolished part of their building, sent them the bill, and jailed a deacon who came to their aid, but the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia is praising God for what they call a “glorious victory” as the deacon begins his second year in prison.
According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, problems began for the small Baptist church in 2016 when private developers and the city government began court proceedings to claim land on which part of the church building sat. “The church’s building was surrounded by dilapidated houses, but the city had plans for high rise apartments and a commercial center in the area,” says Representative Foley. “So through the courts they declared several of the homes and buildings as illegal construction, including part of the church’s building.”
With the court order in hand, says Representative Foley, demolition crews went to the church building repeatedly over the next three years in attempts to tear down the disputed portion, but each time they came, church members gathered and prevented the demolition. “The church members always responded peacefully, insisting that their building was properly permitted,” says Representative Foley.
Then on September 24, 2020 when a demolition crew arrived, church members formed a human chain around the church building. 28-year-old Deacon Koldiaev, a former member of the church before moving to a nearby city, had returned to support the church. A junior bailiff broke the human chain by pulling first Deacon Koldiaev and then other church members out of the line and taking them to the police station. Later, says Representative Foley, the bailiff alleged that Deacon Koldiaev had stepped out of the chain and assaulted him. The deacon was charged with “use of violence dangerous to life or health against a representative of the authorities”, a crime punishable by up to ten years in prison.
“During the trial, the defense showed video of the event which clearly exonerated Deacon Koldiaev,” says Representative Foley. “Despite that video, despite any witnesses to support the bailiff’s claim, and even despite the bailiff repeatedly changing his testimony, Deacon Koldiaev was convicted on May 13, 2021 and sentenced to two years in prison.”
“To make matters worse, Deacon Koldiaev’s infant son fell and hit his head ten days before the start of his trial, suffering a traumatic brain injury,” says Representative Foley. “His wife Anna was unable to be with him even to see him off to prison because she was at the hospital with their child.”
But according to Anna Koldiaeva, the result of the trial was not a surprise to the couple.
“We did not expect an honest trial and justice – it does not exist and will not exist on this sinful earth,” said Mrs. Koldiaeva in comments to the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists. “The Lord establishes His church and prepares us for the fact that there is little time left. He allows this to resurrect and awaken.”
28-year-old deacon Vyacheslav Koldiaev being transported from Solombalsky District Court in Arkhangelsk to prison in spring 2021.
8-year-old deacon Vyacheslav Koldiaev surrounded by members of the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia as he prepares to go to court. He was convicted on May 13, 2021 and ordered to serve a two-year sentence.
She says the couple’s son, now one year old, is steadily improving. The couple also now has a three-year-old son. “Don’t be too sad for our family,” she said in remarks to the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists. “This is only a small part of the sorrow of the children of God.” Mrs. Koldiaeva says she receives child benefits and material support provided by friends. “Thank God, there is enough for everything,” she adds.
Mrs. Koldiaeva told the online Evangelical portal Vernost that she and her husband were ready to suffer for their faith, concluding that “if God allows him to go to prison then there is a need for him to be there.”
In a letter written from prison dated December 21, 2021 and shared by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists with its members, Deacon Koldiaev wrote, “The Lord had a need for the church, a minister in bonds. He conceived the best for the church and all that was required from me is my consent to go this way (from me and from my wife), and [we gave that consent] a long time ago.”
Roman Tulupa, a member of Archangelsk Church, had a phone conversation with Deacon Koldiaev on March 20 which he shared with the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists. “The brother is cheerful in spirit, he tries to preach the gospel to our fellow countrymen,” says Mr. Tulupa. “Not a few reindeer herders who have heard the Good News in our tundra [from missionaries] are forced to listen to it again [in prison], from the mouth of our prisoner brother. May it all be for their salvation!”
As for the church, according to Representative Foley, a private construction company, executing a court decision, demolished part of the church building and sent the church the bill.
The Koldiaev family.
The building of the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia. The right-hand side of the building was considered unauthorized construction and was demolished according to the court decision.
“The church even looks on the partial demolition of their building as a blessing,” says Representative Foley. “They raised the funds and paid for the illegal dismantling without complaint. They were even able to fully and legally register the building despite the chief architect of the city telling them it would never be allowed.”
What pleases church members most of all, according to Representative Foley, is that the new wall that was installed to replace the portion of the building that was torn down has the text of the Lord’s Prayer printed on it in large letters that are lit at night so that it will be clearly visible from the high-rise apartments and commercial buildings being built nearby.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea is undertaking a letter writing campaign to encourage Deacon Koldiaev, whose prison sentence is scheduled to end on March 3, 2023.
Representative Foley says, “In his prison letter dated Dec 21, 2021, Deacon Koldiaev wrote, ‘We rejoice and are greatly encouraged when we receive a note that says ‘I am praying for you’. He adds, ‘A verse [of scripture], as an encouragement for a believer and an edification for unbelievers, if on a postcard, can be presented to a non-Christian neighbor as a keepsake and will serve him well in strengthening his faith.’”
Representative Foley recommends writing Deacon Koldiaev in Russian if possible, using an Internet translator website and scripture lookup app that includes Russian Bible versions.
The remodeled building of the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia.
The remodeled building of the Baptist Church in Archangelsk, Russia, now with the text of the Lord’s Prayer illuminated around the clock, to be visible from new high-rise buildings nearby.
Letters to Deacon Koldiaev can be sent to the following prison address:
Koldiaev Vyacheslav Igorevich
IK-14 UFSIN ROSSII
Spetsgorodok, d.1 A
Arkhangelskaya oblast, Velskiy rayon
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea supports family members of Christians imprisoned for their faith. Donations can be made to the Families of Martyrs and Families of Prisoners (FOM/FOP) fund at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “FOM/FOP” (for “Families of Martyrs and Families of Prisoners”) with the donation.