Another church building operated by a Registered Baptist congregation was seized by force by occupying authorities in Eastern Ukraine earlier this month, with authorities allegedly claiming that a mine had been planted there. According to persecution ministry Voice of the Martyrs Korea, that brings to seven the number of church buildings of the Registered Baptists seized by either administration or military in the occupied territories.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley says the congregations have not lost heart. “The churches are continuing to meet for worship in the homes of church members,” says Dr Foley. “The pastor of the church whose building was seized earlier this month told us, ‘We are praying for those who have moved into the House of Prayer.’” She said the church has been banned from holding its worship services in the building, but authorities permitted church members to enter it in order to retrieve their communion supplies.
According to Representative Foley, six of the Registered Baptist churches whose buildings were seized are located in the southern Donetsk region and one is in the Zaporizhzhia region bordering Donetsk. She said her ministry is not disclosing the names or locations of the churches or pastors for security reasons but wants to call attention to the pattern of special persecution against Registered Baptists in the occupied territory.
“Registered Baptist churches are of course not the only churches being persecuted in the occupied territories, but they are regularly the focus of suspicion and negative attention from the occupying authorities because they are registered in the Ukrainian state register,” said Representative Foley. She says there is a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude toward the Registered Baptist churches by authorities.
“The Registered Baptist churches are not targeted because they have done anything wrong or are even suspected of wrongdoing but rather because occupying authorities demand that they prove their loyalty and submission,” says Representative Foley.
She says many Registered Baptist ministers have been forced to leave the occupied territories due to hostilities against them and their churches.
“These days, Registered Baptist churches are frequently refused contracts for maintenance and utilities because those in the general public are worried about guilt by association,” says Representative Foley. “The occupying authorities demand that churches re-register under the new occupying government, even though they are aware that such demands violate international law.”
Representative Foley shared a message received by a local Voice of the Martyrs Korea contact from the pastor of one of the Registered Baptist Church congregations whose building was recently seized. “Greetings. At the moment, the military has occupied the House of Prayer and are living there. The reason is explained by the fact that the higher authorities did not allow the worship service to be held [in the building].”
Representative Foley says that the situation facing Christians in the neighboring so-called Luhansk Peoples Republic is also difficult. “Residents of the occupied territories are forced to accept Russian citizenship, otherwise they will be deprived of pensions and benefits and are threatened with the seizure of housing and property,” says Representative Foley. “The Christians, especially the pastors, are forced with impossible choices. They don’t want to obtain Russian citizenship, but if they refuse the citizenship they could be deprived of work or forcibly evicted to the territory of the Russian Federation.”
(file photo) A Baptist Church in Melitopol, confiscated by authorities in September 2022, is turned into an administrative building for occupying forces. (Credit: 7x70 НОВОСТИ Telegram Channel.)
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is calling for prayers for the seven Registered Baptist churches who have had their buildings confiscated, as well as other pastors and Christians in the occupied territories who are facing persecution from the occupying authorities.
“Pray that these seven churches can be a witness to Christ even as the authorities subject them to illegal pressures and persecution,” she said. “Pray that as church buildings are confiscated, the Lord will use these circumstances to spread the gospel into homes, surrounding communities, and into the countryside. Pray that as the occupying authorities demand these pastors and Christians to change to Russian citizenship, the Lord will make their heavenly citizenship in the kingdom of God especially real to them.”
Those who are interested in Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s ministry in partnership with Christians in Russia and Ukraine can learn more at https://vomkorea.com/en/project/russia-ministry/.