Underground University Russia
Underground University Russia enables the church in Russia and the former Soviet Union to prepare for martyrdom and persecution amidst escalating legal restrictions. Such preparation must focus on helping the church here to remain one body with the faithful church around the world today and throughout history.
What’s the Latest? – Persecution in Russia
When we started our related program UU China, China’s relationship to Christians was similar to what is happening now in Russia (read below). Many within the Chinese church determined to keep quiet, not cause any trouble and hoped to not be bothered by the government. The escalating events of the last three years in China have shown that the above strategy is not sustainable.
Many of the Russian church leaders that we’ve met understand this well and are seeking to not only prepare for persecution, but also desire to understand how to fully minister during these increasingly difficult times.
Our growing Russian language social media presence and the large network of Russian speaking pastors and churches in South Korea, enable us to connect with churches in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Russia, amongst others, even during a time when connection due to the Coronavirus is difficult.
UU Russia aims to prepare Christians from the former USSR countries to live fully Christian lives (aka martyrdom) admist escalating legal restrictions.
VOM Canada's persecution scale
Russia is a large country that comprises 85 federal subjects: 46 provinces, 22 republics, 9 territories, 4 autonomous districts, 1 autonomous region and 3 federal cities. This often makes it difficult to evaluate cases of persecution since the country is so large and persecution varies from location to location. What is clear is that the Russian government most often utilizes things like harassment, discrimination and even imprisonment (VOM Canada’s Persecution Scale) in order to intimidate and regulate churches.
The Word of Life Pentecostal Church in Kaluga and the Resurrection Church of God in Oryol are prime examples of this. The church in Kaluga has been harassed for almost two decades relating to things like building ownership, safety and certifications. During 2020, the church had 28 open court cases and 10 of these cases reached the Supreme Court. The governor of that region was once recorded saying (in regards to the church) “find (any) way to confiscate the land.”
The church in Oryol has many of the same problems as the church in Kaluga. The church was deemed to have never sought the right permissions to be commissioned as a church. The authorities also claimed that the church building encroached on the municipally owned plot that neighbors the church. The church’s appeals have been rejected and as of today the church building is closed.
(2020 article on both churches – https://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2543)
October. This effectively requires each church’s charter to be changed to reflect this new legislation. And when any change is made to a charter, the whole charter must be re-certified. It has yet to be seen whether this new legislation will result in churches losing their legal status, but many church leaders think that some churches will lose their status at the time of re-registering their charters (part of a purposeful plan from the government).
Seminaries in Russia have already been dealing with governmental registration/certification problems. On April 6th, the theological institute of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria (in Kolbino, Russia) was stripped of its higher education license. While it’s hard to draw any conclusions from one isolated case, the same thing happened to the main seminaries for a different Lutheran denomination, the Baptist Union, and the Pentecostal Union. In some of these cases, these seminaries were also barred from accepting new students.
Technically speaking, these seminaries do not need an education license from the government to operate, nevertheless, it still has many practical implications. For example, if the seminaries decide to contest the decision (or reapply for a new license) they will have to spend countless hours and money in order to attempt the re-instatement. In the meantime, the seminaries are no longer able to issue certificates or degrees, and new students are often directed to other schools for enrollment.
Additionally, Russia requires that clergy who are trained overseas undergo re-training and re-certification. This not only applies to foreigners, but also to Russian clergy who attended seminary outside of Russia. The above seminaries that lost their licenses would not be able to participate in the re-training of these pastors.
It is the opinion of many in the Russian Christian community, and various legal experts, it is a part of the government’s plan to reduce the number of seminaries and the capability of these denominations to properly license their pastors.
Some of the most extreme cases of religious persecution in Russia and other CIS countries have been directed towards Jehovah Witnesses (JWs). In 2017, Russia declared them to be an extremist organization with over 450 of their members being charged, convicted of crimes or under investigation. Additionally, the homes of over 1,300 members having been raided, nine are serving jail sentences and 37 are in detention while awaiting trials or appeals. The government’s treatment of JWs is noteworthy in that it represents a trend in Russia that seeks to stifle dissenting religious voices . . . particularly those of a Christian nature.
It is tempting to ignore what’s happening to JWs, since they are outside of Christian orthodoxy. Nevertheless, what happens to JWs has historically been a reliable indicator of what is coming to the Christian community.
Thus, the significance of what’s happening to the JW’s is not lost on the Christian community in Russia. They want to prepare to be the underground church even now. They desire to not only understand what it means to be a living martyr, but fully minister in this growing climate of hostility. The following quote by Martin Niemoller has become very popular amongst Christian leaders and will certainly shape the current and future response of Russian Christians:
First they came for the Jews, but I did nothing because I’m not a Jew. Then they came for the socialists, but I did nothing because I’m not a socialist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I did nothing because I’m not a Catholic. Finally, they came for me, but by then there was no one left to help me.
(different version of this quote exists due to Martin Niemoller’s extemporaneous speaking in a number of settings)
Dr. Foley meets with several Russian language church leaders at our office in Seoul. This meeting was to plan for a future partnership and trainings.
Please Pray With Us For The Following Requests:
- Pray for our upcoming UU Russia training with seminary students. Some of these students desire to be missionaries in Russian language countries and reach out to NK workers who are stationed there.
- Several Protestant seminaries have lost their education licenses in Russia. It is believed to be part of a government effort to reduce the number of seminaries and to reduce the capability of these denominations to properly license their pastors. Please pray for the denomination leaders to be faithful in the midst of this growing persecution in Russia.
- Pray for The Word of Life Pentecostal Church in Kaluga and the Resurrection Church of God in Oryol. These churches have faced discrimination and harassment over the course of many years. Please pray that the Lord would grant wisdom to their pastors and that the members of these churches would continue to be bold in evangelism according to the power of the Holy Spirit.