In the autumn of 2016 the new “Jarovaja law” against terrorism and mission caused a lot of debate in Russia. Some church leaders were very worried about how it would influence Church planting and evangelism. It was not even clear how foreign missionaries could continue to work in Russia after the new regulations. Three years after the introduction of the law it is time to analyze what the changes have meant for the Evangelical Churches.
During 2017–2019 more than 200 prosecutions have led to trials against Evangelical Christians because they had broken the new laws. Less than 10 % of the cases have led to a verdict of not guilty. Usually the trials have however led to fines between 100 and 10 000 dollars, depending on the level of the “crime” and whether the regulations were broken by individuals or organisations.
Some have been sentenced for distributing Bibles on the streets, organizing evangelization meetings outside the church building or other type of meetings for people, who are not registered members of the Church – it is called religious propaganda or encouragement to proselytism.
Many pastors have been called to interrogations, computers from Church offices have been confiscated and churches have been accused for not following fire regulations. This method is often used by authorities when they want to close shops, companies or other elements in the society which can cause a threat to the state religion or politics.
There are many known cases from 2017–2019, where foreign missionaries, visiting evangelists, or pastors from abroad have been fined and deported (for five years) from the country – because they have given greetings or preached on Church services without missionary- or religious visas.
Some pastors from Baptist and Pentecostal churches, who are afraid of announcing their names, have however reported that the churches have intensified their mission work since 2016:
– Many members are expressing their calling for missions. They want the Kingdom of God to be spread. Hundreds of new missionaries have been sent out to plant churches among unreached people groups. More people come to the Lord through rehabilitation work than ever before, especially in Siberia.
– The Jarovaja law has shown us that the time is limited. Therefore we are more eager to talk about Jesus now. We want to preach the gospel when we still have the possibilities – before the night comes and nobody will be able to act, explains a pastor from Moscow.
Statistics emphasize the fact that there is a real revival going on in Russia. The latest facts testify that the Pentecostal Union and Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists have a total amount of more than 4 000 churches and groups. If one compares this with numbers from 2011, when the amount was 2 500, we can understand that the revival in Russia is real – despite discrimination and persecution in some parts of the country.