Russia: Sharing the gospel in Sochi
As the XXII Winter Olympic athletes continue competition in Sochi, Russia, Open Doors contacts in the region are requesting prayer for God’s protection for athletes and tourists attending the Games, and for Christian volunteers and local believers who will be using the event as a platform to share the gospel.
“We have just received information from the Olympic Park from ‘Brother C,’ who is serving as an official at the Olympic Village,” writes one contact. “‘Brother C’ will be serving as a main English and Russian-speaking Protestant chaplain. He has asked Christians to pray for opportunities to meet, witness and serve athletes and representatives from Olympic delegations from around the world.”
According to official sources, more than 6,000 athletes from 85 countries and hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to be in Sochi during the Olympics. The security of the Games has become a high priority for the government, following an increasing number of attacks by radical Islamist groups in the region.
Sochi is not far from the main areas of insurgent activity in the North Caucasus. In July, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate – a North Caucasus insurgent organization fighting for a Sharia state in the region – publicly urged his fighters to disrupt the Games and commit acts of terror in Russian cities during the events. In December, two suicide bomb attacks in the city of Volgograd left at least 31 people dead.
The growing influence of Islamist groups has also placed increased pressure on Christians in the North Caucasus republics. Christians in Chechnya and Dagestan, the vast majority of whom are Muslim Background Believers, have to practice their faith in small, discrete home groups. Local authorities and relatives monitor the activities of Christians and put great pressure on them to return to Islam.
Russia narrowly missed entering the Open Doors World Watch List in 2014, and is currently ranked as the 55th most difficult place in the world to be a Christian. The increasingly totalitarian style of government – indirectly encouraged by the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a vested interest in keeping non-Orthodox Church communities marginalized – means that freedoms for non-Orthodox Christians continue to be restricted.
Central African Republic: Pastor Escapes Death, Asks for Prayer
Pastor Yannick (not his real name) escaped death three times.
The first time they came was at the end of March. There were eight Sekela rebels. It was clear that only one of them was a Central African. The rest were foreigners and did not speak the local Sango language.
“I was in the shower when my wife warned me. She shouted: ‘They’re here, flee!’ When I came outside, they were very near. They shot at me. The bullet did not hit me. I was able to flee into the bush.”
Seleka militia returned in April and again in June. Every time they came, Pastor Yannick escaped, either because he was not there or because he had a moment to run away.
The militia have stolen almost everything. “Since they have visited us, we have been forced to sleep on mats. They stole all of my clothes. I have practically nothing left. Today, what I wear has been given to me by me my brothers in Christ. I was forced to send my children to stay with their grandfather.”
Yannick’s family has spent many desperate moments fleeing Seleka. They have all been traumatized. “Really, it’s terrible! On one of the occasions when we were on the run, my mother took my little boy in her arms and tried to flee. But at her age she could not go fast like the youths. They fell into a hole.”
By the grace of God they survived the fall and were reconciled to the rest of the family in the wilderness where they were hiding.
Pastor Yannick finds it hard to speak about all they have endured during their ordeal. “Reliving these things hurts. Seleka treat people like animals. For them, a chicken is of more value than a human being.”
“Because I am a pastor they came directly to target me. They did not ask me anything. They did not reason with me. They just shot at me.”
Yannick explains that all pastors in his area have been victimized. They are targeted because they preach the gospel.
“There are [those] who do not want to hear the Word of God. But I will persevere, even if it is to death. I am committed to die for the cause of Jesus Christ. It is God who has called us, so we have to do what God wants.
“We are not surprised by what has happened. It has been foretold in the Word of God. The Seleka are pawns the enemy uses to hurt us. But I also believe that they are God’s creatures. “Jesus rebuked the wind the devil wanted to use to overthrow the disciples as they crossed the sea. We have seen what is behind Seleka. They are being used. We must pray for Seleka that they, too, can know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. If they would come to know Jesus Christ, they would not commit these crimes anymore. Pray also for the Central African Republic. God’s people want peace.”