As the XXII Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia enter their final week, Open Doors contacts in the region request your continued prayer for God’s protection to cover athletes and tourists attending the Games, and for Christian volunteers and local believers for whom the event provides opportunities 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,” wrote one contact as the Games were beginning. “‘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 to and serve athletes and representatives from Olympic delegations around the world.”
According to official sources, more than 6,000 athletes from 85 countries and hundreds of thousands of fans were expected to fill Sochi during the Olympics. The security of the Games became a high priority for the government following an increasing number of attacks by radical Islamist groups in the region as well as the discovery of alleged plots for attacks during the games.
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 bombings in the city of Volgograd left at least 31 people dead.
The growing influence of Islamist groups has also made the situation increasingly difficult for 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, frequently pressuring them to return to Islam.
Russia narrowly missed inclusion on the 2014 Open Doors World Watch List (WWL) of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted most for their faith. 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-has produced continued restrictions on freedoms for non-Orthodox Christians. In 2014, Russia ranked as the 55th country on the WWL.
Father, thank You for Your hand of protection over those participating in the Olympics as athletes, workers and spectators. As we consider the opportunities that come before believers during this event with people from all around the world, we pray You will provide them with opportunities to extend the grace, mercy and kindness of Christ to those around them, and to share the gospel of Christ. As we view images of the Olympic torch burning brightly over the events there, remind us to pray that many will receive the light of the gospel and bring it back to their home countries that the light of Christ might shine brightly over a world in much need of the gospel. In the name of Jesus, who calls us to be His light in the world. Amen.