Russian Christians are using the World Cup to thwart their country’s anti-extremism laws that prevent them from evangelizing outside of state-sanctioned Orthodox churches.
Authorities have used the Yarovaya Law to crack down on house church gatherings and public prayer. They also prosecute other religious institutions for any promotion of their activities, like listing their services schedule online, according to Christianity Today. The law is ostensibly part of the Russian government’s measures to combat extremism, but has been used to target spiritual competitors of the Russian Orthodox church by defining their evangelistic activities as the promotion of extremism. Churches targeted by the law will host screening events during the World Cup in order to circumvent the law and evangelize those who attend the events. (RELATED: The French Conspiracy With The Russian Orthodox Church That Destroyed The Jehovah’s Witnesses)
“This is an unprecedented opportunity, especially at a time when the Iron Curtain that cracked down on Christianity during the Soviet era has been strictly limiting public missionary activity and evangelism under the guise of anti-terrorism,” said Sergey Rakhuba, president of the U.S.-based Mission Eurasia, according to CT. “This fresh, strategic approach, which actually is a demonstration of the power of ‘the gift of hospitality,’ is needed in the current political and social climate.”
Mission Eurasia is helping coordinate the screening event’s evangelism campaign. Smaller non-Orthodox churches are counting on the Russian government’s desire to avoid negative media attention during the World Cup, especially with regard to human rights issues. They are also capitalizing on the fact that 90 percent of all tickets for all 64 soccer matches have already been sold, meaning many fans will be searching for other venues to watch the game.
Churches will distribute a copy of the New Testament in Russian along with popcorn and sunflower seeds to every attendee.
“The strategic key to the Scripture distribution and follow-up is that it will be handled solely by Russians and registered local churches in Russia,” Walter Kulakoff, Mission Eurasia’s vice president of ministries and church relations, told CT.
“We are now seeing how the law is being enforced by the government, and we are becoming increasingly concerned,” he added. “The restrictions have had a discouraging impact on missions, evangelism and church growth in Russia. They have forced churches and our young leaders to be very creative about how they share the gospel.”
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