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A Russian Bombshell or a Damp Squid?
Another view on the possible ‘liquidation’ of 56 religious organizations, including several Western ministries

By Dan Wooding
11/30/08 MOSCOW, RUSSIA (ANS) — Following the news that a Youth with a Mission leader had delivered a “bombshell” to Western missionary organization working in Russia that their church or ministry could “liquidated”, ANS has received another side of the story from Dr. Thomas Rosson, Education Director for the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) and concurrently President of the Eurasian Theological Seminary in Moscow.

Rosson was responding to our story that featured a message sent to his
supporters by Al Akimoff, Director of Youth With A Mission Slavic Ministries International, who had that he has discovered that on October 15, 2008, a declaration unexpectedly appeared on the webpage of the Russian Ministry of Justice listing 56 religious organizations scheduled for “liquidation.”

“These stem from a number of major world faiths and included Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, the Catholic ‘Caritas’ as well as small, dissident Orthodox groups and one organization belonging to the Kiev Orthodox Patriarchate,” said Akimoff.

“Yet at least 35 of the 56 listed qualify as Protestant organizations. These include the humanitarian ‘World Vision’ and ‘Youth with a Mission’. At least six Baptist organizations are listed. These include one established by the Russian branch of the ‘Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’ and three regional districts of the ‘Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ (RUECB).

“Apparently; several entire churches are up for liquidation, including the ‘Union of Churches of Presbyterian Christians’ and the ‘Assemblies of God’. Even the 26-congregation-strong ‘Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians’ is scheduled for elimination.”

In a message sent by Dr. Rosson to ANS, he said, “I read your recent article regarding the liquidation of many Protestant churches and the effects of the new visa requirements. I am the leader of a Pentecostal Bible school in Moscow that is registered as a religious organization and, since this summer, also has a license to do educational activity.

“Although we all are suspicious of any restrictions in religious freedom given Russia’s history, our recent experience has been that the government officials are more interested in following bureaucratic detail than persecuting Protestant groups. This may explain some of the closures. Furthermore, a ‘liquidation’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the church will no longer exist. They can reorganize and register with the legal authorities. I realize, this may be easier in Moscow than in other parts of the country where laws are sometimes arbitrarily interpreted and applied.

“An updated report from the Russian Ministry of Justice has indicated that the majority number of these 56 organizations have now submitted the paperwork for governmental review. But there were still 19 religious organizations that simply failed to file the required paperwork.

“As for Russia’s new visa regulations — yes, it is more restrictive and we (our denomination) have lost some Western missionaries due to it. I myself am affected by the new regulation and live in Germany and telecommute quite a bit.

“But what many in the West don’t realize is that the new Russian visa law almost identically mirrors the new visa regulations in place in the EU. I know of an American missionary couple in Germany who recently arrived here and are having difficulties getting long-term residential / work permits. They’ve been given 1 year permits and were told they can be renewed only a limited amount of times. After five years, they must leave the country, they were told.

“In both cases, (Russia and Germany) the easier route for missionaries is to obtain a work permit and to be paid through a local organization / church. Their salaries would have to go through the tax system of the host country; and the hosting organization would also have to make themselves financially liable for additional costs (e.g., insurance, etc.). Granted, getting a work permit in Russia is difficult in the urban areas due to quota levels that each district must observe. However, I really don’t perceive the new visa regulation as anti-missionary per se.