Russia arrests American for conducting Bible study at home under anti-evangelism law

Russian authorities have arrested an American minister for conducting Bible studies inside his own home in the city of Oryol.

(Reuters/Ivan Sekretarev)Visitors watch a multimedia show at the "Russian Orthodox Church Revival, 1991–2011" exhibition in Moscow, November 5, 2011.

Baptist minister Donald Ossewaarde was working in Oryol when Russian police visited him and arrested him for allegedly conducting "unlawful missionary activity" through his Bible studies at home. The American minister is one of the first people targeted by Russia's newly implemented anti-evangelism laws, Worthy News reports.

According to Ossewaarde on his website, he was arrested at home after policemen came and told him that meeting there for prayer and Bible reading was illegal. He was also accused in court of posting public invitations to the said Bible studies.

The court ruled against Ossewaarde, saying he failed to send a written notification to authorities about his religious activities. The American minister also said the court refused to accommodate his request to have his Moscow-based lawyers come over for the initial hearing. Instead, the court reportedly provided him with a lawyer who advised him to simply accept the verdict, pay the imposed fine, and not to appeal.

The court-provided lawyer also told Ossewaarde that it would better for him to leave Oryol so that nothing bad will happen to him and his family. Despite the lawyer's advice, the Baptist minister decided not to return with his family to the United States and stay in Russia to appeal his case.

Russia's anti-evangelism law has greatly affected Christians and their activities within the country. The U.S.-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) had to move the location and schedule for its World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians after President Vladimir Putin signed the new law, NRB notes.

Earlier this month, BGEA president Franklin Graham released a Facebook post announcing the postponement of the summit. Instead of conducting the event on Oct. 28 to 30 in Russia, the gathering will be held on May 10 to 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Victor P. Akhterov, the director of FEBC Russian Ministries, has spoken out against Russia's anti-evangelism law. He expressed concern over the possibility of serious fines and revocation of broadcasting licenses if the government deems some of their programs to be inappropriate. Nevertheless, he said they believe God will continue to use FEBC to reach out to the Russian people.