Soviet history of submission and resistance: is this to be continued?
I am sincerely happy to be part of great and glorious heritage of Keston. The history of the center and my family’s history are closely intertwined. I was born in the Soviet Union in the repressed family of non-registered Baptists. My father was put in prison for his faith and my mother lost her job. Unafraid, they continued to distribute Scriptures that were smuggled into the country. They knew they had friends, brothers and sisters around the world who cared for them and lifted their voices to protect the freedom of conscience, and preaching of the gospel.
Why am I telling this? Because the story continues to this day. In spring of 2014 I had a privilege to work in Keston center. I studied documents related to the history of non-registered Baptists in Soviet Union. You might remember it was that very spring when Crimea was annexed and the war in eastern Ukraine started. As I was reading the documents from Soviet times I became aware of the fact that all the events of that era are being repeated in front of our eyes and are even worse than they were back then. Not only are they happening on Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia but also in Russia itself. Today, missionary activity and any public activity of all registered religious organizations is severely restricted. Any activities of non-registered groups are prohibited. Studying the Bible in home with family or friends over tea is interpreted as illegal.
In occupied territories of Ukraine, Baptist churches have basically gone underground. The same tendency is emerging in Russia. All Christian churches, apart from Russian Orthodox Church, find themselves to be the “enemies of the state” or as they used to say in Stalin’s times, “enemy of the people.”
What will follow? History tells us that churches will find new ways of ministering. Limitations of freedom and persecution will be a new incentive for their growth. But for the state regime that suppresses the freedom of religion it will be the beginning of the end. This was true during Soviet times. It will be true for today’s post-Soviet empire.
Churches who have chosen the path of compromise with the state, risk losing their freedom and destroying their reputation. For churches that are free and committed to their faith this creates an opportunity of reviving their church life and missions strategy. In summary, the history of religion in both Soviet and post-Soviet contexts is still being written, and its many twists and turns are going to surprise even experienced historians. In this way, the Keston center preserves its important place in storing historical documents. It’s also a place for meeting old and new friends who are interested in religious freedom and the future of religion in post-Soviet countries.