Every team that prepares for cross-cultural missions work experiences push-back from the Devil. It is to be expected and often serves as confirmation that God is about to do something amazing through the ordinary saints he calls to travel overseas and share the love, grace, and mercy of God in Christ Jesus. However, sometimes it is not the Devil working against us, rather it is a clear message from the Lord that we should take a step back and rest in him, for a season. This is the message discerned by the entire EEMN Russia team and our ministry partners in Russia. It is with heavy hearts but also in the confidence of God's good timing that we announce the cancellation of the 2017 Friendship English Language Schools in Kondopoga and Petrozavodsk, Karelia, Russia.
Recent changes in local and Russian consulate interpretation of Russian Visa Law have forced this difficult decision. New and unpublished requirements for our visa applications were requested by the Russian consulate in late April, which did not allow enough time for our hosts in Russia to obtain the additional paperwork, send the originals to the U.S., and for updated applications to be sent and (barring any additional requirements or changes) processed by the consulate for travel to Russia at the end of May.
While there is certainly no proof of deliberate obstruction, the timing with new anti-religious government-led activity in Russia seems to coincide with what many are beginning to experience both, within Russia and as missionaries attempting to enter Russia.
EEMN recommends visiting Forum18.org for the latest in specific religious persecution being inflicted and experienced in Russia. Our ministry partners in Russia also report dozens of instances where long-standing foreign co-workers have been stopped at the border and turned away from entering Russia. In a few cases fines were assessed for both, the foreigner visitor and for the local partnering church. The churches were fined as much as 400,000 - 1,000,000 Rubles ($7,000 - $17,000 USD)!
On April 26, 2017 the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom cited Russia as one of the Countries of Particular Concern. This is the first time for Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union! Sixteen countries have been designated as Countries of Particular Concern by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom. The bipartisan U.S. government commission documents religious freedom around the world and makes recommendations to the president, secretary of state and Congress. (http://www.uscirf.gov/news-room/press-releases/uscirf-releases-2017-annual-report)
Despite this unsettling news EEMN is not defeated and we are already planning for a return to Russia in 2018. In the mean time, we implore you to PRAY! Pray for our Russian partners in ministry, for the on-going and pervasive religious persecution in Russia, and for all whom are called to serve the Lord in Russia. Pray that His will be done. Amen.