(Opening – Granny reading her favorite passage, Psalm 121 – Have caption for vs. 1-3
I lift up my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip.
He who watches over you will not slumber. Psalm 121:1-3
To her family she is “Granny”. Widowed for many years, she lives in a small house in Berazino, Belarus. Granny’s garden, … which takes up the front and back yard, … provides most of her food. But, it is her faith in God and in Jesus Christ that sustains her.
The Gospel was brought to Belarus some 200 years ago and by the late 1920’s, many evangelical churches were started. Even in the midst of Vladimir Lenin becoming ruler of what became known as the Soviet Union. This was a difficult time for Christians since Lenin proclaimed that there is no God. Religious meetings were banned and the once influential Russian Orthodox Church rapidly decayed. Still, many revere Lenin as his image remains a central monument in many places. However, no images of Stalin, the successor to Lenin, are displayed. Only the memories remain of the millions of people who were murdered or exiled to Siberia. The hammer and sickle, symbol of the Soviet Union, also is symbolic of Stalin’s brutality.
During the 70 years of Communist rule and harsh religious persecution, the Believers avoided detection by secretly meeting in the forest. It was in the forest, … in the dark of night and with only a few in attendance, … that new Believers were baptized. This is how it was when Granny came to faith in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. But fear was constantly present. She could share with only her closest friends and relatives. During this time, Stalin’s internal security police used the forest as killing fields. Those considered to be enemies of the state were rounded up, murdered and buried in mass graves. The crosses were added much later.
Belarus, a country about the size of Kansas, is at a strategic location between Russia and Europe. It was in 1941 that Hitler’s army began the invasion of Russia at the fortress in the city of Brest. The events of this horrific period are displayed where it happened at the Brest Hero-Fortress in southwest Belarus. The tears of remembrance for those who fought and died to protect their homeland linger at this memorial. … More was to come.
It came with the carnage and brutality of the Great Patriotic War … or World War II as we know it; … entire villages, … 433 in all… were burned to the ground; … the residents rounded up like cattle and murdered. …. The Jews, … once a vital part of Belarus, … were nearly all annihilated. Before it was over, … one-fourth of the population was killed; … most were young men.
Granny’s husband was wounded in this fighting but survived to see a resumption of the draconian oppression of Stalin and his internal security police. Still, Granny, her family and other Christians throughout Belarus remained true to their faith … even growing stronger.
In April 1986, another horror came to the country in the form of an unseen enemy covering much of the land. … Chernobyl … the meltdown of #4 nuclear reactor in the Chernobyl power plant just ten miles south of the border in Ukraine. 70% of the radioactive fallout contaminated Belarus. To this day, many villages in the southeast are uninhabitable. Trees and vines grow in, up and around what were once homes. Tens of thousands died. The effects continue with high sickness, depression and a low birth rate. Large sections of good farmland were rendered useless. One of Granny’s son’s was part of the massive Chernobyl cleanup effort and subsequently died of radiation poisoning.
The Belarusian’s are survivors. They have survived the long history of domination by outside influences … of being trampled upon like a doormat. With long lines and bare shelves in grocery stores, they planted gardens and fruit trees. … They work the land by hand to feed their families and store food and fuel for the long, cold winters. … They go to the forests to gather mushrooms to use for themselves and to sell to others. … They raise chickens, ducks, sheep and goats for food. … The oppression brought on by the 70 years of totalitarian Communist rule made little difference to the mind set of the people; … it only added to their pessimism and hopelessness. The bright colorful flowerbeds that bloom along the streets and in city parks are symbolic of the peace and tranquility that Belarusian’s value most.
The fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991 brought great celebrations for many countries as they, at long last, achieved independence. Belarus, too, declared it’s independence and for some this offered a new hope. Believers like Granny began to openly share God’s Word. Churches started and church buildings, … like the one where Granny worships … were constructed. Seminaries to train pastors were expanded. It was an exciting time but, … after only six short years, … change came again with a return to much of the former religious oppression.
The memories of a trampled past, turmoil, grief, discouragement and lost freedom remain. The fresh coat of paint on the drab soviet style apartment buildings does not cover up these memories. The new busses and trolleys added to the fleet of public transportation and the shiny new imported cars and trucks will not carry away the feelings of the past. New construction throughout the capital city of Minsk and the shops stacked with merchandise are for the few who can afford the price. Because of the low wages, the lives of the common people are not changed. The blank, empty faces of those waiting for the bus express hopelessness in the hearts of the workers.
In the rural areas, the horse drawn plow is still a part of life on the small farms. Potatoes and other crops are often harvested by hand. Mushrooms, sold by the bucket full, are found in abundance in the forest. But, like in the cities … things appear to be changing. Large commercial farms rival those of the European countries. Huge combines harvest the wheat. Corn silage is cut and chopped for winter cattle feed.
Acres of cabbage fields are now part of the landscape. Sunflowers add another touch of beauty to a growing farm economy. Except, the combines, the farms, the processing facilities are all government owned. The horse drawn wagon belongs to the farmer. The big trucks speeding by do not even bother the horses. They will be pulling wagons for many generations to come.
The people of Belarus have a deep commitment to traditional values. Weddings, … often conducted each Saturday, … exemplify this desire to connect with the past as the wedding party visits one of the many monuments for an extended photography session.
A wedding for the Believers is more than just symbolic. It is real to them and to the church as the bride and groom solemnly commit their lives to each other and to God.
Believers, like the bride and groom, have a deep commitment to their faith, to each other and to the church. They seek to learn more through worship activities and Bible studies. Unfortunately, the Believers of Belarus are few in number and are considered a cult by the government and by the Orthodox tradition.
The survivalist tendency of the Believers mirrors that of the Belarusian’s; few venture beyond the church walls to share their faith with others. The current political climate makes it difficult for the open proclamation of the Gospel and the establishment of new churches and home Bible study groups. Nevertheless, the Baptists of Belarus agree with the words In Revelation 3:8, where Jesus said to the church in Philadelphia, “I have set before you an open door which no one can shut.” The Baptists of Belarus realize that before them stands such an open door and by faith a few are stepping across the threshold seeking to take the message of hope in Jesus Christ to their land.
Recently, pastors and national Baptist leaders fanned out in a nation wide evangelistic crusade called, “There is Hope.” Other evangelistic outreach activities include: Youth and children’s camps every summer at the national Baptist camp in Kobrin and regional tent camping experiences organized by local pastors and leaders held in the fresh air of the nearby forests and alongside the meandering rivers and streams.
Yes, great things are taking place through the ministry of the Baptists of Belarus, but needs still exist.
The large cities each have an active Christian presence with several churches. On the other hand, much of Belarus is unreached by the Gospel. This includes 39 cities with a population between 5,000 and 25,000 that do not have an evangelical church and nearly 1,500 villages without any type of Biblical witness for Christ. In many places in Belarus, there is still not even one Believer or evangelical family to shine the light of Christ.
There are needs for evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training. There are needs for assisting Baptists in penetrating the unreached subgroups of Belarus such as Doctors and Nurses, Students and Teachers, Market Workers and Intellectuals, Orphans and the Handicapped. Are you available to assist with one of these needs?
Overlay … the Faith That Endures
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