Another church building operated by a Registered Baptist congregation was seized by force by occupying authorities in Eastern Ukraine earlier this month, with authorities allegedly claiming that a mine had been planted there. According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea, that brings to seven the number of church buildings of the Registered Baptists seized by either administration or military in the occupied territories.
VOM Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley says the congregations have not lost heart. “The churches are continuing to meet for worship in the homes of church members,” she says.
According to Dr Foley, six of the Registered Baptist churches whose buildings were seized are located in the southern Donetsk region and one is in the Zaporizhzhia region bordering Donetsk.
“Registered Baptist churches are of course not the only churches being persecuted in the occupied territories, but they are regularly the focus of suspicion and negative attention from the occupying authorities because they are registered in the Ukrainian state register,” says Dr Foley. She says there is a “guilty until proven innocent” attitude toward the Registered Baptist churches by authorities.
“The Registered Baptist churches are not targeted because they have done anything wrong or are even suspected of wrongdoing but rather because occupying authorities demand that they prove their loyalty and submission,” says Dr Foley.
She says many Registered Baptist ministers have been forced to leave the occupied territories due to hostilities against them and their churches.
“These days, Registered Baptist churches are frequently refused contracts for maintenance and utilities because those in the general public are worried about guilt by association,” says Dr Foley. “The occupying authorities demand that churches re-register under the new occupying government, even though they are aware that such demands violate international law.”
Dr Foley shared a message received by a local VOM Korea contact from the pastor of one of the Registered Baptist Church congregations whose building was recently seized. “Greetings. At the moment, the military has occupied the House of Prayer and are living there. The reason is explained by the fact that the higher authorities did not allow the worship service to be held [in the building].”
Dr Foley says that the situation facing Christians in the neighbouring so-called Luhansk Peoples Republic is also difficult. “Residents of the occupied territories are forced to accept Russian citizenship, otherwise they will be deprived of pensions and benefits and are threatened with the seizure of housing and property,” says Dr Foley. “The Christians, especially the pastors, are forced with impossible choices. They don’t want to obtain Russian citizenship, but if they refuse the citizenship they could be deprived of work or forcibly evicted to the territory of the Russian Federation.”
VOM Korea is calling for prayers for the seven Registered Baptist churches who have had their buildings confiscated, as well as other pastors and Christians in the occupied territories who are facing persecution from the occupying authorities.