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How Did The Church Survive?

by Marti Wade

In the best-selling book The Insanity of God (and now a documentary film of the same name), Nik Ripkin describes a personal journey to understand and support Christians in places where being a Christian may seem to be a death sentence. He, his wife Ruth, and those who partnered with them aimed to discover what Christians who have survived great struggles and persecution in other parts of the world have to teach those experiencing persecution today—as well as people like us who hear their stories and cry out to God for those in desperate need.

It’s not surprising that they began their journey in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Nik interviewed believers who had held onto their faith during the 70 years of the Communist rule and systematic religious oppression. Across Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe, Christians were ridiculed and pressured and churches were closed. Leaders and other believers were arrested, tortured, and sometimes put to death. Through legislation and social pressure, every effort made to keep parents from passing on their faith to their children in hopes that the church might die out within a single generation.

Yet, as Ripkin reports, “under communism, the church had found a way to survive and often thrive.” Scripture and song kept them going when scattered or imprisoned. “Looking back now, I understand that one of the most accurate ways to detect and measure the activity of God is to note the amount of opposition that is present,” says Ripkin. “The stronger the persecution, the more significant the spiritual vitality of the believers.”

For these believers, persecution became as expected as “the sun coming up in the East.”

The years since that time have brought continued challenges but also some new ones. Some churches have made compromising their faith a part of their strategy for survival, urging members to lay low, avoid rocking the boat, and hold back on evangelism. In some places, believers still struggle to trust anyone, hiding their stories rather than sharing them with the next generation. In some areas, persecution is much less these days, but believers may be less zealous for their faith. Younger Christians may not cling to and memorize the Scriptures like believers during Soviet days. Ripkin puts in this way: “The Russian Church had lost in its first decade of ‘freedom’ what Soviet believers had managed to hold onto under communism for most the century.’

Pray for Russian believers and others who live in Central Asia and across the former Soviet Union. May they grow, thrive, multiply, and reach out cross-culturally despite bouts or fears of persecution and the temptation to compromise or drift away from their faith.

 

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