Staunton, June 14 – Since 1991, Evangelical Protestant groups have been winning adherents not only in predominantly Russian areas like Siberia but also in Muslim areas like Daghstan, Chechnya, Karachayevo-Cherkesia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Adygeya, a trend that has receive little attention abroad but that has sparked anti-Protestant actions by some local Muslims.
Alina Manafova suggests that the Protestants were most active in the more tolerant 1990s but that even now and despite both Moscow’s restrictions on missionary work and North Caucasus opposition, these communities in most cases have continued to operate and even expand (onkavkaz.com/news/60-evangelisty-dagestana-chechni-karachaja-i-adygei.html).
Protestant groups abroad published “mountains of literature directed at propagandizing Evangelical Christianity among Muslims” in the North Caucasus, she says. Germany’s “Light in the East” organization published books with titles like “Why It’s Hard for a Muslim to Become a Christian” and “The Cross in the Gospel and in the Koran.”
The Stockholm-based Institute for the Translation of the Bible has issued full or partial translations of the Bible not only in Bashkir and Tatar but also over the course of recent years in Chechen, Avar, Kumyk, Dargin, Lezgin, Karachay “and other languages of the Muslim peoples of Russia,” Manafova reports.
In 1995, American missionary Herbert Gregg established the Church of the Good News in Makhachkala which soon had branches in six other Daghestani cities. Almost all of those who joined were representatives of the Muslim peoples of that republic. Three years after this, Gregg was kidnapped, ransomed and left Russia, but his flocks continue to operate.
One Christian convert from the Avars, Artur Suleymanov, founded the Hosanna Church in the Daghestani capital. By 2001, he had 500 parishioners, “80 percent of whom were former
Muslims.” The church provided assistance to Chechen refugees, orphans, and helped other Muslim nations with translations of Christian texts.
Other Protestant groups, including Evangelicals, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses are also active in Daghestan. They include among their members representatives of “practically all the Muslim peoples” of that North Caucasus republic, Mufanova continues.
Daghestani officials were quite cooperative with the Protestants in the 1990s, the journalist says, although they have become less so over the last decade not only because of Moscow’s harder line but also because many Muslims have been upset by the inroads the Protestants have made. Some have even launched an “’anti-Evangelical’” effort.
There have been attempts to blow up Christian churches and in 2010, for example, Artur Suleymanov was killed after a religious service at his church. As a result, many of those who had been attending services at the Hosanna churches no longer attended, but they did not break with Christianity, choosing instead to organize semi-underground “house churches.”
To the west of Daghestan in the North Caucasus a similar pattern of missionary activity, initial official tolerance or even support and opposition from the surrounding Muslim population obtains, Mufanova says. But if anything, that hostility is even greater than in Daghestan. Some Muslims in these republics not only refuse to have anything to do with the converts but also prevent them from being buried in their village cemeteries.
Protestants in Chechnya have survived both the two wars and local Muslim opposition but only by going into “deep underground.” One Baptist church there has lost four pastors. The head of one was found his prayer house; “where the other three are, remains unknown up to the present.”