Weekly column from Belarus: How to live in a state of terror
Greetings from Belarus! The stream of good news from our country never ends. We have recently become a homeland of extremism and terrorism. I am afraid that even the countries of the Middle East and Africa will envy the number of extremists and terrorists per capita.
Recent events reminded me of Orwell’s “1984” that I read for the first time in high school. The dystopia struck a striking resemblance to the communist system that had suppressed people and freedom in our region for 70 years. A region where the state sought to replace God and extended its control to all spheres of human life.
Zmicier Chviedaruk was born in Minsk, Belarus, in 1988.
He is member of a Reformed baptist church in that city. But he studies with the neighbours in Kyiv, at the Evangelical-Reformed Seminary of Ukraine (ERSU).
Zmicier is married with Anna and together, they raise a cat. He has authored the book “Reformation at all costs” about the history of the Reformed Church in Belarus in the 16th century. He likes reading, and listening to old-school rock from 80-90’s and plays in amateur football team “Libertas”.
Many of us thought that such things could not happen anymore in the 21st century. But it turned out that even such thoughts in Belarus 2022 would be called "extremist activities." By the way, the famous work of the English writer George Orwell has been recently banned in Belarus by a secret order and taken out of bookstores.
One of the most heinous crimes in “1984” totalitarian Oceania was "Thoughtcrime." Big Brother persecuted people not even for acts of disobedience or public criticism, but for trying to think and reason. For the people from the West, this sounds like a simple fantasy, but for us, it has become a daily reality. We, like Winston Smith, simply cannot publicly share our thoughts even in modern diaries such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
To help you better understand what I mean, I must note that the state has changed its legislation this month. They’ve made changes in the law that is not executed and used solely to suppress political and economical opponents.
In Belarus, you can be convicted to death for "intention to commit a terrorist act” since May 2022. Not even a plan or an act, just intention. What the "intention" means in our case? The law leaves the widest possible limits for interpretation. Have you read on the Internet about the terrorist attack on 9/11, kept sunflower oil at home, which can be used to create an explosive device, spread some prohibited critical information about the actions of the political regime or made pictures of Russian tanks? It all could classify as an intention.
I don’t have a need for dramatising. Now in the city of Garodnia (Grodno), the city in the west of Belarus, the trial on terrorism is going on. Twelve people are prosecuted for the "intention to commit a terrorist act”. Among decedents, there is an orthodox priest and his wife. They are standing in cages during a trail like animals in a small old-fashioned zoo. They are blamed by the state just for hosting an ex-army officer who supposedly talked in 2021 to his friend about how they could fight against Russian troops if Putin would try to invade our country.
We even have the KGB's whole list of terrorists, which includes 77 men! Imagine that in the official FBI list there are only 45 people “wanted” for terrorism. We must add to that more than 2,000 people who are imprisoned for years under political articles and hundreds more who are sentenced to 15-day arrests for "small crimes" from time to time.
Between confidence and fear according to Peter and Packer
This situation has a huge effect on everyone and even Christians. A friend of mine from one of Minsk's churches recently shared no less terrible thoughts: Why doesn't God take control over this? How much longer are we going to have to put up with this? How can I at least leave home if I live under the total control of a state that is going to evaluate every move, and which power requires you to kneel before it suffers? It definitely causes fear among everyone, including believers.
I must add, that this week Lukashenko stated that it is time to “deal” with NGOs that do not support state policy. It probably means dealing with the church in the country.
Standing firm in Christ despite oppression
At the beginning of my Christian life, I read a great book by J. I. Packer “Knowing God”. One of the first statements of this work was “Knowing God is the greatest consolation for man”. I could not understand its meaning until 2022. Difficulties and daily fear helped me to realise, in some cases, what the great British theologian was writing about.
God reminds us from his Word, that He’s keeping control over our mad world. Where politicians trying to hold onto power at all costs, where you could be murdered or betrayed just for trying to live a righteous life.
The Apostle Peter in his 1st letter reminds Christians who are used to suffering from the empire's oppression and even have to leave their homes, of the same words that Packer addressed us much later. He does not ask the church to anchor their hope on changing political situations or their identity on their lost social status. Peter reminds us at challenging times of Who our God is and what He has done in Christ.
He reminds us that despite the oppression we are called to stand firm in Christ. Looking at Him Peter asks us to realise that we all live in the reality of God’s eternal solutions realising that “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20) so we all live in the light of God’s providence and all the story we live is in God’s control.
Peter reminds those who do not know what will happen tomorrow that God decided before the beginning of the world to reveal Himself and save us. So He knows all the days and they are under His control (1 Peter 1:17-21).
And even when we lose everything, we are not forsaken and rejected. Instead, we are adopted in Christ and accepted. God has called us His own - and no status compares to that. We are fellow citizens of the saints and of our God.
So, when we are afraid of the state controlling every step, we know, that God’s control is much bigger, and it’s for the good of His people. And if we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring us, according to Peter our greatest hope is in unchanging God, Who adopted us, redeemed us and holds us.
And if we find ourselves on the KGB list, we know that being on God’s list is more valuable. Looking at Christ's resurrection, we understand that our fear is not the end and we have a reason to wake up and worship, love, work and leave our homes tomorrow.
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