Weekly column from Belarus: Sharing the Gospel with fellow-prisoners
Zmicier Chviedaruk, CNE.news
A day of a Belarusian does not start with coffee while reading the Bible. But with an anxious thought: will they come for me today or not? Do I hear loud steps behind my doors, or is everything quiet?
December 8th was the day when eight armed policemen broke into our home, threw me on the floor, beat me up a little, and conducted a search. I am thankful they did not touch my pregnant wife.
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”.
Why did they come to us? I was arrested twice in 2020 already. The first time for noticing violations of the voting rules at the polling station, after which I have gone through the torture of Okrestina (a notoriously known prison-torture place since 2020). I was arrested for the Christian community prayer near the Catholic church in the city centre the second time. This church was under pressure for its public attitude towards the events. The third time I was arrested was right before Christmas, as part of the scare-out campaign against active citizens. Many of those who participated in the events of 2020 have been arrested then again.
The Gospel and the investigation officer
During the interrogation at the investigative office, I said I was a seminary student. The man was interested in which one. Once I replied that it was a Reformed one, he got interested in how it was different from the orthodox. I got a chance to share the Gospel with him and tell him about human sinfulness regardless of their political views and about God’s mercy shown in the crucified Jesus.
In response, the officer looked away and asked whether an executioner was guilty when carrying out an unfair order or even killing someone while being part of the system. It looked like those who persecute Belarusians are in deep need of a Christian proclamation because many feel bad about what they are doing.
Prisoners interested in the Gospel
After the interrogation, I was sentenced to 15 days (although they promised me more) in the notorious prison Okrestina. I was put into a small cell for four people but filled with 13 to 19 people on different days.
There were no mattresses to sleep on; we were not allowed to lay down on our metal beds or the floor during the day; we were woken up at 2, 4, and 6 am to be “checked” whether we hadn’t escaped.
We were taken out of the cell into the hall to be examined twice a day while the guards threw our little belongings around the cell. We never went on a walk or showered and received no post from relatives. I will not go into details about the guards’ attitude, the absence of any fresh air, etc. All those conditions resembled the Soviet tin can full of fish. A dirty stinking cell was intended to leave no space for anything else apart from panic and despair.
I was surprised to find that Belarusians were very interested in the Christian faith in these conditions, contrary to my scepticism. Not the formal faith most of them practice when they queue twice a year to enter the temple for holy water or eggs. Just imagine, in prison, there were 15 days of lectures, conversations and debates about Trinity, justification, union with Christ, sinfulness, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostolic Creed, about the mission of Christ and Christmas itself since these events happened right before December 25th.
In prison, you need Abraham Kuyper
Most of my cellmates confessed that at that point of their lives, going through fear and despair for their future and the future of their loved ones, they finally wanted to figure out what the Bible and Christian faith really teach since they knew it only on the surface level.
They were interested to know what the church is and is not and what it means to be a part of it. Many of them were saying they were looking for comfort, meaning and hope amidst the foggy future of Belarus. A country where silence still dominates.
Thus, my time in prison has proven the need for the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper’s teaching about the authority and the power of Scripture that form the whole of Christian’s worldview, not just their “exalted spiritual life”. This is the worldview through which one looks at the whole life, not just at the colours one specifically likes, because God is Sovereign over every square inch of this world. And we need the Christian worldview, which is formed under the authority of God’s revelation and the historical faith, not under personal fears or pragmatic position of being an opportunist of the situation.
Prayer is needed
So, the church in Belarus, which is in a predicament, has to respond to a difficult choice between peaceful silence and risky proclamation. It needs instruction and trust in the sovereignty of God, who rules the world and is the Head of the Church. It needs prayers, for several things. First, for teaching and collective wisdom of brothers and sisters from far and near. So that they are able to carry the bright banner of the Gospel among the humiliated and insulted, the arrested and disfranchised, among the governmental villains and the repressive system. And among the circumstances in which all you want to do is hide under the blanket instead of faithfully living your ordinary anxious life.
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