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September - October 2016

Court appeals

In August, I was charged with “illegal missionary activity” under the provisions of a new anti-terrorism law. I was convicted in court and sentenced to pay a fine of more than $600. With help from attorneys in Moscow, I filed an appeal. It is important to understand that I did not violate any laws. The new law limits the definition of “missionary activity” to registered organizations. Although I certainly consider myself to be a missionary, I operate as an individual independent Baptist, so my activity is not regulated by this law. Also, the new law violates constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, so we are hopeful that our appeals will help to overturn this law.

While waiting for the appeal hearing, I was ordered to come in for questioning to the local office of the federal anti-extremism task force. They were suspicious that I might be trying to promote a revolution against the Putin government. My lawyer told me that this questioning is just a form of intimidation to encourage me to drop the appeal and leave the country. The interview was relatively friendly, and I don’t think they found anything they could use against me.

On September 19, our first appeal hearing was held. When the judge entered the courtroom, she was surprised and nervous to see two lawyers, two representatives of the United States embassy, six people from our Bible study, 15 other local evangelical Christians, and reporters from local TV and print media. She listened to our statements, and postponed the hearing to September 30.

At the next hearing, even more Christians came. Testimony revealed that the initial complaint against me had come from a representative of the “young people’s movement against cults”. This group was able to get the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Oryol closed and banned. They believe that the Russian Orthodox church is the only valid religion for Russians.

I told the court that I am a law abiding person. I did not come 30 years ago to preach in the Soviet Union, because that was illegal. I came to Russia 14 years ago to share the Gospel because it was legal. I have read and understood the current law, and I am sure that I did not violate it. I asked the judge to drop the charges. After a recess, she ruled that I am guilty as charged.

We have filed another appeal in the local court. This time, there will not be a hearing, it is just a review of the documents by senior judges.

I am keeping busy with repair work around the house and the apartment, which I am trying to sell. I am also keeping in touch with our people, and I am working with some missionaries on a transition plan, so the ministry here can continue whenever I decide it is time for me to leave.

You can find the story in much more detail on my website, www.donossewaarde.com. Look for the link to the update page. We are grateful for so many people around the world who are praying.

In the service of the King,
Don Ossewaarde