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August 16, 2016 - The threat
I talked to the law firm in Moscow. They are preparing the appeal. No real news there yet.
I mentioned on Sunday that I had requested a lawyer to be with me for the hearing at the courthouse. A young man was assigned to me, and he was helpful. Monday afternoon he called me and asked if he could meet with me on Tuesday morning. I went to his office, and he told me something like this:
"I know I was just called to advise you for the one hearing, but your case is interesting to me. I think you are a nice guy, and in any case I thought it was my duty to find out anything more if I could. I have a lot of friends at that police department, so I went there Monday and asked around. My friends told me,
'Somebody in high places doesn't like this guy. They are out to get him. They want him out of here'
"I don't mean to scare you, but I think you should know what a serious matter this is. Your lawyers in Moscow may be able to get these charges dropped, but this is not the end of this matter. I don't think you realise the power of the machine that you are up against. You have been here for 15 years. They know who you are. They have decided that they don't want you here any more. If it's not one charge, it will be another. They can get neighbors to complain about you or even make something up and make it stick. The next time, I guarantee that you will be deported. They might decide to lock you up for a few months just for spite. It is very possible in this country for them to take you to the basement for a beating first, and you might just disappear and not be seen again. I know you live alone here with your wife. I would hate to think that they would do anything to her, but this is a powerful machine. It's hard to say what they might do. You will make your own decision about this, but I would advise you not to appeal this charge. Save yourself the trouble. Just pay the fine and go back to America where it is safe. Such are the relations between our countries at this time."
I told the lawyer that a Hare Krishna was charged with the same crime last week in the southern city of Cherkassk. On Monday, a judge there dismissed the charges.
The lawyer said, "That's a small town matter. I don't know the details. I do know that my friends in the police tell me this is coming from higher up. The Jehovah's Witnesses were recently shut down here in Oryol. They are taking it to the Supreme Court, but it doesn't matter. Someone has decided they shouldn't be here, and that is the end of it. When the police came to your house, they were polite and just asked questions. In St. Petersburg, when they went after the Church of Scientology, they sent the special forces in with weapons drawn. They throw everyone down on their faces and ask questions later. I advise you to seriously think this through."
I thanked him for his advice. The whole time he was talking, I was thinking, "Is he really sincere or was he sent by the authorities to tell me all this to scare me." Maybe they know the charges will not stand under appeal. Whether or not he was sincere, he would have said exactly the same thing. Either way, I can't take the risk that Ruth would be put in danger. I decided it was time to send her home.
I feel it is my duty to press the appeal as far as possible, for the benefit of other missionaries and freedom. At the same time, I think the handwriting is on the wall as far as the future of this ministry in Oryol. I wonder if it's time to close up shop. I would have loved to turn it over to someone else, but there is nobody. I would love to go home to our children and grandchildren, but I would stay here for the rest of my life if I thought it was God's will.
I am planning to send Ruth home on Monday. I will stay and work with the lawyers on the appeal. I have thought about selling our apartment and church building, and ending operations here. If the lawyers can press the appeal all the way to the top without me being here, I may leave temporarily. I will stay here as long as I feel duty requires me to stay. I could still change my mind. My pastor agrees that Ruth needs to get out of here. I prayerfully want to do the right thing regardless of the consequences.
I don't really think they will hurt me. I am sure the lawyer was just playing a badly scripted game of "good cop, bad cop" in cahoots with the local authorities. I think they know the appeal is likely to be successful, and they will be embarrassed in front of their superiors that they couldn't make the charges stick. In any case, they made a threat against my wife. As long as she is here, she can be used as leverage against me, so she is going home. After Ruth is gone, I think a little publicity might be helpful to shine the light and put pressure on these guys, but I need to talk to the lawyers about when and how I might do that.