On September 1, Irina Gigouev and her two sons, Mark, 9, and Arthur, 8, were softly singing hymns in the sweltering gym of Beslan Middle School No. 1. A terrorist gripping a machine gun stood guard menacingly behind her. Irina held Arthur tightly and prayed aloud for God to touch the man. Hours later, shrapnel hit Arthur's head and his body went limp in her arms.
The three-day hostage siege by Chechen separatist fighters ended in a bloodbath after Russian forces stormed the school. Flying bullets and exploding bombs left 338 dead, including many children.
"After her son was killed, I saw Irina praying for that terrorist again," said Yuri Sipko, president of the Union of Evangelical Christians—Baptists, after visiting the town of 30,000 in North Ossetia, a republic in Russia's north Caucasus region.
Sipko and other evangelical leaders across Russia have publicly urged peace, concerned about the region's ethnic tensions. During his visit, Sipko spoke on a Christian radio network and met with church leaders. "We prayed that God would surround the community despite the thirst for revenge in the air," he told CT.
Connie Snyder, vice president of Washington-based International Christian Concern, credits Russian believers with actively extending forgiveness. "This isn't an easy task, but with God's strength it can be done," she said.
Some Beslan residents clamored for revenge after learning the hostage takers were mostly Ingush and Chechens. A territorial dispute between mostly Orthodox Christian North Ossetians and Muslim Ingushetians led to fighting in 1992.
Like Irina Gigouev, many of Beslan's evangelical Christians, grieving the loss of children, mothers, and fathers, prayed, comforted neighbors, and urged forgiveness instead ...