Western Christians must speak out off suffering believers in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

With his trial just four hours away, a young Romanian Baptist, loan Teodosiu, sat in his cell—waiting. A spokesman for the Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom in Romania, Teodosiu had been arrested on December 16, 1981. His “crime”: disseminating information about state persecution of Romanian believers. Charged with treason, he waited, expecting a harsh sentence.

The seconds ticked by. Suddenly, the door to his cell swung open and several guards burst in. Thoughts of an eleventh-hour interrogation flashed through his mind. He braced himself for the ordeal. Instead, he heard one of the guards shout, “Come with us! You’ve been released!”

“Released?” Teodosiu asked incredulously. Indeed, he had been released, and all charges against him were dropped. What Teodosiu didn’t know was that halfway around the world, in the United States, action had been taken on his behalf. People aware of his situation had circulated petitions and written to their congressmen. They, in turn, had written to the Romanian Minister of Internal Affairs. It was this concerted pressure that resulted in Teodosiu’s eleventh-hour freedom.

The Teodosiu case is not an isolated example. Christians in the West do have the power to help suffering Christians in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Using letters, petitions, mass media, and other methods at our disposal, we can protest peacefully on their behalf. Because Eastern-bloc countries care about public opinion in the West, peaceful protest has helped bring lighter sentences, better conditions, and even release for Christian prisoners. It has eased harassment for other Christians.

Georgi Vins, a Russian Baptist pastor, spent eight years in Soviet prisons before his exile to the United States in 1979. “Whenever there was support action in the West,” he claims, “I was treated better by wardens and prison administrators. When there was no support, conditions immediately became worse.” Several times, swayed by a storm of letters and petitions on his behalf, the Soviet government allowed Vins hospital care and a better diet. Vins insists, “All Western support—supplying information, demonstrations, and prayer—helps a great deal.”

This Western support is needed now more than ever. Persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe continues to mount. This kind of treatment seems inevitable since each of these countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the USSR) supports and promotes the Marxist ideal of an atheistic state.

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From year to year, from country to country, and even within each country, this persecution varies greatly. It can be as mild as a few government restrictions on the churches or as harsh as beatings and long prison sentences.

Currently in the soviet union, more than 350 believers, representing various denominations, call a tiny, damp prison cell or a stark labor-camp barracks home. Others are living out the nightmare of forced internment in psychiatric hospitals. Though Christians of all denominations face various forms of repression, the most heavily hit are the Baptists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-day Adventists who refuse to register their congregations with the government. Most members of the Christian Seminar (a group of Orthodox young people that meets regularly to discuss religious problems) and the Christian Committee for the Defense of Believers’ Rights have been imprisoned as well.

The Czech human rights movement, Charter 77, strongly condemned religious liberty violations in that country in an open letter to the president and other state officials. More than 60 Catholic clergymen and laymen are in prison or under investigation for religious activities. During 1981 alone, at least nine priests and three laymen were arrested or brought to trial. Officials have also stripped many Protestant ministers of their right to preach.

In Romania, the secret police have been harassing and interrogating prominent pastors as well as members of the Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom. Influential pastors have been forced to emigrate.

Throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, believers face fines for unauthorized religious meetings, discrimination at work and school, and deprivation of parental rights. Several churches are now a mass of rubble, razed by authorities.

Groups of believers in the Eastern bloc, such as the Council of Prisoners’ Relatives in the Soviet Union and the defense committees already mentioned, are courageously publicizing cases of Christians imprisoned and discriminated against for their faith. Consequently, members of these groups are themselves suffering interrogation and prison. They depend on Christians in the free world to act on the information they provide and serve as their “voices.”

“Why do good men remain silent?” asks Father Gheorge Calciu, a Romanian Orthodox priest serving a 10-year prison sentence for his effective preaching among seminarians. “For us who have been born, live, and remain here, there is captivity and suffering. But we hope that you will feel for us and share sympathetically in our suffering, so that you will cry out when we cannot: ‘Enough!’ ”

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As Western Christians, we have many ways of getting involved in peaceful protest, many ways to cry “Enough!” Here are some suggestions:

Begin by getting on the mailing list of, and keeping in contact with, an organization already involved in peaceful protest. This could be one of the many missionary groups in the U.S., Canada, or Europe that actively assists the church in Eastern Europe and Russia; a research center that digs out current information on Christians living under communism; or a group that specializes in peaceful protest on behalf of those suffering for their beliefs. (See “Groups Involved in ‘Peaceful Protest’.”) These organizations can provide you with informative newsletters, publications, and other materials you probably won’t be able to find on your own. Also, these groups often stage well-organized protests—such as letter-writing campaigns on behalf of particular prisoners—allowing you to join your efforts with those of other thousands.

Concerted effort is important. One letter from one unknown Westerner will have little effect. But a deluge of protest letters can convince an official that many well-informed people in the West care about the situation and don’t intend to quit protesting until it is changed.

Support these groups financially, too. With your funds they can often provide relief materials for suffering Christians and help them in other ways that you, as an individual, cannot. For example, a representative of Keston College, a research center monitoring religious rights, helped secure the freedom of Romanian Baptist Radu Capusan, a leader of the Committee for the Defense of Religious Freedom, who faced a hard-labor sentence. “When an American delegation was discussing human rights in Bucharest, the Romanian secret police were practicing human rights with beatings and tortures. That’s when my head went against the wall,” Capusan recalled. But he was released soon afterward because, after receiving a call from Keston College about his plight, the delegation applied pressure on the Romanian government. (In the British sense, a college is a self-governing society of scholars devoted to a common purpose.)

Once you have affiliated with one or more established organizations, consider starting a smaller group in your home town that is committed to prayer support and peaceful protest. It might be best for your small group to concentrate its efforts on just one country, one denomination, or one type of person—such as pastors and their families.

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When your small group meets—maybe once every week or two—read Scriptures that deal with helping the oppressed and spend time praying for suffering Christians. A Russian Christian, recently released after serving five years in prison for his faith, speaks for many others: “[In prison] I had no support, no Scriptures. It was a terrible atmosphere, and I don’t know what would have happened if my friends had not supported me in prayer to the Lord.” Besides prayer, your small group should share articles and books, and keep informed about what is happening to Christians in the Eastern bloc. Doing thorough research will help you pray intelligently and protest accurately. You must have your facts straight if you want offending governments to respect and heed your protest efforts.

You can start actively protesting by writing directly to government authorities in the USSR or Eastern Europe. Make your letters brief and courteous. State the names and circumstances of the people who are suffering, and ask the government official for specific help in improving their conditions. If possible, refer to international covenants, such as the Helsinki Accords, and to the constitutions of the governments in question.

Write the body of the letter in your own langauge (if you don’t know the language of the country to which you are sending it). Don’t forget to ask the organizations you are affiliated with for help. Some can give you exact names and addresses, send you sample letters, provide translation for your letters, and fill in the facts of the case you are writing about. Most of these organizations ask that you send them a copy of the letter you are sending abroad.

Remember: numbers count. Rally your church, campus, family, fellow workers, or youth club to the cause. According to the Persecuted Church Commission, during an organized letter-writing campaign to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., a Russian embassy official approached U.S. congressmen asking that they tell the people to stop sending letters. More than 10,000 pieces came in one week. Had there been no concern about Western opinion, the letters would have been ignored.

Send your letters to the following authorities:

• The president of the country in question.

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• The chairman of the government department that oversees religious activities within the country. (This department will have a name like “The Department of Religion and Cults,” or “The Council of Religious Affairs.”)

• The country’s ambassador in your own country.

• One of the country’s representatives to the United Nations.

In addition, some organizations involved in peaceful protest can supply names and addresses of the people who wield the most direct power over a persecuted Christian’s immediate circumstances—the heads of a particular psychiatric hospital or prison camp, the chairman of the country’s internal security police force, or the head of the country’s emigration office, for example.

Send copies of these letters to your own senators and congressmen, and to key legislators such as Sen. Charles Percy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Ask them to take action with you. Always send a copy to President Reagan as well. Letters from U.S. politicians to a country’s officials have had proven results.

In one case, Sen. Mark Hatfield and a group of six other senators wrote the Romanian ambassador to the United States in March 1981, on behalf of five Romanian Christians imprisoned and severely fined for distributing Bibles. The letter used as leverage the upcoming review of Romania’s most-favored-nation status with the United States, a status Romania highly values. As a result, Romania’s president, Nicholae Ceausescu, granted the five amnesty.

To supplement letters, you can also protest directly to the government of the country involved by sending a petition. Write the petition much as you would a letter. Get as many people as possible to sign it, especially those—such as congressmen, newspaper and magazine editors, and heads of large Christian organizations—whose names and titles carry some clout.

Be sure to write also to the persecuted Christians, and to their families. Letters expressing your love and concern will encourage them. If there is a great volume of letters, that will also serve as an indirect protest to the offending government.

To cite one example, in April 1978, Janos Beres, a Hungarian Pentecostal pastor, attempted to drive into Romania with a trunkload of Bibles and Christian books in the Russian language. He and the family members with him planned to distribute the literature to Romanian Christians, who would eventually take it into the USSR. Romanian border guards stopped and searched the Beres’s car and confiscated the books. They then notified Hungarian authorities and sent the family back to Hungary. There authorities immediately placed the pastor under house arrest and stripped him of the right to preach.

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At the pastor’s trial in May, the court pronounced him guilty of: breaking an agreement between Hungary, Romania, and the USSR; possessing illegal (printed-in-the-West) literature; and engaging in outlawed religious activity. They threatened to fine him $7,000 (the assessed value of his house and car) and to intern him in prison for from 6 to 12 years.

While waiting to be sentenced, Beres gave the following message to a Western friend who passed it on to Christians in Europe and the United States: “I am supposed to be sentenced this month, but nothing has happened yet because the authorities know I have Western friends and they are waiting to see what they will do. If they ignore my situation, I am sure the state will throw the book at me. If they respond, I will probably be let off with only a fine because the government fears repercussions from the West. Please ask as many people as possible to send me a postcard saying something like, ‘Hello. How are you doing? We are aware of your situation and are concerned.’ ”

Thousands of postcards responding to the pastor’s plea poured in. When Beres finally came before the court to be sentenced, the judge fined him only $500—and let him go. Hungarian officials saw the volume of postcards, were convinced that Beres had friends in the West, and let him off with a relatively easy sentence.

Besides writing letters, it is imperative to involve the news media in your protest efforts. Such publicity spreads news of the situation to others who could get involved, and focuses attention on the problem, demonstrating Western public opinion to the authorities of the violating country.

You can draw attention by sponsoring an orderly demonstration in a prominent place, with placards, chanting, and a march protesting specific incidents of oppression. Or try sponsoring a forum on human rights, inviting religious and political leaders to participate in a panel discussion. Be sure to send newspaper clippings about such forums and demonstrations to appropriate foreign officials. You might also send information about these events to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) or Voice of America, both of which broadcast behind the Iron Curtain.

News of a protest demonstration on behalf of Romanian and Russian Christians, sponsored by Wheaton College students in Chicago’s Daley Square, reached Romania through an RFE/RL broadcast. A Romanian pastor there said the news greatly encouraged his fellow believers: “We were not only encouraged that other believers were remembering us, but we knew that the authorities were listening too, and that our situation would improve.”

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For additional press coverage, write letters to the editors of your local papers or longer articles for magazines or newspapers. Johann Frose, a Baptist minister who emigrated from the Soviet Union, told Christian Solidarity International, “If the Western newspapers did not write about repression and persecution of believers, I think ten times more people would be imprisoned.”

One group effectively using the public media, as well as nearly all other available methods of peaceful protest, is the British Campaign to Free the Siberian Seven. This massive campaign, begun in the spring of 1981, aims to publicly spotlight members of the Vashchenko and Chmykhalov families—Russian Pentecostals stranded in the American Embassy in Moscow.

On June 27, 1978, “The Seven” stormed past Russian guards posted around the embassy. They came seeking the right to emigrate from the Soviet Union because their families had suffered severe persecution for their religious beliefs. Today six still live in the embassy basement. Lydia, one of the Vashchenko daughters, is now home in Chernogorsk after a near-fatal hunger strike. While the Soviet government refuses to grant these families permission to emigrate, the American government is reluctant to grant them political asylum.

Seeking to end this stalemate, the British campaign began with two objectives: to mobilize the Christian community in Great Britain around the Siberian Seven and to hold a public demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Before the demonstration, a British committee made up of key Christian leaders sponsored a press conference; distributed action packs to the local churches, which included information on the situation, buttons, and a slide/tape presentation; and wrote letters to members of both houses of Parliament. More than 100 of these legislators pledged their support to the cause.

The preparation worked. More than 3,000 Christians participated in the demonstration, held on the third anniversary of the Siberian Seven’s entry into the embassy. The event attracted national press coverage. On the demonstration day, the committee tried to present a petition with several thousand names to officials in the Soviet embassy, requesting permission for the Pentecostals to emigrate to England. The Soviets refused to accept the petition, but the event was viewed by millions across Britain via national television.

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Currently, the committee continues publicizing. Other groups in the West have taken up the Seven’s cause as well. SAVE, with headquarters in Alabama, has been demonstrating support for the Pentecostals since they first stormed the embassy. The Christian Legal Society has been working behind the scenes, attempting to secure emigration rights for the two families.

The fate of the Siberian Seven hangs in the balance. A continued concerted effort could tip the scale in their favor. And persistent effort by Western Christians could secure basic human rights for the countless others scattered across the vast Eastern bloc who are suffering for their faith.

We Christians who currently enjoy religious freedom have a clear biblical responsibility to our less fortunate brothers and sisters. The idea of Christians reaching out to help other believers in need permeates the entire New Testament. “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners,” Hebrews 13:3 exhorts us, “and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (NIV).

We who have the resources to help must heed the plea of Natalia Solzhenitsyn, wife of the famed Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “In the first centuries of Christianity, if a Christian community was subjected to persecution, it would send a messenger to other communities and to other churches. There were no print shops then to print appeals; there was no radio; there were no planes, no cars. The barefooted messenger would go from Corinth to Antioch, eating what he could find on his way. He would walk for weeks and maybe for months, and then he would pull the message out of his poor bag and he would never hear in reply, ‘Those are internal affairs of the Roman Empire.’

“Where is your answer to the message that comes from our martyrs?”

Each of the organizations listed below devotes some of its time to disseminating information about and organizing peaceful protest efforts on behalf of suffering Christians in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Though not listed, many mission organizations are also involved in such protest.

Aid to Russian Christians

P.O. Box 51, Athens, Ill. 62613

Christian Solidarity International—Zurich

Box 1712, Rockville, Md. 20850


P.O. Box 8007, Washington, D.C. 20024

Keston College, USA (SSRC)

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P.O. Box 1310, Framingham, Mass. 01701

Liberty to the Captives

Box 12236, Philadelphia, Pa. 19144

Persecuted Church Commission

P.O. Box 1340, Kingston, N.Y.

Religion in Communist Dominated Areas

475 Riverside Drive, Room 448, New York, N.Y. 10027

Representation Abroad for the CCECB

(Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the USSR)

Box 1188, Elkhart, Ind. 46515

Amnesty International

304 58th St., New York, N.Y. 10019

On behalf of the Siberian Seven:

Friends in the West

P.O. Box 66515, Seattle, Wash. 98166 (You can call the “action line” toll free in continental U.S.: 800-331-1750, operator 602, or in Oklahoma, 800-722-3600, operator 602.)

Sample “Peaceful Protest” Letter

(To Soviet officials)

I am writing to express my extreme concern over the arrest of Dmitri Minyakov in January 1981, and the recent news that he is dying in a prison in Tallin, Estonia, USSR.

The right of believers to witness to and practice their faith is guaranteed in the Soviet Constitution and was reaffirmed by the Soviet Union’s signing of the Helsinki Final Act and the UN Declaration on Human Rights. I therefore urge you to use all your official powers to secure the immediate release of Dmitri Minyakov and his exoneration from all charges and to insure that the rights of other believers will continue to be respected.

(Sample message printed by permission of the Slavic Gospel Association.)

Is it safe to write?

If you meet Christians while traveling in Eastern Europe or the USSR, do not write to them unless they give you permission to do so. In some cases, contacts by believers with the West can arouse the suspicion of local authorities and lead to their interrogation, harassment, and arrest.

Feel free to write, however, if the person has made known his name and address in the West or if a reputable organization publishes a name and address and asks people to write. If the person is already in prison, Western contacts and publicity can only help.

Will my letter be intercepted by foreign postal authorities?

Maybe. Authorities do stop some letters on their way in or out of the country. Here are some ways to help your letters reach their destinations:

• Send them by registered mail.

• Note at the top of your letter that a copy has been sent to an organization monitoring mail delivery. Christian Solidarity International (CSI), one such organization, gives this sample note: “A copy of this letter has been forwarded to Christian Solidarity International in Zurich, Switzerland, in order to monitor delivery of international mail within the Soviet Union.” According to CSI, “There will be strong pressure for the Soviets to actually deliver much of it in order to avoid adverse publicity.”

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• Write often. That way, at least some of your letters will get through.

• Send letters or cards on major holidays when the volume of mail will be greater and censorship less efficient.

• Make the envelope as inconspicuous as possible by using a plain white envelope, and hand printing—not typing—the address. Follow the addressing format (order of name, street, city, etc.) used by the other country. When addressing, use your own alphabet if you are not familiar with the alphabet of the other country—such as the Cyrillic alphabet used in much of the Soviet Union. Do not try to copy unfamiliar alphabet letters. If you are familiar with the language of the country to which you are sending the letter, use it. But also print the name of that country in your own language below the address so your own post office will know where to send it.

Even if some letters never reach their destination, they still serve a purpose. In labor camps where prisoners are often shown letters but are not allowed to read them, the prisoners still find hope and joy in knowing that they are not forgotten. Furthermore, letters inform the authorities of public opinion in the West, and may consequently serve to improve conditions for persecuted believers.

How do I get started?

Missions or organizations such as those mentioned in “Groups Involved in ‘Peaceful Protest’ ” can help with names, addresses, postal information, and guidelines for writing.

A few examples:

Program of letter writing to Russian believers sponsored by the Eastern European Mission, 232 N. Lake Avenue, Pasadena, Calif. 91101.

“Sister Church Program” sponsored by the Persecuted Church Commission.

“Strategic Prayer Program for Russia” sponsored by Slavic Gospel Association, P.O. Box 1122, Wheaton, Ill., 60187.

Program of sending Easter and Christmas cards to Romania, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union plus an “Adopt a Prisoner” program, sponsored by Aid to Russian Christians (ARC), Ltd., School House, Heathfield Road, Keston, Kent, BR2 GBA, England.

What should I write?

• “Do not mention the name of any organization involved in working for Christians or prisoners of conscience in the Soviet Union,” cautions Aid to Russian Christians. “This could be used to accuse Christians of contact with anti-Soviet organizations.”

• Do not make any remarks that could be construed as political, such as criticizing the believer’s government.

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• Do not expect a reply. You may get one, but it is often difficult or dangerous for Christians to send letters out of their country.

• Do write the body of the letter in your own language if you don’t know the other language. The Christian receiving the letter will probably be able to get it translated.

• Do quote a Bible verse and the reference.

• Do write simple, short messages expressing Christian love and concern. Samples from Georgi Vins: “Beloved, we know of your trials. We love you and pray for you.” Or, “We rejoice with you in God’s love. He will give you strength in the New Year. Warm greetings to your church.”

• Do mention the prisoner’s name in letters to prisoners’ families.

• Do send beautiful religious cards from time to time.

• Do write about yourself, your family, your church, and God’s blessings rather than about the “good life in the West” should a correspondence develop.

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