Russia (MNN) — Which is your response when an opportunity comes up to speak about Christ: caution, or confidence? For believers in southern Russia, they have the same choice between fear or faith — and for them the cultural stakes are high. 

Eric Mock with Slavic Gospel Association says believers in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and parts of southern Russia experience several challenges.

(Photo of a man in Dagestan is a representative stock image courtesy of Daria Kraplak via Unsplash)

“One challenge, especially in southern Russia, is if [they are] evangelical believers, they are seen as set apart from Russian Orthodoxy,” Mock says. 

“About 69% of the (Russian) population would respond that they are predominantly Christian. But a lot of that comes through tradition and Orthodoxy, with less than 1% of them being Protestant, and probably less than half of 1% of the population being evangelical.”

While many members of the Russian Orthodox Church have true faith in Christ, for others there is the danger of simply following tradition without having a living, growing relationship with God. 

And as for that evangelical population of less than 0.5 percent? It decreases as you go farther south in Russia, where a second cultural challenge is present. In Russia’s Republic of Dagestan, government statistics say that 95% of the population identifies as Muslim. 

“The form of Islam in that region is more conservative,” Mock explains. “In conservative Islam they hold very tightly to the view that anyone who prays in the name of Jesus or worships Jesus as God is a blasphemer.”

Conservative Muslims accept that Jesus is an honored prophet. But they denounce any Christian who calls Jesus the Son of God. This persuasion runs so deep that they believe Allah is honored by such a Christian’s death or destruction.

Map of Russia, Republic of Dagestan courtesy of АбуУбайда via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dagestan, which is located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, has a history of unrest and violence against Christians and Jewish people alike. 

“The persecution that they face is similar to what [Christians in the West] will see in the days ahead. That persecution is inner and then external. They [experience] isolation, loneliness, despair, and even depression, as they face life really ostracized in their community,” says Mock. 

“We see those people holding to their faith much like you might imagine James was talking about in James 1, where he calls on them to count it joy in the middle of trials, knowing that the testing of their faith produces endurance or steadfastness.” 

Read more about what these Russian believers want to say to the West in another story coming later this week. For now, join in praying for endurance with joy for Christians in southern Russia. Ask God to “[add] to their number daily” (Acts 2:47). 

Click here to learn more about the ways SGA serves the Church.


Header photo of mountain climbers in Dagestan courtesy of Farid Mardanov/Unsplash.