Update: July 3, 2023
On June 20, Minsk’s New Life Pentecostal Church was bulldozed. The decision to bulldoze the building came from Capital Construction Management Company, which is owned by Minsk City Executive Committee.
“God sees everything,” Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko said, “and he sees today our suffering, our grief, our pain. He sees likewise today the mockery of wicked people. He sees their blasphemy.”
“This action deeply offended the feelings of believers,” wrote Bishop Leonid Voronenko, the head of The Union of Full Gospel Churches, in a 22 June statement. “We believe that state services should seek forgiveness from New Life Church’s members for the destruction of their place of worship, provide a plot of land for the construction of a house of prayer, lease premises for the Church to hold worship services during the construction period, and deal with the wickedness that has been committed.”
Belarus officials repeatedly denied permission for New Life Church to change the official designation of the former cowshed it bought in 202 into a place of worship.
New Life Church has been denied permission to rent buildings even by organizations recommended by Minsk City Executive Committee officials, Pastor Goncharenko told Forum 18.
“No one will sell us a religious building and religious communities are not allowed to have regular religious meetings in a non-religious building,”Pastor Goncharenko said.
Update: September 1, 2021
At a meeting of Belarus’ Parliament, officials threatened to impose penalties on New Life Church – up to four years in jail – if they continue to worship in the church’s parking lot.
Christians have met outside since February – in snow, rain, and heat – since authorities evicted the church from its building.
“This is risky,” Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko told Forum 18, “but we keep praying as everything can change. We know this from experience.”
Originally Posted: March 1, 2021
The building of the largest Evangelical church in Belarus was seized by government officials when security forces broke down the door and evicted 70 believers who were praying inside on February 17.
New Life Church met in a former cowshed they bought in 2004. They had applied for a plot of land to build and for government permission for religious activities since 2001 but were denied. Police harassed, and authorities fined the church, which went to court 30 to 40 times.
Pastor Goncharenko explains the church’s history and eviction in this video.
“This is the only building where we can meet,” the pastor said. “We made so many attempts. We did not sit still. But we were rejected.”
“We tried to make it a very beautiful place. Imagine, from this cowshed we made an amazing temple. We transformed this garbage dump on the outskirts of the city which was abandoned with no use.”
“We do a great social work, helping those in need. People who couldn’t get help from authorities and doctors and many gave up on them. But through faith in God’s power, through the truth that sets a person free, we achieved amazing results. We have hundreds of amazing testimonies of people were changed and started living a normal life and are happy now.”
Church officials met with the deputy mayor of Minsk on Feb. 24. He made it clear they will not get the building back and would have to pay an enormous fee before they could rent any other building. The amount would cost many years’ worth of the church’s social and charity programs.
“I want to say, may the Lord forgive all those people who do not understand what they have done. I see them as little children who touch exposed wires with their bare hands. I am sad for these people.”
New Life Church “is known for its active public positions, including prayer events related to high profile social and political events,” said Michael Cherenkov with Mission Eurasia, reported by TAB Media.
The confiscation came a day after government raids of homes and offices of journalists and human rights advocates, and months after the Catholic Archbishop was not allowed to return to the country. Mass protests in Belarus – attracting up to 200,000 people at one – have been met with crackdowns since a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
Alexander Lukashenko, the “last dictator in Europe,” claimed victory of his sixth term. He has ruled since 1994. Protesters have called for his resignation. More than 30,000 people have been detained and thousands beaten.
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk posted a statement that “We are concerned by the eviction of the New Life Church and recent pressure against religious clergy and laymen who exercise their fundamental freedoms.”
The majority of Belarus’ 10 million people are Christian, with 73 percent Orthodox and 12 percent Catholic. Evangelicals are a tiny yet influential minority.
During the Soviet rule, one of the most serious restrictions imposed on Christians in Belarus was the prohibition of any form of charity or social activity.
Lukashenko considers churches in Belarus “rebellious” and “sent this clear message to any evangelical church: “Don’t get involved because you will be punished; you will face serious consequences for your prophetic stance, your prophetic voice and your support for this protest movement,” said Cherenkov.
Since the eviction, New Life Church’s thriving congregation of 1500 people, with 50 ministries to people in need, is meeting in the church parking lot.
“Now we hope only in the Lord. The Lord who is righteous. The time will come, He will change everything. Changes will come to our country and I believe there will be a different attitude of the authorities towards the church and believers and every person living in our country,” said Pastor Goncharenko.
- Christians in Belarus to be courageous, creative, and filled with grace.
- God to work in the hearts of government officials.
- True freedom in Christ for those fighting for freedom in Belarus.
Image Credit: Video from New Life Church