By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
MOSCOW/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)-- Friends and family have buried the assassinated pastor of the largest Pentecostal church in Russia's volatile Dagestan region, Christian missionaries told BosNewsLife early Friday, July 23.
Russian Ministries, a major mission group, said Christians from several parts of Russia gathered at the Hosanna House of Prayer Church in Dagestan's capital Makhachkala for the funeral of Pastor Artur Suleimanov, 49, who was shot to death last week while leaving church.
Christians view the attack by suspected Islamic militants as part of a campaign to intimidate Christian converts in the predominantly Muslim region. No group has claimed responsibility for the July 15 killing which involved one or more attackers, said Vyacheslav Gasanov, a spokesman for Dagestan's police.
During the funeral service Sunday, July 18, grieving church members described the pastor -- himself a convert from Islam -- as a "strong, supportive and positive leader."
Under his leadership, the church ran a rehabilitation center for drugs addicts, developed an anti-drug campaign and a prison ministry. The church also ran a cafe that was open to the community, Russian Ministries added.
Local Christians, who did not want to be named, said Suleimanov wanted to "see all believers working together in unity in Dagestan, and he worked hard to see that happen."
"Artur became a representative of churches in Dagestan to Muslims or to the government. Muslim religious leaders saw him as the 'chief mufti,' or chief spokesman of Christians in Dagestan," said a Christian quoted by Russian Ministries.
The attack illustrated that Degestan is tough place for Christian workers, Russian Ministries added. Dagestan, which is over 90 percent Muslim, is plagued by insurgent violence, with many of the militants inspired by or affiliated with Islamic separatists in neighboring Chechnya. However pressure on Christians has also been linked to the government.
Shortly before he died, Suleimanov complained that authorities were putting restrictions on the Pentecostal church's social work.
Russian Ministries said it has urged its supporters to pray for "unity among church members, and that they will trust Gods protection and not become overwhelmed with fear."
Pastor Artur Suleimanov leaves behind a wife, Zina, and five children. Vladimir Chumakov, the church's assistant pastor, was reportedly named as the new senior of the Hosanna Hosanna House of Prayer Church.