By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
MINSK/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– One of the largest evangelical congregations in Belarus confirmed Wednesday, December 5, that authorities at the last moment decided not to evict them from their building, following years of judicial wrangling.
Hundreds of Christians of the New Life Church and pastors from other churches gathered Wednesday, December 5, in the congregation’s cow barn-turned-church building in the capital Minsk to “thank Jesus Christ” for the court victory.
Pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko told the faithful that the Supreme Economic Court had issued a decree that no eviction would take place.
“God desires to teach us how to believe Him,” he said, just hours after the eviction was to take place.
“Our entire life is a struggle, first of all, with unbelief. There were many of those who had prophesied that we would be evicted because this time the situation was serious enough. It was a battle and now we see that God has honored our faith,” the pastor added, according to a transcript seen by BosNewsLife.
“There is nothing impossible for our King!” he added.
New Life meets in a former cow barn it bought and renovated, but authorities never legalized its use and tried trying to evict the Church for a decade.
Church lawyer Sergey Lukanin cautioned that while the December 5 eviction plans were cancelled, authorities technically remain the owners of the building after they took over the property in 2009.
“This (government) structure still remains to be the owner of the building, but, according to today’s documents, it refuses to take away our building from us,” he said.
“If this case is sent to the archives, it means that as long as there is no claims from the Household Management Department of Moscow District of the Minsk City, the court has no right to be engaged in our church’s eviction”.
Authorities decided not to evict the church, amid apparent international pressure.
On Tuesday, December 4, Britain’s deputy head of mission in Belarus, Jim Couzens, visited the church and reportedly said that the European union follows the situation closely amid concerns the eviction would violate human rights.
He also pledged that several diplomats would visit the church, but it was not immediately clear whether they attend Wednesday’s service.
Local Christians have viewed the stand-off as part of a wider crackdown on evangelical Christians in the autocratically ruled former Soviet nation.
Pastor Goncharenko said he was encouraged by the authorities last-minute decision not to evict his church. “I am happy that God answered our prayer and helped [move the] hearts of authorities toward such a decision,” he said, in separate comments, adding that he thanks “all those that prayed and trusted” his congregation.
He said he is pleased that “this opposition between our church and the government has at last ended” and “constructive dialogue and cooperation have begun.”
“We live in the same country, and may the Lord bless our nation,” added the pastor.
Wednesday’s worship gathering was not without troubles. Witnesses said lights went off after one hours because the electricity had been cut off.
As microphones of singers stopped working, the New Live audience reportedly repeated sang: “The name of Jesus! The name of Jesus! The name of Jesus! It’s only He Who gives us life!” for 15 minutes.
Flashlights and mobile phones were the only lights in the otherwise dark sanctuary.
In New Life-style, “the church prayed for one sister, a member of New Life Church, to receive healing of cancer,” the church said in a statement.
“Afterwards the pastor invited all of those who needed God to intervene urgently in their life circumstances to the front and the church heartily prayed that the difficult situations where brothers and sisters found themselves were resolved.”
Referring to Bible verses Goncharenko said the pressure on his church showed people must remain faithful. “Many of us ask ‘How can I have the faith of God?'” because “It’s within our human nature to assume the glory of something great that God has performed,” he said.
However, “When we seek glory for ourselves, we actually don’t have faith right at that moment. We should learn how to give all glory to God.”
New Life Church, which starts from a small youth initiative in 1991, calls itself one of many “Full Gospel” churches in Minsk. Along with 14 smaller branch churches it boosts nearly 2,000 members, including over 300 children, according to church statistics.