Russia: Evangelical believers paid a rising “tax on faithfulness” in 2022

Evangelical believers paid a “tax on faithfulness” in 2022, and that tax is increasing, according to persecution watchdog Voice of the Martyrs Korea.

“Across the Russian Federation in 2022, basic Christian activities—gathering for worship, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, and personal evangelism—were investigated by Russian police and punished as crimes by Russian courts of law,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Believers paid fines, appealed their decisions, and in most cases lost their appeals. It is a trend that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is monitoring closely as 2023 begins.”

Representative Foley notes that Article 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees the equality of the rights of citizens, regardless of their attitude to religion and beliefs. “It says that any form of restriction of the rights of citizens on the grounds of religious affiliation is prohibited. But in 2022, authorities across Russia visited not only the churches and homes but even the workplaces of evangelical Christian believers, interrogating them and charging them with crimes.”

“These believers were not demonstrating in the public square or evangelizing passersby on street corners,” Dr. Foley adds. “They were worshiping in their homes and church buildings and offering Christian literature in their shops.”

Voice of the Martyrs Korea designated six cases as representative of the “rising tax on faithfulness” evangelical Russian believers faced in 2022. The cases are detailed below.


On November 8, 2022, in the village of Yayva, Perm region, a trial was held against the presbyter of the local evangelical church, Stefan Valery. The court found Stefan V. guilty and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).

The basis for the decision was a report from an inspector in the Ministry of Internal Affairs which said: “During the monitoring of social networks on the Internet, an official … revealed that Stefan V., professing religious beliefs of ‘Evangelical Christian-Baptists’ … carried out missionary activities for two years in violation of the requirements of the legislation ‘On freedom of conscience and religious associations’, disseminated information about the doctrine, held concerts, worship services, including among persons who are not members of this religious organization … And also he distributes materials like the newspaper ‘Do You Believe?’, which violated the law ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations’, Article 5.26 Part 4 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation.”

Representative Foley notes that the newspaper, “Do You Believe?”, is produced by a media company lawfully registered with the Russian government.

A court document showing an Unregistered Baptist, Stefan Valery, fined for missionary activity and distribution of Christian newspaper in Yayva village, Perm territory.


On April 11, 2021, in the city of Armavir, Krasnodar Territory, police and FSB officers and a group of people in civilian clothes drove up to the prayer house during a Sunday service. After the service ended, they questioned the minister, Vladimir Popov. They also examined the premises and took photos and videos.  This was in addition to a video recording that had also been made by a person sent in advance to the church.

Officers from the Internal Affairs Directorate for Combating Extremism interrogated the believers and took samples of literature for examination. Later, Vladimir Popov was summoned to the prosecutor’s office, where he was handed a subpoena.

On June 28, 2021, the court found Vladimir Popov guilty of missionary activity and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).

Later, Lyubov Popova, the wife of the minister, was charged with unlawful commercial usage of the land on which the services were held.

The “Do You Believe” newspaper that Stefan Valery, Pastor Vladimir Kharchenko and Maslenik Stanislav were accused of distributing.


On October 13, 2021, an FSB detective investigated the local house of prayer pastored by Vladimir Kharchenko. He then filed a report claiming that the church was in violation of the provisions of the Federal Law of September 26, 1997 No. 125-FZ, “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations”. The detective said that the church was operating in an illegal building. The pastor was charged with organizing the activities of the church, carrying out worship services according to an established schedule, and giving visitors specialized religious literature including the New Testament, the Psalter, and copies of the newspaper, “Do You Believe?”

On January 11, 2022, the court found Vladimir Kharchenko guilty and imposed a fine of 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).


On February 19, 2022, Stepan Prokopovich, the presbyter of the local evangelical church, was summoned to the prosecutor’s office for questioning. He was asked: when do services take place, who preaches, what are the relations with representatives of other faiths, since when has he been a pastor, for what reason is the church not registered?

On March 14, 2022, the court ruled that Stepan Prokopovich should be fined 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD) for illegal missionary activity. During the appeal process, three more court sessions took place, and all of them upheld the earlier decision.

On March 16, 2022, Stepan Prokopovich was invited to a conversation at the Center for Countering Extremism. The questions were the same as in the prosecutor’s office. Soon he received by mail a statement entitled “On the ban on the activities of the local church.”

On May 12, 2022, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Ulyanovsk instituted a ban on the activities of the church.


At the beginning of June 2022, FSB officers and the prosecutor’s office officials came to the house where the meetings of the evangelical church in Nadym were held. The owner was not there, so they were not allowed into the house. They then went to the workplace of the church’s pastor, Veniamin Zapotylok. They asked: who the Baptists are, how do they treat Jehovah’s Witnesses, why the church does not register.

On Sunday June 5, 2022, authorities came to the worship service. Proceedings were secretly filmed and later used as evidence in court.

On August 8, 2022, the Nadym city court found Veniamin Zapotylok guilty of carrying out missionary activities in violation of the requirements of the legislation, “On freedom of conscience and religious associations”, and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).

Plaque on the outside the Nadym city court building where Pastor Veniamin Vasilyevich was found guilty of carrying out missionary activities.


On September 1, 2022 in Armavir, authorities came to the workplace of a Christian, Maslenik Stanislav, and accused him carrying out missionary work by distributing copies of the newspaper “Do You Believe?” to participants in a key-making workshop he led. They searched the premises and seized eight newspapers.

On October 10, 2022, the Armavir city court found Maslenik Stanislav guilty and fined him 5,000 rubles (approx. 71 USD).

Individuals interested in learning more about Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work with evangelical Russian believers can visit

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China: “Gospel warrior”, arrested more than 100 times, is arrested again

To Chinese authorities, Chen Wensheng is a troublemaker who was actually less trouble when he was just a drug addict on the street years ago. But to Chinese Christians, Chen Wensheng is a powerful street evangelist who even after 10 years refuses to stop preaching the gospel even though he has been arrested more than 100 times, including most recently on October 12.

“They call him the ‘Gospel Warrior’,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “For years he has walked the streets of Hengyang City, Hunan Province, as well as in other provinces in China and even in Vietnam. He carries a wooden cross displaying the words ‘Glory to our Savior’ and ‘Repent and be saved by faith’, and he hands out gospel tracts, even to the police who arrest him.”

According to Representative Foley, local officials made multiple visits to Evangelist Chen’s home in advance of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in late October. “Police warned him not to preach during the congress,” she says. “Evangelist Chen says they tried to persuade him to join the local Three-Self church. He says they even offered to let him replace the two pastors of the local Three-Self church. He says they promised him the opportunity to preach to large crowds in government-approved locations in Hunan province. When he wouldn’t agree, they begged his wife to try to reason with him.”

“But Evangelist Chen just welcomed the officers into his home, gave them gospel tracts, and told them, ‘Officers, I’m glad you came again. Jesus loves you and blesses you!’” says Representative Foley.

She says that on October 12, authorities then took Evangelist Chen and his wife to a mountain for a half-month’s forced ‘vacation’, to prevent him from preaching during the Communist Party Congress. She says Chen used the time to rest and study.

Evangelist Chen, a former drug addict, reportedly heard the gospel in a rehab center.

“Years ago he was a drug addict. When he heard the gospel, he was delivered from his addiction and immediately began preaching on the streets. He’s been a street preacher for more than 10 years. He is a member of a small church, and yet even the authorities testify to the breadth of his impact.”

In 2020, national security officers told Chen that he had proclaimed the gospel four to five times each month in various regions to over a thousand people. “That year he was detained multiple times for sharing the gospel, and then he was detained another six times in 2021,” says Representative Foley. “He spent the 2021 New Year in a detention center. After 10 days, he and his 84-year-old mother shared the gospel and handed out gospel leaflets on the street, and they were detained again.”

According to Representative Foley, Evangelist Chen says he will never give up the mission God granted him, and he remains determined to spread the gospel even in prison.

Individuals interested in donating to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work in partnership with the house church Christians of China can visit or give via electronic transfer to:

KB Bank: 463501-01-243303

Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리

Please note “China” on the transfer.

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Ukraine pastors receive training in martyrdom…at Richard Wurmbrand’s old prison

“We are alive. We are fed. We have clothes. We are healthy.”

That was the reply of one pastor in Russia-occupied Ukraine to our question, “What message would you like us to share with Christians in the outside world about your situation?”

Dr Foley and Pastor Tim and I conducted a week-long martyrdom training event in late November in a secret location in Romania, attended by that pastor (who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons) along with eight others from Russia-occupied Ukraine and other parts of the country hit hard by the war.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley teaches Christian-based trauma recovery to church leaders from Occupied Ukraine and the neighboring war zones. 

Two things are true about the pastors who attended.

First, they are facing extremely difficult and dangerous ministry situations.

Second, they are choosing to stay in those situations and to make a faithful witness to Christ and the gospel.

While the location in Romania was selected because of its accessibility to the majority of invitees, four invitees were unable to attend due to border crossing restrictions.

Almost all the attendees had arduous travel, by car, bus, train, and even some other means. Getting visas and making it through passport checks was a constant challenge. One invitee was even turned back on the way, after a long journey. Two invitees became ill and had to cancel. Hearing about the travels of these Christian workers in and out of these war regions reminded us of the Apostle Paul’s recounting of his own travel experiences in 2 Corinthians 11:26, where he wrote, “I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers.” But these nine said they came because they wanted to learn more effective strategies for faithful witness amidst persecution and war.

One day of training was devoted to the theology of martyrdom and persecution, another day to trauma recovery from a Christian perspective, and another to how to preach and teach martyrdom and persecution from each book of the Bible.

But the highlight of the training was taking the attendees on a day-long field trip to several locations from the life of Voice of the Martyrs global founder, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years imprisoned and tortured by Communists during the Soviet era.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley stands in front of the former Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest, Romania where Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand was once imprisoned in an underground cell. The organization took Ukrainian pastors to the site as part of a recent training event in martyrdom.

First, we watched the movie “Tortured for Christ” together with our Ukrainian training attendees. The movie tells the story of Pastor Wurmbrand’s imprisonment because of his faithful witness to the gospel. Then we took our attendees to Jilava Prison and to the old Communist Party headquarters, the two main locations where Pastor Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured. We also took the attendees to the Christian bookstore which was opened with the help of the Wurmbrands when communism fell. We told them how at that time the bookstore needed a place to store its extra books and Bibles, so the post-communist government offered the use of Pastor Wurmbrand’s former prison cell nearby. It was a powerful reminder to them that faithful witness can ultimately topple even the mightiest political and military power.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley guides pastors from Occupied Ukraine through a Christian bookstore in Bucharest established with the help of Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand. The tour was part of a week-long martyrdom training event the organization held in November for Ukrainian church leaders. 

The attendees were deeply moved by the field trip.

One attendee said she felt physically ill inside the prison, thinking of the suffering Pastor Wurmrbrand and other Romanian Christians had endured there for so many years. But one attendee noted, “Although this prison was extremely bad, I have actually seen even worse prisons.” We talked about Christian leaders in Occupied Ukraine who have faced interrogation, imprisonment, and even death. Yet the attendees concluded the week with renewed strength and commitment to return home and be faithful just as Pastor Wurmbrand had been faithful.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and CEO Pastor Eric Foley view a display about Rev. Richard Wurmbrand at Jilava Prison in Romania. The organization recently conducted a week-long martyrdom training event for pastors from Occupied Ukraine. 

The time together provided an opportunity for attendees to consult with each other and with Voice of the Martyrs Korea on ministry strategy.

The situation is different in each area of Ukraine. The attendees agreed that the Luhansk Region is the most restrictive for Christians, with local Christians there hearing rumors that Russia is planning even tighter controls to be implemented from now through 2026.

The other challenge attendees reported facing is the need to separate humanitarian aid distribution from evangelism.

The attendees reported how they all were receiving large quantities of humanitarian aid from outside groups and how they had been trying to use it to “prepare the soil” for evangelism via distribution to non-Christians. But through their experiences they had all come to the realization that fallen, sinful human beings know how to take advantage of any system where material benefit is available to them. They said all the aid has produced many so-called “bread Christians”. So, our training attendees concluded that there really is no substitute for a direct, clear proclamation of the gospel totally separate from humanitarian aid. Both humanitarian aid and evangelism are important ministries for Christians, but faith can only come by hearing the word of God, and God neither uses nor requires any “preparation of the soil” when he gives the gift of faith to those who hear the word.

A particular highlight of the training for us was the opportunity to provide funds to attendees to enable them to continue their ministries of faithful witness.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and CEO Pastor Eric Foley lead a group of Ukrainian pastors into Jilava Prison in Romania. During the Soviet era the prison housed Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand and other Christians who were detained and tortured for their faith. 

Their needs are so varied. One attendee just needed snow tires for his car so he can return to his church now that it is winter. Another attendee needed help to cover the living expenses of his church deacons. Across the whole Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, about half the Christians have left since 2014, including many pastors. One of the attendees now oversees a network of five churches with the help of deacons. But the deacons must remain out of public sight at all times because if they are caught, they will be automatically conscripted into the Russian military. So they are risking their safety to stay, but they are unable to earn money to support their families through outside jobs.

While other organizations are concentrating on providing humanitarian aid, Voice of the Martyrs Korea continues to focus on providing funds enabling churches to continue to make a faithful witness through direct evangelism, and to care for family members when that faithful witness leads to the death or imprisonment of church leaders.

Humanitarian aid is important, but as Jesus told us, man cannot live on bread alone. As our attendees have learned, combining humanitarian aid with evangelism usually yields ineffective and even counterproductive evangelism. Now in Eastern Ukraine, half the church has fled and no amount of bread can bring it back. Unless bold witnesses risk their lives proclaiming the gospel there, there can be no hearing of faith. Voice of the Martyrs Korea is honored to providing training and support to the church leaders who are doing just that.

Those who are interested in making a donation to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Ukraine Emergency Fund can do so at or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the word “Ukraine” with the donation.

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