On 20 June the church building of New Life Pentecostal Church in the capital city Minsk was reduced to rubble after it was destroyed with a bulldozer. The destruction of the building was ordered by a construction company owned by the Minsk City Executive Committee.
New Life’s pastor Vyacheslav Goncharenko described the demolition as “flagrant lawlessness” in a video which was filmed while the building was being torn down. He said: “God sees everything and he sees today our suffering, our grief, our pain. He sees likewise today the mockery of wicked people. He sees their blasphemy.”
The Pentecostal church, which started in 1992 and has about 1,500 members, has been coming under increasing pressure from the authorities over the years. In 2002 New Life purchased a former cowshed in the Frunze District on the western edge of Minsk, and converted into a modern structure. The church repeatedly tried to change the building’s legal designation into a religious building but was unsuccessful. In February 2021 the church was forcibly evicted from the building by police and bailiffs. Pastor Goncharenko said: “We had just one day to remove our property before the eviction, and we were not allowed to take many things that belonged to the church and could be used in another building.”
According to the church the eviction may have been motivated by a video it had posted online protesting regime election fraud and violence following the disputed Presidential elections in 2020.
Following the eviction, the church met in the church car park. On 1 September 2022 New Life Church sent a letter to the Minsk City Executive Committee requesting permission for outdoor worship, stating “We are not law-breakers, we are the best citizens of this country. We would like to have equal rights with other confessions and officials’ respect, as well as support for exercising our rights to freedom of religion and conducting worship meetings.” The “most just” decision would be to hand back the church’s seized place of worship, the letter concluded.
A response letter, dated 15 September 2022, banned New Life from holding any worship meeting. When the church went ahead with its Sunday service in the church car park on 18 September 2022, the authorities did not intervene but the following day Pastor Goncharenko was summoned to the police station, detained and fined two months’ average wages for participating in the outdoor service. Police banned the 25 September service and threatened to detain anyone who did not leave. Since then, New Life Church has been meeting online and borrowing the building of God’s Grace Church in Minsk for in-person meetings.
“We will keep moving forward together”
Pastor Goncharenko (pictured) is not hopeful that the church will be able to purchase a new building. He stated: “No-one will sell us a religious building, and religious communities are not allowed to have regular religious meetings in a non-religious building.” He finished his recent video by addressing the church members, saying, “Dear Friends, brothers and sisters, I wish you patience, faith, love… I love you, we will keep moving forward together and let’s be patient and see what God has prepared for all of us.”
(Forum 18, New Life Pentecostal Church, Minsk)
Images: New Life Pentecostal Church, Minsk