GROZNY, Chechnya (BP)–Death, disappearances and threats have prompted the last Baptists in Grozny, Chechnya, to plan to relocate to Russia, according to a report in European Baptist Press Service from the pastor of a church helping relocate the Grozny refugees.
The Chechen church at one time had 800 members from different ethnic groups, but mainly ethnic Russians, EBPS reported. About 500 members remained when the war with Russia broke out in 1994. With Chechen elections having placed representatives in power promising to strengthen Islam’s presence in the country, non-Muslims are facing more and more difficulties, EBPS reported.
As of mid-February, 28 families from the Grozny church had been relocated and 88 families remain in the city waiting for a chance to leave, EBPS reported.
A woman from the Grozny church was strangled in December; two men members have disappeared and are presumed dead, according to the Russian pastor who heard these reports on a December visit to the Chechen capitol.
For safety concerns, the name of the Russian pastor, church and city are not being reported in this Baptist Press account.
“One must be very cautious on the street. Looking at someone the wrong way could cost you your life,” the pastor said. People have been killed so others can seize their apartments or furnishings, EBPS reported.
Grozny church members had tried to stay and continue meeting and ministering in difficult circumstances. But non-Russian members have been warned attending the church is signing their own death certificates, EBPS reported, noting marriages between Chechens and non- Chechens are the targets of similar pressure.
The trip to relocate is expensive for the 120-kilometer drive from Gorzny to the Russian border, with banditry and bureaucratic tangles also common, EBPS reported.
The European Baptist Federation, in cooperation with Russian Baptists, issued a call for help to its member Baptist unions in late 1996 when the Gorzny crisis became critical. Additionally, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board released $50,000 in human needs funds to assist in the relocation. Another $50,000 was provided by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the German Baptist Union and several other European Baptist unions.
German Baptists also have provided two transport trucks and furniture, while the CBF donated components of a shoe factory to provide refugees with work, along with medical supplies.
Housing and food remain two critical needs for the Gorzny refugees. Some are living with church families, EBPS reported, while some have moved into flats or other housing as provided with some of the Baptist aid funds.