Donald Ossewaarde, a Baptist missionary who is currently challenging Russia's anti-evangelism law, has returned briefly to his home in Illinois as his lawyers continue to work on his appeal.
Ossewarde was charged on Aug. 14, 2016 for conducting religious services at his home and advertising services on bulletin boards in nearby neighborhoods. He was ordered to pay the fine of 40,000 rubles (about $600). An appeals court upheld his conviction on Sept. 30, but he has vowed to continue fighting until the case reaches the highest court.
He hopes that other Baptist could continue their ministries in Russia as his lawyers defend religious freedom in the former Soviet Union.
"There's different ways we could continue the ministry and that is going to depend on how the court rules," Ossewarde told the Baptist Press.
"We're hoping the court overturns all of the charges, which could mean we could go back to the same type of house church services that we were doing," he added.
Ossewarde said that there are missionaries who have experience in setting up registered organizations in case meeting in a private house is no longer a legal option.
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His attorneys are expecting his case to be heard in court as early as March or April. It will be the first appeal of a conviction under the Yarovaya Law, which is named after one of the bill's authors, Irina Yarovaya. His lawyers are preparing another appeal to challenge the law's constitutionality before Russia's Constitutional Court.
Ossewarde has said that the enthusiasm for spiritual things in Russia has waned in the last 25 years. He recalled that many people were interested in learning about the Bible when he first came to Belarus in 1994.
"We would bring ... a truckload of Bibles into a park in the center of town and people would just mob you. Hundreds and even thousands of people would just surround us begging, 'Please, please give me a Bible. I want to know what God has to say.' And it was ... a fantastic time," he narrated.
The minister said that Russians are more interested in secular things these days, but he noted that the loss of interest in God's word is open to interpretation.
Ossewarde plans to return to Russia in the middle of January in order to make preparations to leave permanently. His wife Ruth, who went back to their home in Illinois shortly after his arrest, will remain the U.S. for safety.