A U.S.-based Christian ministry is planning new Bible discipleship programs for teens in Russia this summer despite the country's ongoing crackdown on evangelism and other religious activities.
"This summer we have three main projects: One in Rison, one in Moscow, one in St. Petersburg," Joanna Mangione of SOAR International told Mission Network News. "It'll be four weeks in the first location, two weeks in the second location, and one week in the third," she added.
Mangione said that the program will be focused on "building relationships, teaching life skills, teaching English, teaching the Bible, and living day-in and day-out with the youth," but each location will have different sets of goals.
She said that the Rison camp's main objective would be to teach English. The camp in Moscow would be focused on Bible studies, while the St. Petersburg camp will be primarily concerned with discipleship.
Mangione explained that SOAR will need donations and prayers to help the ministry continue its work.
"Prayer for the teams, for the comradery of the teams, for their health, for their strength, [and] for that transition," she said.
"Prayer is a huge thing and so beneficial, and we feel it when we're over there. Some days you'll be completely exhausted and the next day you just feel this burst of energy that you didn't think you'd be able to have anymore, and there's no other explanation," she continued.
A significant proportion of Russia's population are members of the Orthodox Church, but the government has recently taken numerous steps that have affected other Christian denominations in the country.
In July 2016, the Russian government implemented the "Yarovaya" law, which was intended as an "anti-terrorism" measure. However, the law caused great concern for Evangelicals and others after it targeted Christian missionaries.
Two months after the law came into effect, an American missionary was fined 40,000 roubles (US$640) for conducting religious services in his home.
Donald Ossewaarde, who has lived in Oryol (220 miles south of Moscow) with his wife Ruth for 14 years, received a visit from the authorities as he conducted a service in his own home on Aug. 14. After the service, he was immediately taken to court, where he was found "guilty" of conducting illegal missionary activities.
He has filed an application to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that his religious freedom has been violated.
The U.S. Commission on International and Religious Freedom recently added Russia to its list of worst religious freedom violators in its annual report, just after the country's Supreme Court banned Jehovah's Witnesses as an "extremist" organization.