Thousands fast and pray after Vladimir Putin signs Russia law banning evangelism outside churches

Thousands of Christians in Russia are fasting and praying after Pres. Vladimir Putin signed a law on July 6 that prohibits Christians from evangelizing outside of church.

The new law, which will take effect on July 20, was proposed after a Russian passenger plane was bombed in Egypt in 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi, Russia, May 19, 2016. | Reuters/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Also called the "Yarovaya law," owing to its author Irina Yarovaya, the law is supposed to be a safeguard against terrorism. However, it also restricts religious freedom and is considered as the country's most restrictive law since 1991.

Hannu Haukka, chairman of Great Commission Ministries, explained to Charisma News that when the law takes effect, believers who talk to other people about God can be punished.

In addition, missionary activity will be stifled, as workers will be allowed to share their faith only if they have a permit. Missionaries who share the gospel to random persons they meet can be fined up to 50,000 rubles ($1,000).

Reading the Bible or praying in front of an unbeliever is punishable by law. The law also prohibits Christians from using online tools like email to share their faith or invite friends to church.

Furthermore, Christians are no longer allowed to meet in their homes or share the gospel to people they have invited in their homes. Citizens who observe religious activity in their neighbors' homes should report it to the authorities, or they will be punished.

"This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church," Haukka said, according to the National Religious Broadcasters. "Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history."

Joel Griffith from the Slavic Gospel Association also expressed concern over the law's possible effect on missionary work.

"It could stop missionary activity to anybody but representatives, registered organizations and groups, and it would require every missionary to have documents with specific information proving connections to a registered religious group," he said.

Haukka said there are about 7,000 Protestant and evangelical churches in Russia that are fasting and praying right now regarding the new law.

On Monday, July 11, the European Evangelical Alliance called for a time of prayer against the new law.

"We ask European Christians to stand with their Russian brothers and sisters in prayer. Let us pray for wisdom, hope and courage," the EEA said in a statement.

The organization urged believers to pray for unity among the churches at this time. They also asked believers to pray for the authorities.

"Let us pray that this time of trial will be used by the Lord to strengthen and grow His Church," the EEA said.