Underground churches, smuggled Bibles continue to reach people oppressed by communism

Vazgen Zohrabyan was nine years old, living in Soviet Union-controlled Armenia when the Iron Curtain began to crumble in 1990.

Like most adults today, he has memories of going off to summer camp — but his experience was a little different from most.

Zohrabyan’s parents — atheists who had bought into the communist way of life — sent him off to a communist “young pioneer” camp for children.

“The camp,” he recalled, was “sharing propaganda, that the communist party is the best party in the world, that the Soviet Union is the best country in the world, and there is no God.”

Up to that point, Zohrabyan had never held a Bible in his hands. But a missionary from France visited the camp and gave him a children’s Bible. 

That would change Zohrabyan’s life, help lead him to Christ and ignite his call to ministry. Many years later his parents also would put their trust in Jesus.

Unfortunately, more than three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, countries still are oppressed by communism, and countless people still are waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

‘Active persecution’

According to a 2020 report from Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), communist oppression is alive and well (“Communism is Not Dead”).

“As economically empowered communist nations strengthen and expand their global influence, their governments continue to actively persecute our Christian brothers and sisters in Christ,” the VOM report said. “And contrary to the ideals of Marx and Engels, communist and communist-influenced countries around the world are rife with corruption, greed and gross social injustice.” 

For many young Americans who didn’t grow up during the Cold War or the fall of the Soviet Union, communism can be seen as simply a political system, said Cole Richards, president of Voice of the Martyrs, during a VOM Radio interview. But, he noted, if you look closer this ideology is “anti-Christian at its core.”

“The reality of communism in our world…is that it was developed as a system to eliminate even the very idea of God,” said Richards, who leads the human rights organization that helps defend persecuted Christians worldwide. “Twenty, maybe 30 years ago, communism was a commonly understood thing across our whole culture.” 

“We’ve really seen that understanding is lost at some level in our society now,” he continued, “and there isn’t good clarity on the fact that there are many areas of the world where Christians are significantly oppressed by communism today.” 

Among those, the report noted, are China, Colombia, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Laos, Nepal, North Korea, Venezuela and Vietnam.

“Out of the 7.7 billion people of the world, about 3 billion of them — approaching half, 40 percent of the world’s population — live in a country where Christians face oppression at the hands of communists,” Richards said.

Persecuted for their faith

In China, the government continues to persecute Christians for their faith, and house churches continue to be raided. There also is a campaign, Richards noted, focused on retranslating the Bible into a piece of propaganda that falsely promotes the communist party agenda. 

“We can’t allow that to happen,” he declared. “It sounds crazy but this is what’s happening in China.” 

In India, where communism has existed since the 1920s, two Christians were murdered for their faith in 2019, the VOM report said. One evangelist was reportedly tied to a tree and beheaded after refusing to stop sharing his faith. In Eritrea, that same year, some 500 Christians were arrested for their faith.

But underground churches continue to thrive and the word of God is spreading. And Zohrabyan remains thankful for those underground Bibles. 

Because of one smuggled Bible, he now is pastor of Abovyan City Church in Armenia. The congregation, and fellow ministry partners, have helped lead outreach efforts to help thousands of refugees impacted by a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan that erupted last fall over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Though a ceasefire was signed weeks later, thousands of refugees continue to rebuild their lives.

‘Savior and King of our souls’

Among one of Zohrabyan’s partners is Mission Eurasia, based in the Nashville area, which specializes in training and equipping next-generation Christians for ministry in former Soviet Union countries, like Armenia. The organization helps Zohrabyan and other national Christians, many of whose families once lived under communist oppression, distribute God’s Word, provide training and help distribute food, clothing and meet other physical needs.

But for Zohrabyan, putting a Bible into a child’s hands for the first time is one of the most rewarding parts of his ministry. 

“Having Bibles for children is very vital for me,” he said. “We now have more than 50,000 Bibles printed in the Armenian language, available, free of charge. So many, many children now are aware of Jesus, that Jesus is alive and He can become our Savior and King of our souls.”

VOM founder Richard Wurmbrand shared during an interview in 1970 about the evils of communism and the resilience of the church. His words, the report noted, still hold true today.

“Even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against [the Church],” said the evangelical Lutheran priest from Romania, who was persecuted and beaten while in a communist prison. “It is communism which is rather endangered by the existence of the Church because the last victory is ours…We don’t tremble before communism. They should be in a panic because of us.”

This article was written by Shawn Hendricks, writer for The Baptist Paper. It was published on thebaptistpaper.org.

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