*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 27th of June 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was on this, the 27th of June in 1983 that the so-called “Siberian 7”- two families of persecuted Pentecostals that had snuck into an American Embassy in the USSR, were released and permitted to travel to America where they believed they could practice their faith freely.
I. During the Cold War, Embassy’s had a particular history as places of refuge for would-be immigrants. Most countries had laws that would not give the embassy full immunity, but once someone entered the embassy and wanted to claim protection it could be a PR nightmare to release them outside the gates.
II. The story of Christianity and the Soviet Union- certain forms of approved, established Christian bodies such as the Russian Orthodox Church- they weren’t free but they were permitted.
III. What’s so dangerous about Pentecostals? Uber protestants who don’t need any specific structure or authority. Independent. Critical of the state.
IIII. What happened? For decades a few Siberian pentecostal families had attempted to emigrate to the US. They were rejected by the United States in the 60s and the men thrown in jail. Upon release they devised a plan (this in 1978) by which 7 would go to the embassy, distract the Russian guards and sneak in. They did. But the US had to hold them at arms length (which upset them) but allowed them to stay. They also wrote a book about their plight and it was published in the West. They received money for this.
IV. The Story of Billy Graham
Billy Graham came, despite warnings from many that it would be unfruitful. Graham assured them that he knew how to handle this- an official at the time recalled
“He got in there, and within 5 minutes his face was pale. He was sweating. He couldn’t speak in a complete sentence. I have never seen anybody so otherwise self-possessed become so thoroughly discombobulated before. But then, he had never met anybody like these people before.”
V. How did it End?
Like with the Iranian Hostage situation, the Soviets refused to negotiate with President Carter only to attempt to make deals with Reagan. The US had to let the USSR save face and thus, with a promise from the Kremlin, The families were sent back to Siberia where they applied to leave and it was granted. They left the USSR on this, the 27th of June in 1983.
Fun fact: they were sent to St. Louis. Which is fine, I suppose. But two of them took of for southern California- both my birthplace and the birthplace of modern Pentecostalism.
The last word for today is from the book of the prophet Isaiah chapter 61:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of June 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who, if given the chance to send former Siberians to any city in America would choose: the jewel of Tippecanoe county: West Lafayette Indiana. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.