BUILDING THE CHURCH IN CENTRAL ASIA
While governments throughout Central Asia oppress Christians systematically, Release partner ‘Pavel’ and his team of co-workers are patiently strengthening churches in eight nations. Here he describes his important mission, and asks for your continuing prayers.
Currently, working with Release, we financially support the ministry of 22 Christian workers and their families throughout Central Asia. These bold believers are working to encourage and build local communities of Christians, by preaching and teaching, discipleship and pastoral care.
In the post-Soviet era, the states of Central Asia oppress Christians in a number of ways.
Evangelism is officially prohibited by law in all countries of the region – allowing believers the right only to confess their faith, but not to spread it. Most churches must register with the authorities in order to hold Christian meetings. However, this can be difficult or impossible for smaller congregations since some authorities demand a minimum membership of at least 100 (Uzbekistan) or even 200 (Kyrgyzstan). Gathering in private homes is prohibited – even if the church is officially registered.
Churches applying for registration must often provide full details of each member, not only name, age, education, profession and place of work, but also home address, marital and family information, passport details and other personal data. Believers fear that this private information could easily fall into the hands of Islamist or criminal groups.
Registered churches that theoretically have the right to operate legally may be denied permission to buy or build church property, so are prevented from meeting. They can distribute Christian literature to their members – but sharing any Christian literature outside the church is banned.
Those who convert from Islam may be ridiculed and insulted, and are considered to be apostates and traitors. The authorities may even indicate that they can no longer protect their civil rights.
Citizens from other countries are banned from taking part in Christian meetings and cannot legally be the leaders of churches and Christian organisations in the region. In addition, Covid-19 restrictions have also enabled the authorities to prevent visits by foreign Christian workers.
All these factors combine to ensure that Christians remain very much oppressed throughout Central Asia.
However, I want to positively note that there is a noticeable improvement in Uzbekistan.
During 2020, for the first time in many years, several evangelical churches were officially registered – including in the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan, where, until now, there has never been a single registered church. Previously Christians there had been severely persecuted for their faith.
I myself well understand the needs of persecuted Christians, because during the time of the Soviet Union I spent time in prison for preaching the Word of God and advocating for the rights of Christians in the USSR.
My parents, and both of my grandfathers, were pastors of evangelical churches. From my earliest childhood I had a great interest in mission and planting new churches.
It is very important for us that we choose the right co-workers to support: they must be deeply dedicated to the Lord and devoted to their church ministry. While they may belong to different churches and different evangelical denominations, they must love the Lord, faithfully following Christ and preaching His Word.
By supporting pastors and their families, we are actually creating a key structure for the growth of the church in these countries that are hostile to Christianity. This is a serious investment in the future – and a very important prayer point as well.
I ask you to pray that the Lord will give me the ability to find such people. Eventually they need to become self-supporting. In a few years, due to my age, I will need to find someone who can replace me in this ministry so that it can continue in the future.
This new leader needs to have a vision for ministry in the countries of Central Asia, know well the people and culture, and the history of the evangelical churches. This is an important focus of prayer for me, and I would appreciate it very much if you could join your prayers to mine.
My wife helps me a lot in my ministry. Please pray for her and her health. The work is great, there are many projects and we are constantly busy and often tired.
Some of the children of our co-workers are now university students – and they may be almost the only witnesses of Christ in their student environment. They are also key youth workers in their churches, forming the second generation of local Christians in their countries. We expect that some of them, like their parents, will become pastors and key workers in their nations. They need our prayers too.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our Christian brothers and sisters are isolated from each other, as well as from the whole Christian world. So please pray that the quarantines can end. We really need face-to-face meetings and communications. We look forward to the restoration of personal contact and fellowship – as it was in the past.
Despite the virus, we give thanks to God that many churches have found new forms of ministry, learning to use new technologies to reach self-isolating church members – as well as to preach the Word of God to unbelievers. I think that ultimately this experience has enabled church leaders to grow and has taught them to be more self-reliant.
Dear Christian friends and supporters of Release in the UK and Ireland, on behalf of the many brothers and sisters in Central Asia, I would like to express great gratitude and appreciation for your friendship and co-operation.
I sincerely thank you all for your prayers and financial support for persecuted Christians. By the grace of God, together we are helping them to fulfil their ministry as witnesses of Jesus Christ.
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