Muslim militants have firebombed a Baptist church in Kyrgyzstan, causing extensive damage. The Bible on the altar survived the arson attack, encouraging Christians to stand firm in their faith.
Radicals doused the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church with petrol and set it on fire in revenge for a series of outreach meetings.
The militants struck at night in the early hours of January 3, tossing Molotov cocktails into the empty church in Kaji-Say, on the south shore of Lake Issyk Kul.
The fire spread to much of the inside, engulfing pews and the altar cloth, but the flames went out just before they could reach the open Bible.
Firemen arrived at 1.30am and fought to bring the flames under control. In the smoke-blackened building they found several full bottles of petrol which had failed to ignite. No-one was hurt.
Christians believe the undamaged Bible is a sign from God to keep on going and refuse to be discouraged.
‘This is an amazing sign,’ says Paul, from Operation Mark, a partner of Release International in Kyrgyzstan. ‘This happened once before when Communists set fire to a Pentecostal Church during the night. The Bible and that building survived too, and there is no doubt the church in Kyrgyzstan will survive – and continue to preach the gospel.’
The Evangelical Christian Baptist Church has been active in organising outreach events, which observers say could have prompted the attack. Churches in Kyrgyzstan have faced growing opposition and hostility but this is the first to be firebombed in recent years.
Pictures of the attack were circulated to other churches in the area and screened at their services. The congregation have already begun to repair the church and say they will stay and not be deterred. Police are investigating.
Release International supports persecuted Christians around the world. In Central Asia, Release is helping more than 20 Christian workers, through partners who provide pastoral care to local church leaders.
Persecution is on the rise in these predominantly Muslim countries that have a history of communism. Increasingly, persecution is at the hands of Islamic radicals, but the authorities in Central Asia still discriminate against Christians.
‘Persecution is still everywhere,’ says Paul of Operation Mark, and the situation in Kyrgyzstan is getting worse every year.’
Recent regulations in Kyrgyzstan strictly forbid any kind of missionary work. Militants have been digging up the bodies of Christian converts from Islam who have been buried in Muslim cemeteries. One Christian woman has had to be reburied three times.
Christians in neighbouring countries also face persecution. Paul of Operation Mark adds: ‘In Kazakhstan, unregistered churches are not allowed to gather. In Tajikistan, Christian parents are not allowed to take their own children to church and in Turkmenistan many Christians have been arrested and beaten, interrogated and threatened. Copies of the Bible and New Testament have been confiscated.
‘But the most difficult situation for Christians is in Uzbekistan and its autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. Any gathering is illegal. In some places the only way to meet as a small group is to drive around town in a car.’
‘Please pray for our Christian family in Central Asia,’ says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson. ‘Most Christians there are unable to lead ordinary lives. They can be arrested for reading the Bible in a public place like a bus or train, or for telling other people about Jesus.
‘Often the homes of local believers can be searched and their belongings confiscated by the police. Everyday Christian activities, such as praying together or doing a Bible study, can be deemed “illegal”.’
Release International’s partner in Kyrgyzstan has called for prayer:
- For those who burned the church, that the Lord will forgive them and lead them to repentance.
- For the protection of Christians as they continue their ministry even though they and their children are in danger.
- For missionaries working in the Central Asian republics.
Through its inernational network of missions, UK-based Release International serves persecuted Christians by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families, supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.