Standing strong in Central Asia

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Despite continuing restrictions and the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, your gifts and prayers are helping Christians in Central Asia to remain strong in their faith, writes our partner ‘Pavel’.

Throughout Central Asia there is freedom of religion – but only in theory. The situation on the ground in each country (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) is totally different, because of the varying religious contexts.

In general, at the central and local levels, there are restrictions and discriminatory bureaucratic procedures that prevent churches from obtaining permits – especially targeting pentecostal or charismatic groups, which are the fastest-growing churches in the region.

‘We pray for a revival in the face of the pandemic, so that people will turn to God.’

There have been sporadic incidents of violence against churches and individuals by Islamic extremists. If such cases of violence reach law enforcement agencies, then real justice happens very rarely. Most often these incidents are viewed as separate criminal cases, as hooliganism, and not as real violations of human rights.

Islamic leaders actively promote the point of view that all converts from Islam to Christianity are “traitors to the faith of their people”. In addition, evangelical Christians are often associated with Western countries and are seen as American spies and agents of Western imperialism.

In the post-Soviet era, all Christians in Central Asia face these common restrictions:

  • open preaching of the gospel (proselytism) is prohibited by law, limiting the right of believers to confess their faith, but not to spread it.
  • a ban on holding Christian meetings without state registration.
  • a ban on distributing Christian literature outside the church building of the registered community.
  • unrealistic regulations for the registration of churches. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, a church needs the signatures of 200 local Christians to register.
  • churches are required to provide comprehensive data about their members. Churches fear that these details are at risk from Islamist groups and criminals.
  • parents are often not allowed by the authorities to take their children to church services (especially in Tajikistan).

Answers to prayer

Despite these continuing pressures, my wife and I, and our team of dedicated Christian workers, have seen a number of encouraging signs. For example, while the pandemic has caused many severe problems, it has actually reduced persecution – at  least temporarily. The authorities of these countries are busy coping with many government issues, and so have less time and capacity to be engaged in persecution.

In addition we gladly report:

  • it has become easier for Christians to live and work in Uzbekistan and for some churches there to be registered.
  • some of our co-workers from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were able to come to see us – a real miracle from the Lord.
  • In Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan some Bible teaching sessions were held by local leaders, who are growing in strength and vision

One pastor in Turkmenistan wrote to me recently: “The Lord is still working in our country. We pray for a revival in the face of the pandemic, so that people will turn to God and trust more in Him than in people. We hope that this disease will decline soon. We know that God has everything under control.”

We appreciate all your gifts and prayers very much indeed. May the Lord bless you richly and reward all of you abundantly in every possible way.

Our partner ‘Pavel’ (not his real name) leads a team of Christian workers who provide support, training and pastoral care to underground believers throughout the region.

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