Uzbekistan: Church Learning to Overcome amidst Persecution

General January 6, 2009
Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 511 | Tue 06 Jan 2009

(By Anneta Vyssotskaia)

Uzbekistan is historically a predominantly Muslim country. However, during seven decades of the Soviet era, atheistic thinking was enforced on several generations of the population. Then the 1990s saw a revival in spirituality in the country and many started to turn to different religions. At that time many people in Uzbekistan became Christians. However, very soon many new Christians and church leaders had to face the reality of religious persecution from the Muslim community and the Uzbekistan government. Though this quickly intensified, conversions to
Christ still continue across the country. At the beginning of 2008 Uzbekistan ranked ninth in the Open Doors World Watch List of countries notorious for persecuting Christians who actively pursue their faith.

A year later the situation has hardly improved for Uzbekistan's
Christians as throughout 2008 they continued to face persecution from the government. This has included police raiding church services, harassment, confiscation and even destruction of Bibles and other Christian material, arrest and detention of church leaders and members, fines and imprisonment, sometimes with beatings. 'Grace' and 'Samarkand', two large registered Protestant organisations, were closed down. Any religious meetings of unregistered churches are considered illegal. These churches do not apply for registration because it would result in more persecution instead of registration. The authorities encourage the population to immediately report to the police any missionary activities, especially amongst Uzbek people.

Amongst other groups who also face religious persecution in Uzbekistan are a number of conservative Islamic groups, Jehovah's Witnesses and Hare Krishnas.

Mass media continue to provide a negative coverage of the Protestant churches, which results in harsher persecution of Christians by society. On 25 November a local newspaper 'Kashkadariyinskaya pravda' published 'Mutassiblik', targeted against the school teachers and students who followed 'wrong religions': unauthorised Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baptists. The parents and children listed in that article were forced to write explanations about their religious activities and provide information about their religious groups. The parents were threatened that they would be deprived of their parental rights if their children did not stop attending religious meetings and the children were put under special supervision from police as young law violators. In addition school meetings were called and this publication was read aloud to all the students and those mentioned in it were publicly disgraced.

However, the persecution also brought some positive results.

A Christian leader from Uzbekistan shared about the growing consolidation and unity amongst Christians amidst persecution: 'The persecution brought the understanding that Christians need each other. Before persecution came, there were many disagreements and divisions among the churches. Now everything has changed. We have regular joint prayer meetings and monthly pastors' prayer and fasting meetings.' The church leaders created a special fund to help Christians who are fined or imprisoned for their faith. Another big step was made after a documentary, 'In the Clutches of Ignorance', was shown several times on central TV in Uzbek and Russian languages, in which Protestant churches were presented as dangerous, destructive cults. A group of 40 pastors wrote a joint letter which was sent to 32 different authorities (including the President of the country), expressing their disagreement with the documentary's religious intolerance towards Protestants.

A Christian lawyer from Uzbekistan sends regular reports about the legal cases against Christians, asking for prayer support for each case. He later reports: 'We have won the case with God's help!' or 'We had a 70 percent victory in this case.' Each small victory brings great encouragement to the Church in Uzbekistan, so let us join our forces as the Church to pray for the persecuted Christians in Uzbekistan so that we can help them have a 100 percent victory!

PLEASE PRAY ESPECIALLY -

* thanking God for positive changes in the Uzbekistan churches and especially for the growing unity amongst the Christian leaders of Uzbekistan.

* that the Uzbekistan government will stop its policy of persecuting religious minorities and that the religious freedom granted by its Constitution will become a reality in Uzbekistan.

* that God will bless the lawyers and religious specialists helping the persecuted Christians in Uzbekistan and give them all the wisdom, protection and support they need to win the court cases.

* for Pastor Dmitri Shestakov imprisoned in 2007 for his religious activities, that God will strengthen him physically and spiritually and give him full protection in prison; for his wife Marina and three daughters to be encouraged and supported during this time; that God will provide a good capable lawyer and grant a release from prison very soon.

'For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.' (1 John 5:4 KJV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE       
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UZBEKISTAN CHURCH LEARNING TO OVERCOME AMIDST PERSECUTION

Throughout 2008, the Christians in Uzbekistan continued to face persecution from the government. This has included police raiding church services, harassment, confiscation and even destruction of Bibles and other Christian material, arrest and detention of church leaders and members, fines and imprisonment, sometimes with beatings. Some large registered churches have been closed down. Mass media continue negative coverage of the Protestant churches, resulting in harsher persecution of Christians by society. However, the persecution has also resulted positively in a growing consolidation, unity and mutual help amongst Christians, as well as stronger prayer and fasting. Christians in Uzbekistan ask us to pray that they may be 100 percent victorious amidst persecution!

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RLP guest writer Anneta Vyssotskaia serves on the WEA Religious Liberty Commission. Elizabeth Kendal, our regular researcher and writer, is currently on annual leave.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray specifically and regularly for religious liberty issues, and in particular to uphold the Church where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissionerof the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.