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In the region, almost 40% of the Protestant churches have become secret churches. “We do not want to be associated with anything illegal and our desire is to be law-abiding citizens”.
It is not right to state that "everything was bad in the USSR", but unfortunately the main postulate of this nation was atheism and denial of God, which subsequently led to the "shipwreck", or the destruction of the "empire".
When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 90s, almost all of the former Soviet Union countries, including Central Asian states, seemed to be open to religious freedom, in contrast with the previous Communist regime. However, the rise of Muslim radicalism, combined with government desires to control those freedoms, has led to a persecution of the followers of Jesus Christ in Central Asia, by both the Muslims and the government.
TAJIKISTAN, DAGESTAN, KAZAKHSTAN
Thus, in some regions of Central Asia where radical Islam is flourishing, Christians are under constant threat. Additionally, state authorities are tightening the religious laws which regulate the relation between the state and religious organizations.
For instance, in 2003, Sergey Bessarab—the pastor of a Baptist church in Tajikistan—was killed in his home by members of radical Muslim movement “Al-Bayat”.
In 2010, the pastor of a big charismatic church in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Arthur Suleimanov, was killed by a shot in his head near his church building.
In 2012, Kazakhstan adopted a new religious law which forced already registered Protestant churches to go through re-registration, but this process of re-registration was extremely complicated. As a result, almost 40% of the Protestant churches went underground.
Today, due to the threat from radical Islamists and the pressure from the authorities, the face of the Protestant Church in Central Asia is the Secret Church. Secret Church is that one where Christ’s followers gather secretly in private places, usually in private houses or in apartments, and conduct worship services together in small groups.
Secret believers keep their Christian faith in secret because of the threat of persecution. Like believers of the early church, members of the secret church are underground believers.
IMPOSSIBLE CONDITIONS FOR CHRISTIANS
“We were forced to lead the church secretly”, shared Mahmud*, a pastor of a secret church in one of the Central Asian states. “We do not want to be associated with anything illegal and our desire is to be law-abiding citizens. But the government has created impossible conditions and has forbidden our activity, unless we fulfil those conditions. This all reminds me of a return to the Soviet Union.”
A few days ago, the police of one of the Central Asian villages raided the house where the secret services were being carried out by the church. The police questioned staff members and demanded to see the registration of the church, afterwards, they collected and took away the passports of church members and called them to visit the police station the next day.
One of the officers threatened these people and reminded them that it was forbidden to carry out Christian activities or worship services without registration.
PRAY FOR PROTECTION
“Pray for the authorities of our countries, so they don’t see us as a threat to the political regime of Central Asian states but would rather see us as an example of good and law-abiding citizens. Pray that Central Asian states will give us permission to share our faith and worship our God openly, not fearing that tomorrow we might be called out to the police station”.
“Pray for God’s protection of believers in Central Asia from Islamic extremists. Pray that the secret Church in Central Asia won’t be secret anymore”, Pastor Mahmud requests.
Open Doors as an organization that supports the Secret Church and secret believers in Central Asia to survive in the midst of persecution, through a number of projects such as literature distribution, socio-economic development, Biblical trainings, advocacy, etc. Through these and other projects, Open Doors helps secret believers in Central Asia and around the world to build the kingdom of God and to strengthen the body of Christ.
You can support the Secret Church in Central Asia with your prayer and financial support to Open Doors projects. You may find the “Project for religious freedom: Secret believers” project in the GivingTuesday website (Spanish) and be part of the Christian response to persecution.
*Names changed for security reasons