President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, has died at the age of 78. Karimov ruled his country with an iron fist since 1989. His regime was among the most repressive in the world. Unfortunately, we don’t expect a ‘climate change’ in Uzbekistan. The communist roots go deep and the clique around Karimov will most likely name a successor.
We like to ask our supporters to pray for Uzbekistan. Many believers receive immense fines for things such as possessing Christian materials or organizing house church meetings, or are arrested. Believers with a Muslim Background are persecuted by their families and the society as well. Uzbekistan ranks 15 on the World Watch List (WWL) 2016.
Image: A Central Asia Church Gathered to Worship
The three things every Christian should know about Uzbekistan
1. Persecution has three roots
A better way to describe it is: persecution in Uzbekistan has three engines. The three are:
- Dictatorial paranoia. In other words: to preserve the dictatorship only state-run and state-controlled institutions are allowed. Mainstream Protestants (but also e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses) are frequently branded as “extremists” for their practice of religion outside state-sanctioned structures.
- Communist and post-communist oppression. While the communist ideology may have been buried, its practices, laws and institutions are still in place and used to control the people.
- Islamic extremism. Pressure on Christians coming from Islamic circles is particularly aimed at Christian converts from a Muslim background (Muslim Background Believers, MBBs). If indigenous people convert to Christianity, they will experience pressure and occasionally physical violence from their families, friends and local community to force them to repent and return to their former faith.
2. Converts from Islam Pay the Highest Price
There are basically four types of Christians in Uzbekistan: expatriates, historical communities, non-traditional Protestants and converts from Islam.
Expatriates are hardly involved in evangelization and therefore mostly left alone by the government. Historical communities are Russian Orthodox Christians and they usually run their church according to the government regulations.
Non-traditional Protestants such as Baptists, Evangelicals and Pentecostals often choose to function as a church without a government registration. Getting a registration means more involvement of the government. Besides, the bureaucracy makes it almost impossible to receive a registration. Punishments are house / church raids, threats, arrests and fines.
Converts from Islam pay the highest price. They will experience pressure and occasionally physical violence from their families, friends and local community to force them to repent and return to their former faith. Some MBBs will be locked up for long periods and be beaten. Local Mullahs will preach against them, putting additional pressure on those MBBs. The MBBs may eventually be expelled from their communities. As a result, MBBs will do their best to hide their faith – they become so-called secret believers.
3. The Church grows
The Uzbek Church has grown a lot since the 1990s. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union did a real indigenous church arise. Especially the non-traditional Protestants and MBBs have multiplied in numbers. This has partly to do with the first generation of indigenous believers receiving children, but also with many Uzbeks coming to faith. It’s estimated that there are about 200,000 Christians in Uzbekistan.
But the Church also grows spiritually. Even though, the first generation believers were very active, the second generation wants to experience God’s power even more during times of persecution. According to one field worker: “They want to become stronger through the persecution and are very engaged in helping other people.”