How do you see persecution? According to Open Doors, 1 in 8 Christians worldwide experiences persecution for their faith. That’s 1 in 8 of us whose faith can come at great cost — in some cases, even at the cost of life itself. This month, in response to this painful statistic, we will be sharing stories in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who so often live out their faith in the shadows. We pray this would shine a light in the otherwise-darkened corners of our world and connect us all to these hidden members of the body of Christ.
There is not much left of the Aral Sea, mostly just dry soil and sand covering the ground. All of it is toxic since the chemicals used in agriculture found their way into the now-evaporated water. Old, corroded ships lie there, waiting for fisherman, reviving old memories.
Elya* lives in a little house in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic situated in the northwestern part of Uzbekistan. People around him speak the Karakalpak dialect, which is similar to Kazakh and slightly different from the Uzbek spoken in the south.
Life is harder for these people since the Aral Sea started drying out in what has been called “one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters.” Karakalpakstan is shaped by agriculture but is extremely dry. That’s why the water from the Amu Darya River, which flows into the Aral Sea, was used for watering fields. Now it has shrunk, leaving cities like Kantubek as ghost towns and the area’s inhabitants struggling to survive. Poverty, a poor diet and water supplies polluted by chemicals used on cotton fields combine to cause health issues.
Elya waited a few times for death. “Several times I was in a hospital, in an awful condition, because of anemia. I was alone, there was nobody who could help me or support me in my spiritual life. There were times when I shouted and cried out to the Lord that he had left me,” he wrote TWR.
One day, a friend shared with Elya that he was listening to a Christian radio program. Shortly afterward, Elya bought a radio receiver and tried to listen to the programs. “Even though the signal is not clear sometimes, these programs helped me to come back to life.”
Like Elya, the majority of the Karakalpakstan population grew up in the Islamic faith. Christian churches must be registered with the government to operate, but for a long time, such registrations weren’t being granted. Legally, Elya is not allowed to talk with anyone about his Christian faith outside a church. That makes life even harder.
In its programs Power in Persecution, Radio Bible Project and Women of Hope, TWR shares the gospel in the Karakalpak language and encourages listeners like Elya with testimonies of Christians all over the world. In addition to radio, programs are available through an Android app, as well as on CDs and DVDs.
“I thought that there were no believers in my village and was surprised when I found a pastor of the house church located in the area,” Elya wrote. “We met, and he invited me to the house church. It was very miraculous to see numerous members of this church. I was searching for a believer, but I found a church. Thanks, Lord. Thank you for this radio program.“
Taking part in a house church can be dangerous. Local authorities monitor Christian activities, and in some cases, neighbors act as informants to police officers. Other times, families exercise pressure on their relatives, and authorities organize meetings to speak against followers of Jesus. Some go so far as to name Christians as radical terrorists and blame them for killings far away in Syria. As a result, Christians are often ostracized and live fearfully.
Another listener shared, “Some are scared to attend house fellowships. For many, the reason for this is high fines for people who are caught by the authorities. On the other hand, there are also very strong believers who testify about Christ fearlessly and are even prepared to go to prison for this.”
He said gatherings of more than eight to 10 people are dangerous. Nevertheless, they see their church growing.
“Even if they can’t have [Christian] literature anymore, they still have the broadcasts. Some use the content of these spiritual programs for their small group services.”
Faith is growing in this dry landscape! TWR strengthens fishers of men in this region where water is rare and conventional fishing is dangerous. One ministry worker said he is encouraged by the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, which seem especially pertinent in this land: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
* A pseudonym and stock image are used to protect the person’s privacy.