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.
Conditions for Christians in Uzbekistan have improved somewhat, but life can still be very challenging.
On Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List, this Central Asian nation ranks 21st among the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is worst. Unregistered religious groups and activities here not only are punished with fines but also may face imprisonment or worse, and family members may be threatened. And harsh treatment doesn’t come from officials alone; believers may be shunned by unhappy relatives or neighbors.
Pastor Jiyan* was a youth pastor for several years and today leads a small house church in a village. He and other church leaders don’t have the opportunity to read different translations of the Bible to prepare for their weekly sermons. Some congregations don’t even possess a Bible.
In 2017, the first Bible in the Uzbek language was published, but many believers have never held God’s Word in their own hands. Although the translation now exists, getting it into the country legally was nearly impossible in past years. Today, the government permits a strictly limited number of Bibles to be imported.
TWR meets Jiyan and his fellow believers’ spiritual needs with contextualized programs. For people who can’t participate in church regularly for fear they will incur severe persecution, the radio programs serve as an important source of spiritual food.
According to monitoring agencies, secret prayer gatherings are punished with fines when discovered. Unannounced visits by police officers have been reported at several churches in Central Asian countries. Other Uzbek believers have been arrested for gathering to worship despite their events having been registered by authorities. Suspicious of possible supervisions, the government reportedly monitors religious refugees and their families.
Many believers in Uzbekistan have expressed their thanks to TWR for sharing listener responses from other believers around the region. The testimonies give them hope and encourage them to stand firm in their faith despite persecution.
Umida* wrote TWR, “The fact that there are believers among us who passed through persecution [dealt by] their relatives and the government and still stood strong in faith is especially encouraging to us. It is joyful to see that God, through the firmness of [the persecuted believers’] hearts, works with their relatives, and some relatives accept Jesus as their Savior.”
These broadcasts are speaking hope to the estimated 349,000 Uzbek Christians and the millions of their compatriots who need to hear the gospel.
Umida says, “Through these programs, we can see that God does not leave his children but instead even strengthens their spirit and gives the power to stand in faith.”
* A pseudonym to protect the person’s privacy