Slavic Gospel Association
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Reaching the Former
Soviet Union

Outreach News -
Central Asian Countries

‘Thus it is written that Christ should suffer... and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His Name to all nations.’ (Luke 24:45)


Central Asian Countries of the Former USSR

For the latest news about Central Asian pastors, follow this link to Sponsorship - Local Pastors.

25 June 2018
Police Raid: Missionary "Ivan L." (Cent. Asia)


Police were looking for evidence of
unauthorised religious activity

“We pray and ask the Lord for opportunities to serve Him freely; to be able to use literature and not be worried about impending fines, courts and confiscations. Please back us in your prayers!”

This was Pastor Ivan’s* request just days before police raided his home in January. Under the guise of conducting a “passport check”, five police officers - two of them from the Extremism and Terrorism Department - made a surprise visit to his home. Assisted by two “witnesses”, the group made an unauthorised search and confiscated a journal containing Bible notes and USB-device belonging to his step-daughter Tamara.

Ivan’s wife and daughter were then forcibly taken to the residential district office (mahalla) where a report was written up and they were told the USB and notebook would be sent for “expert analysis” by the Religious Affairs Committee.

Later, on 12 March, Tamara found out she had been put on trial and that sentence had been passed without her knowledge on 7 February. She had thus been denied the right to give her defence. In addition, given that the cut-off date for lodging an appeal was 20 February, she had also been denied the right to appeal.

Bailiffs handed Tamara the judge’s decision to fine her 20 times the minimum monthly salary. A huge amount! For an Australian, 20 times the minimum monthly salary would be about $60,000 AUD. Tamara’s USB, which also contained precious family photos, was ordered destroyed but her journal was to be returned.

Pastor Ivan assuredly needs our prayers more than ever. His most recent letter expresses his gratitude...

“We thank God for the opportunity to labor for Him and that because of your zeal we have such opportunity. It makes a lot of difference that I can serve the Lord without being distracted by the need to make a living. Please pray for wisdom in performing ministry and protection from persecution and may the Lord make you vessels ready to carry on His work for the glory of Jesus Christ!” (* names changed for anonymity)

-----------------------------

UPDATE

We received an update from Ivan which describes his ordeal...

“Despite the major changes in our country, the attitude [of authorities] toward us hasn’t changed. Many have concerns. There was a search in our home as well. The police came upon a report that we hold services... we thank God that there were no people in our apartment at the time! Without a search warrant they searched our apartment. They looked for literature and audio-visual materials, and searched a flash-drive.

“By God’s mercy, they found nothing. But our daughter wasn’t able to hide her phone. They took the chip out of her phone and allegedly found missionary information on it. They handed the case over to the court and a hearing was held without our participation. Our daughter Alina was issued a fine of 3,400,000 sum and a warning in Mahal.

“Shortly after, representatives from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and representatives of the public were gathered and I was called to testify - the purpose being to create a negative opinion and instil fear in the community. The meeting took an hour and a half, and I thank the Lord that He gave me wisdom and strength in the dialogue. They insisted that I give information about other believers, especially those of Uzbek nationality. They also queried my neighbors, but the Lord kept it hidden.

“We would appreciate your prayer support, so that the Lord would protect brothers and sisters, the seekers and for our family that the Lord would give wisdom in further ministry.”



22 April 2018
One Year Later: Pastor's Fine Paid in Full


Mehman has not given up, despite the fine

“As soon as Mehman fell asleep he felt that some sort of force would jerk him in his bed, and he would wake up...” This was the beginning of Mehman’s journey to Christ, as we published last August. His dramatic experience led him to surrender his life to God after which he went to Bible college and started working as a missionary in Azerbaijan. Then one day the police came knocking...

Several families had gathered in the home of SGA-sponosored pastor Hamid (Mehman’s pastor) for worship. Suddenly, about ten uniformed police and other officials raided the meeting. The names and identities of all present were taken down and then all 26 church members (16 women and 10 men) were taken to the District Police Station, where they were made to write statements. By 10 pm they were released.

Not long after that frightening episode, Hamid and Mehman were punished with a fine of 3,000 Manats (similar to getting a $7000 fine in Australia) for holding an unregistered meeting. "I told the court it was not our fault as we had applied, but they won't give us registration,” said Hamid. The 25 year old congregation has repeatedly applied for registration without success.

The head of Azerbaijan's Baptist Union, Ilya Zenchenko, agrees it was unfair... "Pastor Hamid’s rights and those of his community have been violated. All this is a violation of their rights under Article 48 of our Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion, and Article 49, which guarantees freedom of assembly.” He confirmed that the Aliabad congregation has existed for a quarter of a century and has sought state registration in vain since 1994. Despite all attempts to get permission, Hamid was told if they meet again they’ll get “double the fine" or a prison sentence.

Mehman initially paid 500 Manats and asked for documents so he could appeal, but the bailiff simply insisted he pay the rest by the end of 2017. “Of course he's not happy – this is a lot of money,” said a church member at the time. Hamid and Mehman tried to have the decision overturned but the court eventually wrote in February to say they would not hear any appeals. "I must now pay the fine. The law demands that I pay – they warned me that if I don't, there will be further action,” said Hamid.

SGA (NZ) helped raise extra funds to pay the fine. However the congregation has been strictly forbidden from gathering again. Since registration is impossible, they’ll need godly wisdom in discerning how to proceed.

Pray for Mehman, Hamid and their church.


28 February 2018
Persecution Special Report: Kazakhstan



“It is necessary to eliminate the primary causes of violent extremism and not only deal with its consequences”, announced the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2015.

In an effort to stamp out the ‘primary causes’ of terrorism, the government of Kazakhstan has been attempting to rid the nation of all ‘non-traditional’ religions - including Protestant Christianity. Late last year, law enforcement bodies gathered to review past efforts and discuss further attempts at “disrupting the activities of non-traditional religious movements, making the adherents to return to the traditional religious principles and ways for improving the religious situation.” And parliament is expected to pass laws that will require all registered non-Muslim and non- Russian Orthodox religious organisations to accept new restrictions before applying for re-registration. Once the deadline is reached, regional administrators are to organise the liquidation of those groups that do not qualify to remain.

While law enforcement agencies work to bring all Kazakhs under one religious umbrella, dissenters are punished while conformists are praised and rewarded. "The special role in the achievement of interdenominational dialogue is played by the two leading religions, the Hanafi school of Islam and Orthodoxy," Minister Yermekbayev said when he delivered the highest state award of Kazakhstan, the 1st-degree Dostyk Order to Russian Orthodox Patriach Kirill last October. In contrast with ‘radical’ Protestant churches that refuse to limit their sphere of influence, Mr Yermekbayev praised the Russian Orthodox Church for respecting state policy, developing interfaith dialogue and supporting interreligious forums.


In addition to requiring all churches to accept the new conditions, punishments for non-compliance will be more severe under the proposed changes. For example, ‘preventative measures’ will be initiated against individuals that commit an offence. These include: deprivation of one’s parental rights; being placed on a ‘preventative register’; or having one’s freedom of movement restricted. Ordinary police will be able to give written warnings to worshippers or proselytisers and subject them to finger printing and having biological samples taken. Fines for violations in the areas of religious education; attendance of children; and wedding ceremonies are also increasing. Those that are imprisoned for sharing their ‘destructive’ faith can now expect to undergo ‘theological and psychological training’ so they can be ‘rehabilitated’ in prison by ‘traditional’ religious leaders.


Protestant pastors are finding it increasingly difficult to navigate the fine line between compliance and compromise when it comes to state laws. “There are houses we could convert [for religious purposes] as it’s difficult to register a branch of the church and operate within the confines of state law” said one Kazakh minister. “Many still consider us a sect.”

For some churches, registration is literally impossible because in order to exist, a group must have more than 50 local members; more than 500 regional members; and more than 5,000 national members. For other churches that do qualify in terms of numbers, registration is undesirable because in order to gain state approval, church leaders must agree to rules which effectively prevent them from spreading their beliefs. Registration also invites the attention of the KNB (secret police) who will start monitoring church activities and any efforts by church members to share their faith with others.


Christians in Kazakhstan are being warned that over the past several years, the government has been using informers to set people up and then send them to jail - for sharing their faith. The KNB acknowledge they use spies and informers for the purpose of ‘operational/investigative measures’.

In 2015, a man named Yklas Kabduakasov was sentenced to two years in a labour camp for discussing his faith with ‘students’ recruited by the KNB. In 2016, Rustam Musayev was similarly caught and prosecuted. Also in 2016, Teymur Akhmedov and Asaf Guliyev were invited to the flat of some ‘university students’ who were ‘interested’ in their beliefs. Unbeknown to the visitors, “the ‘students’ covertly recorded the discussions using a high quality video camera” as they asked "provocative questions about Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church". The pair were imprisoned for advocating “the exclusivity and superiority of one religion over another” for 5 years.

In Uzbekistan, citizens are alerting media of the use of hidden microphones in places of worship, the presence of undercover agents during meetings, and the recruitment of spies within communities – including among leaders. All to prosecute ‘active’ religious members.


Daring Christian witnesses across Central Asian nations are asking us to pray! Through the sacrificial giving of our partners, Slavic Gospel Association Australia supports about 10 pastors across Central Asia. These pastors communicate via regular reports and right now, Kazakh missionary-pastors are requesting prayer regarding the imminent changes to their religious law.

Pastor Grisha B* writes, “Our special prayers and concerns are connected to amendments that the government is intended to incur in the law on religion, and these amendments will greatly impede our lives and in some cases will force us to choose whom we should obey - God or men. If forced to, we will bear responsibility for breaking human laws. We prayerfully ask the Lord not to allow this situation; but all things are done according to His will and if He wants to lead His Church though this, may He give His children wisdom and courage to persevere.”

Missionary Pasha S* wrote, “Dear friends, we continue to ask that you pray for our labours. We try very hard to work discretely because we don’t want to have problems with authorities.”


It’s not only Kazakh pastors that are under pressure. The situation is difficult in all the Central Asian countries. To continue their missionary work pastors are often forced to break ungodly national laws. “I’ve started dispensing audio and video discs with sermon recordings - and Christian literature. In fact, such activities are forbidden here by law, and the penalty induced is very high. The authorities oblige housekeeping administration to spy on our families, our guests and visitors so we have to communicate and share with children under the guise of helping them with homework” said Uzbek worker Ivan Leonidov*. “People are afraid of losing their jobs, receiving visits from law enforcement agencies or getting big fines for possessing religious literature... We’ve had quite a number of concerns in ministry and in our personal life - our children have started to experience more difficulties in school,” he said.

Another one of our pastors, Boris Kuznetsov* in Uzbekistan, wrote, “Please pray that the Lord will preserve us and put a guard over us, because oppression and persecutions are beginning again... Please support us in prayer: for more brothers to be God’s workers in our church; and for those that backslid during persecutions.”

Jesus Christ warned his followers, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for My Name’s sake, because they know not Him that sent Me.” (John 15:20-21)

Please join us in upholding these brave Christian witnesses as they brace for greater persecution. May the Lord God give them His grace so they can endure faithfully - whatever the cost.
(* alias used for pastor’s protection)


29 November 2017
God’s Man in Kazakhstan
Needs Our Support


Pasha Simenko - Kazakhstan

At SGA, we have the privilege of hearing about so much wonderful work the Lord is doing in so many different places. One of the missionaries we love hearing from is Pasha Simenko* (alias for pastor’s protection) in Kazakhstan. This man of God is burning with zeal, energy and passion. He often says he will continue sharing the Gospel with everyone he meets “until his dying breath”. This missionary-pastor has been helped by SGA for particular needs as they have arisen, but doesn’t have a regular supporter. Please prayerfully consider whether God would have you support His man, Pasha, in Kazakhstan. More information is available by contacting our office.

“We are currently supporting nine poor, large families, who are in need. Very often I meet with various individuals wherever I happen to be. These might be visits to the hospital, treatment centres or places along the way.

“Once or twice a month, I go to state shelters and rehab centres for the homeless; meeting with those who have somehow lost their way in life. Some have escaped from slavery; others are drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless people. There are constant meetings at these places and I bring the Gospel to them. It is written, '...deliver those who are drawn unto death' (Prov. 24:11).

“I am not currently planning to curtail this ministry, since I cannot and will not while I am still living. I now understand that I cannot avoid taking on assistance, as my wife was forced to leave her job. So I am seriously praying about this need. The Lord has never left us or abandoned us in difficult situations before (Is. 49:15).

“I have an opportunity to start a rehabilitation ministry with God's help; we have already found a building. There are some enthusiastic former drug addicts who are helping me remodel and rebuild. We need a washing machine, as well as ten metal beds, eight blinds for the windows, mattresses, blankets, bed sheets, coal and firewood. Like never before, I truly need prayer and financial support. God willing, if I am alive and healthy next year and the Lord allows, I am praying about establishing a House of Prayer.

“Our rent, petrol and car maintenance costs money and our income does not meet our expenses. This is a topic for prayer. I write all this so you know our financial situation. But you know, I praise God and am very grateful to you and to everyone. Sincerely, Your Brother, Pasha.”



30 September 2017
Persecution News: Central Asia


(CLOCKWISE) Kazakh Hot Springs; Uzbek Taskforce; Pastor Kholmatov & His Wife; Zorka Holiday Camp; Central Asian Deaf Workers

HOT SPRING BAPTISM REPORTED (Aug ‘17)
A baptism conducted in the hot springs near Almaty, Kazakhstan, resulted in six fines and one deportation. A report was made to police about the illegal act of “baptism in water” and within a month, the group faced court. A visiting pastor from New York was fined and forced to leave the country and the local pastor was fined two months wages. Four other foreign visitors from Korea and the United States were also fined.

POLICE GATHER EVIDENCE (Jun ‘17)
Tajik Secret Police paid a visit to Dunshanbe Baptist Church meeting in a home on Sunday morning with video cameras. Filming worshippers, confiscating literature and threatening to demolish the home, they hoped to snuff out the unregistered group. This church and others refuse to register with the government as they think it attracts interference. Rather, they hope to appeal to international human rights laws to defend their freedom.

DEAF BAPTISTS RAIDED (Jun ‘17)
A group of 200 deaf Baptist church members in Uzbekistan were alarmed as police raided their meeting in the city of Qarshi. Five members were charged and television crews were invited to the trial. There was a special appearance by Orthodox priest, Father Vladimir Skornyakov, who was questioned about the Orthodox stance on obedience to state authority. A contrast was made between traditional and non-traditional churches for the media. The verdict: two members were handcuffed and given 5-day prison sentences and the other three each received a fine. Highlights of the trial were televised on news programs.

CAMP SONG OVERHEARD (Jul ‘17)
An evangelical church in Kazakhstan has been banned for 3 months because members were caught singing Christian songs while at Zorka Holiday Camp. Anti-Extremism Police investigated after a report was made by a nearby resident. The judge ruled that singing religious songs constituted a ‘religious service’ and that it was held in an unapproved location. If the group is caught a second time, they will be permanently banned.

STASH OF BOOKS CONFISCATED (Jul ‘17)
Early-morning raids were conducted upon the homes of four Baptist Church members in the city of Fergana. 41 Christian books, 48 magazines, 6 Bibles and a laptop computer were taken and are not expected to be recovered. The believers are waiting to hear whether criminal charges will be laid.

HOME GROUP STORMED (Jul ‘17)
In the city of Urganch, a group of believing friends were surprised when suddenly interrupted by 25 police, six of whom had automatic weapons. The raid, led by the Criminal and Anti-Terrorism Police Force, led to confiscation of a Children’s Bible, documents and mobile phones. 20 adults and 7 children were taken by bus to the police station, where some were strip-searched and others were coerced to write statements. Prosecution of those that hosted the meeting is expected.

3 YEAR PRISON SENTENCE (Sep ‘17)
A Tajik pastor was sentenced to three years prison for “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred’”. The married father of three was moved to an undisclosed location and friends and family have been warned not to talk. Imams working for the secret police disapproved of Pastor Kholmatov’s book, “More Than a Carpenter” by Josh McDowell and the hymns, “God’s Army is Marching” and “Our Fight is Not Against Flesh and Blood”, denouncing them as “extremist and call[ing] on people to overthrow the government”. Church members were harassed, tortured and beaten during the investigation. (Source: forum18.org)


09 September 2017
Heart Rending Pain Resurfaces for Abandoned Son


SGA's Eric Mock with Faiz

“...Even so, it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” – Matt 18:14

Since the fall of Adam, sin has corrupted the planet and most often it is the weakest that suffer the most. However, the Lord has said it is not His will that even one of these little ones should perish. Here is a story about how some believers in Tajikistan are letting their love for God overflow into a particularly sad situation...

“Faiz* was just 18 months when I first met him on a visit to Tajikistan,” says SGA’s representative Eric Mock. “His mother was a drunk and seemed on an endless cycle of men. She was so angry at Faiz, that she wanted to throw him off the balcony to his death. She cared very little for him and he was so hungry.”

But the Lord providentially brought about a chance meeting with a local missionary-pastor and his wife. The couple, Ivan and Zhenya, offered to take him and care for him as one of their own. And so they did! Faiz is now 3 years old, but he still suffers pain in his heart. Even though he is being cared for and loved by foster parents, he still yearns for the love of his real mother. The pain rises to the surface when he sometimes sees her around, as happened when Eric was visiting the community of believers...

“We had just had lunch, when a lady came in towards the end and sat down to eat. She was nearby when we were about to leave, and as we were gathering together to take a group photo, little Faiz began to cry. He was pulling at his shirt and could not be consoled. After the photo session we found out what was wrong. They told us that the lady who had arrived was his mother, who came for a bite to eat. She saw Faiz, but didn’t take him with her.”

And such is the situation. Faiz desperately wants his mother, but she has no regard for him at all. “Our hearts were so broken, and I held him for a short time,” said Eric. Faiz was surrounded with love. The young girls in the family love him. He hears daily of Jesus. But this only lessened his agony .... as the longing for the love of his birth mother remains.

Please pray for the forgotten children in this mostly forgotten town, that the Gospel would give them hope and a future – and ultimately, eternal life with their loving Heavenly Father.


16 June 2017
Man Suffers Insomnia Until He Repents


Religion in Azerbaijan is overwhelmingly Islamic
(91-99%)

We have been sent a dramtic testimony from Pastor Hamil*’s church in Azerbaijan. There is a man there that has just finished Bible College, Amir*. He gave an interesting account of how the Lord brought him to repentance and faith .

When he was yet an unbeliever, Amir met and fell in love with the beautiful Shani – a Christian girl who attended church regularly. Amir eventually proposed to Shani and she agreed to marry him – under one condition – that he would allow her to continue her Christian faith and attend church. So Amir gave her his word and they got married.

However, as soon as the wedding was over, Amir tried to put a stop to Shani’s Christian faith and forbade her from attending church meetings. According to Amir, from the very first day he persecuted his wife, he literally could not sleep!

Pastor Hamil described the experience, “As soon as Amir fell asleep, he felt that some sort of force jerked him in his bed and he woke up. After a month of sleepless nights, Amir began having health problems and ended up with anxiety and tachycardia.”

It occured to Amir that perhaps Shani’s God was punishing him. To confirm his suspicion, Amir tried an experiment and gave Shani permission to go to church for one week only. “During this week, Amir slept well.” However, he decided it was probably a coincidence and again he forbade Shani from worshipping the Lord.

“That very same night when he made that decision, Amir felt very unwell. It was so bad he thought he was dying. In fear, and with his last ounce of strength, Amir got down on his knees and – even though he was an unbeliever – began to ask Shani’s God for forgiveness. He promised that he would no longer forbid Shani from going to church and that he would even go along with her”, explains the pastor.

Keeping his promise, Amir started attending church with Shani. He repented of his sins, became a believer and eventually started seminary training. Now Amir is being sent out by the church as a missionary – a dangerous career. Ironically, now that he has cause for sleepless nights, he “sleeps like a baby”.

Pastor Hamil and Amir were both caught by authorities and fined for holding an unregistered church meeting last year. They were warned a subsequent conviction will result in a prison sentence. Nevertheless, Amir will continue to preach the Word of God to the people of Azerbaijan – one family at a time and in secret. Please pray for all the underground churches in Azerbaijan.

* names changed to protect identity


15 June 2017
Tajikistan: Pastor Arrested and Christian Books Confiscated


A family welcomes the visit of their pastor’s visit
Traditionally they sit on the floor to eat

In April the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police in Tajikistan's northern Sogd Region arrested the pastor of the Good News of Grace Protestant Church in the regional capital Khujand.

He remains in police custody, apparently under investigation on criminal charges of "extremism". The charges follow the seizure of Christian books during a raid on the Church. Family members have no news on his state of health since his arrest. The Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Dushanbe refused to explain why the pastor is under arrest and accused of "extremism".

The secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding congregations in Sogd Region in early February.

Officials closed down the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and beating church members. In Dushanbe two kindergartens were closed down after officials found a Christian songbook in one and because Protestants were employed there. Tajik authorities frequently use "extremism"-related charges to punish individuals for exercising their ‘freedom of religion or belief’ outside the framework of religious communities that the state allows to operate.


14 June 2017
Kazakhstan: Fined for Conducting Easter Worship


A typical family living in a rural village in Kazakhstan

Police fined four Baptists for leading Easter worship meetings in Temirtau and Taraz. The Council of Baptist Churches has reported of a "new wave" of raids on Christians. An Almaty court fined a Protestant church and banned all activity for three months, and ordered a foreigner deported.


07 August 2016
Terrorism in Turkmenistan


Ärtogrul Gazy Mosque - Turkmenistan

The governments of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia have long been concerned about radicalised Islam arising in their territories, since the region is Muslim-dominant in population. Late last year, authorities in Turkmenistan cracked down and arrested 17 suspected members of a jihadist group in the country’s Mary region. Two national security employees were arrested along with four police officers, the immam of a local mosque, and several government employees. They were alleged to have been plotting attacks on powerlines and other infrastructure.

Compared to other Asian nations, Turkmenistan has been home to fewer extremist organizations, believed by some analysts to be due to local Sufi traditions rather than radical Islam. However, evangelical churches are caught up in the severe restrictions on religious groups, and openly preaching the Gospel is prohibited. Please pray for our brothers and sisters in Turkmenistan, asking the Lord to open the hearts and minds of authorities to see the peace of Christ through His people.