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Central Asia: A secret believer's story
14 December 2015
Sunni Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church are considered the traditional religions of Central Asia. All other religious groups are either illegal or subject to serious harassment. In some parts of Central Asia Christians must keep their faith completely secret - this is the story of one of them:
Everything in my life changed
"I grew up in a Muslim home in Central Asia and my father was a Mullah [an expert in Islamic theology]. I felt lonely most of my life and memorised only one verse from the Koran. I eventually became very dissatisfied with the Islamic faith. As a young and discouraged college student, I despaired so deeply that I attempted to commit suicide, but I did not have the courage to go through with my plan.
"At college the next day, a friend introduced me to another friend who explained that Jesus loved me. I was touched that anyone could love a person like me. This powerful knowledge led to me giving my heart to Jesus. Everything in my life changed.
"I kept my new faith a secret from my family for two months. Finally, I built up the courage to tell my father. To say he was upset is an understatement. He ranted for an hour about the Bible being a Russian book and forbade me from meeting with other Christians. I met with them secretly for a year before my father found out. He shouted loud and long at my mother and me, but I had made my choice. I had decided to follow the joy and peace that Jesus brings. To this day my father will not speak to me.
"I fell in love with a young pastor from a Muslim background and we were married in secret with a very simple ceremony with no reception. We were the first couple in our group to be married. All of the believers in our area are secret and persecuted.
"Because my family considered me to have been 'stolen', my mother came to me crying and pleading with me to come back home and return to Islam. Our tradition and culture allows mothers two hours to do this. My mother spent twelve hours, including beatings, cursing, and physical abuse. I was trusting God to strengthen me.
"In the midst of all this horror, I saw a vision of a desert and a lovely place and God was saying 'You choose which place'. I remembered Abraham and Lot and decided to choose the desert with God rather than the nice place without God. I told my mother, 'I would rather die here then go back with you'!
Meeting in secret
"When my husband's family witnessed our new life in Christ they accepted us but insisted we not evangelise them. They see how we rely on the Holy Spirit for ministry direction. One day I went to the market praying, 'Lord show me to whom I can minister'. A lady sat down on a bench beside me. I asked if I could pray for her. She asked me if I was a witch. After I prayed for her, she opened up. We developed a friendship and today she loves and follows Jesus.
"Persecution continues to increase. Every Saturday there is a program on TV warning people to watch out for evangelical Christians. There are also warning signs everywhere. In school, children are asked by their teachers if anyone at home prays. They want to find out who are the Christians.
"When we do quiet prayer walks, police will arrest us if we are seen with a Bible. Sometimes they will bring a Bible with them to 'plant' and then arrest us. If the police suspect you have Christian literature they will break into your house.
"In the early years, we would meet together in groups of ten believers and one person would preach. But because of pressure against us, we divided into groups of three. This is better because people are more involved. Now at every meeting we read the same scripture passage and each one shares what God has revealed to them. There are four parts to the meeting which each person responds to:
- How is your relationship with God right now?
- How is your current relationship with people in the world?
- How is your relationship with fellow believers?
- Confession time
"Each of the three people agreed to keep the responses confidential.
"Every meeting we also pray that God will bring us a fourth person. Each one prays for one unbeliever. When an unbeliever turns to Christ, the one who led them to the Lord breaks off from the original three and forms a new group. This way the new person does not know the others in case she later denies the faith.
"Whenever possible, we try to come together once a month in a group of 10 to 15 for evening prayer. If we are caught, we receive fines. The employer is notified and each person is interrogated to find out who the other believers are. Every summer we try to meet together for a baptism. Our total group numbers from 40 to 50 secret believers.
'God is strong and works miracles'
"The ministry opportunities God provides are very important to us. My husband and I do marriage counselling because most of our young people do not have Christian parents. Everything we went through was not in vain. The young people say we are an example for them. We rejoice that we can now help others. My friend and I have a special ministry to young women who are getting married and are struggling with the separation from their parents because of Jesus.
"My pastor husband and I now have three children. We desire that they will follow Jesus too. Our greatest need is for prayer that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus. Our focus has recently been on submission to the Holy Spirit. We want the Muslim world to see that our God is strong and works miracles. He has done it for me and he can do it for them."
- For courage and strength for secret believers in Central Asia
- For protection for Christian children as they are questioned by their teachers
- That Christians in Central Asia would continue to be conformed to the image of Christ
- That despite not being able to celebrate Christmas openly, secret believers would truly know Emmanuel - that God is with them.