Food for persecuted Christian converts in Kyrgyzstan

Food for persecuted Christian converts in Kyrgyzstan

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven."  (Luke 6:22-23)

”Marat”, a Kyrgyz Christian convert from Islam, will not forget the day that his best friend, a Muslim, discovered he had become a follower of Jesus Christ.

The friend rounded on Marat declaring, “If I had a gun I would be the first to shoot you because you believe in Jesus Christ. I would put a gun to your head.”

Marat and others among the small but growing number of converts in Central Asia endure daily hostility and rejection from the majority Muslim society in which they live.

Believers are ostracised by their closest family, neighbours and communities because of their decision to leave Islam. Anti-Christian hostility can cost converts their homes, jobs
and livelihoods.

Yet far from being downcast, Marat is strengthened and uplifted in his faith, taking comfort in prayer and the Word of God, in particular from Luke 6:22-23, quoted at the beginning of this article.

“In those moments, when we pray for overcoming such adversities, the Lord God listens, answers, directs and protects our prayers,” said Marat.

He and his family are among 150 impoverished Christian convert families (about 700 individuals) living in a harsh and remote mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan who thank God and Barnabas for providing them with food parcels during the bitter winter.

The parcels contained staples such as rice, pasta, buckwheat, flour, vegetable oil and tea, which sustained them for three months, when temperatures plummeted to -20°C. Not having to buy these food basics, the families had money to buy coal for heating, winter clothing and other essentials.

Food parcels were distributed through churches to families most in need. Many of the beneficiaries were unable to get work because Muslims refuse to employ Christians. Others were struggling because of the loss of a parent and breadwinner, or because of age or disability. All have endured hostility and discrimination because of their decision to leave Islam.

The gifts strengthened the churches and gave hope to the Christian community, who took comfort from the knowledge that they were supported by the wider family of believers.

“When we pray for overcoming such adversities, the Lord God listens”

Believers must worship in private houses

“The moment villagers find out that you are a Christian they turn away and refuse to accept your greetings when you meet them,” a pastor explained. “It is very difficult when your closest family, friends, neighbours and colleagues separate themselves from you and stop talking.”

Convert church congregations are small, typically made up of around 20 to 40 adult Christians. It is impossible for them to meet the legal criterion for official church registration that requires churches to have at least 200 members.

As a result there are no registered church buildings in this region, and congregations must gather illegally in private houses to worship.

Furthermore, Muslims have refused to allow Christians to bury their loved ones in local cemeteries, despite a requirement for space to be allocated for all religious groups. Kyrgyzstan has a few Christian cemeteries, but they are not within easy reach. On some occasions Christians have had to resort to burying their loved ones in fields.

Grace overcomes suffering

“Nurbek” acknowledges that the relentless persecution sometimes makes him angry. His family ran a small shop but it was impossible to trade because Muslim leaders turned the community against them.

Yet he remains steadfast in his faith. “God has heard our prayers many times,” said Nurbek. “We overcome with great patience the suffering of such persecution through His grace and the help provided.”

Zhumashbek’s parents cut all contact with him when he and his wife and their children became followers of the Lord. Like Nurbek, Zhumashbek has become accustomed to verbal abuse and the threat of physical violence against him.

“Ten men from the Muslim community came to me and threatened that if I did not stop talking about God they would throw me in the river,” he recalled. “It happened four or five times. In every possible way these people threatened me.”

Yet Zhumashbek was not downhearted. “God told us ‘do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul’,” he said, referencing Matthew 10:28.

”God told us 'do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul'”

Lives changed through Christ

Subsistence farmer Rahat and his family came to Christ in 2000. “The coming of Jesus changed our lives,” he states, “and the peace of God came to our family. Jesus forgave my sin.”

Yet Rahat and his family were rejected by their community. “The whole village tried to drive me away,” he said, “not giving me water for my garden, not letting me graze my cattle.

“At that time the leaders of my church and our brothers in Jesus were praying and inspired the parish. Eventually the chase subsided. The Lord Jesus gave me strength … yet there are still opponents.”

The hostility that these faithful servants of Christ endure is replicated in many communities around the globe where our persecuted brothers and sisters live as a minority. Yet their trust in the Lord enables them to endure.

The mission of Barnabas Aid is to carry out what we are instructed in Galatians 6:10, “Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Kyrgyz shopkeeper Nurbek echoed the same verse when he thanked Barnabas supporters for funding the food parcels that helped his family, and his brothers and sisters in Christ.

“There are many people all over the world who, like us, suffer in the name of Jesus,” he said. “They suffer persecution and lose their lives, family, housing and land.

“Barnabas Aid provides comprehensive support and assistance to those who suffer in this way. They have helped the believers in our village, including our family, with food they need every day. Thanks be to our God too. May His name be glorified everywhere.

“We sincerely thank Barnabas Aid. May your rewards be from heaven. God bless your services.”

Project reference: PR1506 (Winter food and fuel for needy Christians in Central Asia)

New law proposes to tighten restrictions on Kyrgyz churches

The Kyrgyzstan government is seeking to tighten still further the restrictions on churches.

Its proposed new law on “Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations” is, at the time of writing, being considered by the country’s parliament, having been through a month-long period of public discussion.

If passed into law without any changes, religious organisations would still need to be registered, and this would only be for a maximum of five years. When this period expires, the organisations would have to apply
to re-register.

Under the new law, organisations would need to have at least 100 adult founder members living in the same district, 500 adult members in the same oblast (region) and 3,000 adult members living “proportionately” in at least five of the country’s
nine regions.

The current Religion Law requires organisations to have only 200 adult founder members living anywhere
in Kyrgyzstan.

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