“P raise the Lord, all you nations … For great is his love towards us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.”
These opening verses of Psalm 117 were chosen by a congregation in Uzbekistan to give thanks to God for the construction of their new church building, partly funded by Barnabas.
Their old church was poorly constructed and provided worshippers with little protection from the intense heat of the summer, the biting cold of the winter or the heavy rains of the autumn.
The new building that replaces it has a 400-seat worship hall with air conditioning and a ventilation system, a baptistery and a room for parents with young children.
“The hall has turned out to be bright and comfortable,” said a church leader. “It is easy to cool in 45 degree heat and warm in winter.” He added, “We express our great gratitude to Barnabas for the financial and prayerful assistance provided.”
Church endured years of persecution
The design of the new building is unusual. It is made to be collapsible so that, should the church be forced to move because of a resurgence in persecution, then the building can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere.
This church, formed around the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, was one of the first to be persecuted by the authorities in the newly created Republic of Uzbekistan. The authorities were alarmed because of the church’s growing number of members, particularly Uzbek converts from Islam.
In the later years of the 1990s, the church was fined, some members were arrested, and its leaders were forced to work in secret or to flee the country.
Today this church is legally registered and is one of the largest in Uzbekistan, with 33 daughter churches across the country. In common with the Uzbek Church as a whole, it is benefitting from the authorities’ more tolerant attitude towards the country’s small Christian community.
Restrictions on church registration, religious teaching and Christian events remain. However, state hostility towards Muslim-background believers has reduced, and the number of churches granted official registration is slowly increasing.
Warmth for a rural church
We recently helped a small registered church in a rural area of Uzbekistan to complete the refurbishment of its dilapidated church building.
Most of the congregation are converts from Islam. Many are pensioners because young, able-bodied people leave the area in search of work. As a result the church barely has enough to pay its utility bills.
The church shares their building with two unregistered churches whose congregations would otherwise have to meet illegally in unregistered buildings.
Before the refurbishment, the church building was so cold in winter that Christians sometimes had to resort to worshipping in cars with the heaters on.
With funding from Barnabas, the church has a new boiler providing hot water in the kitchen, which has been refitted by worshippers, and heating in the building.