Central Asia: Where inviting Christ in opens a door to persecution

May 25, 2022 by Ryan Hamm in Persecution updates

Ruslan*, a church leader from Central Asia, drives a simple, inconspicuous car and usually doesn’t get to his destinations until late at night. He knows which doors to knock on—the doors that will open quietly to let him in, shutting quickly behind him so no one in the neighborhood sees.

Once inside, he gets to work. He begins to worship with the people gathered inside in underground house churches. Ruslan is a pastor, and these are his congregations.

Ruslan is a secret believer himself, so he’s careful not to endanger the Christians he serves. He knows many of the homes in which Christ is secretly worshiped. Ruslan has been involved in ministry for more than 16 years. He conducts his ministry in churches gathering in different homes for safety reasons. He doesn’t do this alone. A whole team is involved in this mission.

featured in presence magazineTheir goal? To reach Muslim background
believers who live in rural villages in
remote regions. Ruslan and his co-workers usually meet their congregations
in homes, spending three days delivering
encouragement and support. Preaching
the gospel is, of course, a major part of each visit.

Ruslan also knows that when believers open their doors to share the gospel, they may invite persecution in as well. But he continues the mission God has given him. “When we worship, we don’t make any noise, and we don’t clap our hands to avoid creating attention,” he says. “We just sit together at a table as if we are drinking tea.”

This is the only way believers can have fellowship in this part of Central Asia. It’s risky for the local Christians—very risky.

“If you are to open your house in a village, it is imperative that you are a serious, firm believer,” Ruslan says. “You are opening your home [to] the risk of persecution.”

A growing wave

Ruslan describes persecution as a growing wave. It starts small, then builds. The Central Asian pastor experienced this personally. His sister was the first in their family to become a Christian. Their mother, who was firmly against her daughter’s conversion, began actively opposing her new faith.

She wrote to the local newspaper about the church Ruslan’s sister attended, accusing it of being a sect that took her children away from her. She continued to try to stop the church from meeting until she eventually felt the pull of the Spirit and accepted Jesus herself. Ruslan followed soon after. Unfortunately, when this happened, all of Ruslan’s closest relatives severed their relationship with him and his immediate family.

The persecution didn’t end there. There was persecution against Ruslan’s children, too. He sent his daughter to a local school, and she began to share the gospel with her classmates. Her classmates, all Muslim, said, “Stop doing this because we are not interested and do not want to listen.” However, his daughter kept sharing until she was dragged into the street, beaten and thrown into the winter snow.

Afterward, they warned her: “If you do not stop, we will burn your face with acid.”

Ruslan was forced to transfer her to another school.

Then there were the attacks on his home. Ruslan’s house was routinely vandalized, and its windows were repeatedly broken. He also received two warnings from the authorities to stop his ministry.

But still, he continued.

An emotionally targeted persecution

One of the most emotionally draining forms of persecution in this part of Central Asia happens after a believer dies. When a Christian dies in one of these rural areas, the local community will not allow the believer to be buried in the local cemetery, even if the person is from that village. The villagers say the Christian body will desecrate the Muslim cemetery.

Ruslan has seen this firsthand after the death of a believer in a rural village. “When we started the burial process, I saw many people coming toward us,” he remembers. “Fearing the worst, we stood shoulder to shoulder with shovels and got ready because we thought they would stone us. But instead, they told us that we could not bury this man there as he was not from their village and must take him back. Fortunately, a local government person came and managed to appease the crowd to avoid further tension.”

Even though it wasn’t true that the man was from a different town, Ruslan and the others decided to stop digging and leave everything until the following day. However, upon their return, they saw that villagers had used the freshly dug grave to bury a Muslim.

“The head of the local government said I was warned and that if I valued my life, then I should not bury this man here,” Ruslan says. “Thus, we were forced to bury him in a third village, just because he was a Christian.” This kind of constant struggle is draining on believers—and its intent is to make the faith of Christians weary. But God has not forgotten them.

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How you’re helping spread the gospel in Central Asia

Through local partners, Open Doors started to help Ruslan 13 years ago. He was invited to a pastors’ conference in Central Asia and then realized it was a secret meeting. Open Doors partners spoke about how we help believers in Central Asian countries

Ruslan was invited to share his experience, the many difficulties he had gone through and the persistent persecutions. It was the beginning of a strong relationship that has lasted.

“Open Doors helped me personally when I needed help,” he says. “They helped me undergo diabetes treatment because, at that time, I could not afford it. I was on insulin, but after this expensive course of treatment, I stopped taking insulin and then, with God’s help, I stopped taking pills and was completely healed. They helped me, as they took the first step to find me.”

Muslim religious leaders in one village discovered that some in their community had converted to Christianity. According to Ruslan, they gave three orders to make life impossible for them: Christian children were no longer allowed to attend school; cattle belonging to Christians were not allowed to eat the same grass as the livestock of Muslims; and Christian farmers were not given water to irrigate their crops. No school for their children, no grass for their cattle, and no water for their crops: No chance for survival.

Ruslan turned to Open Doors for help. Thanks to your gifts and prayers, Open Doors partners on the ground were able to deliver aid to these desperate believers. “You helped these believers survive these difficult times,” Ruslan says. “Some received hay, others received water, and others received sewing machines or other tools that could help them earn a living. [Our church is a poor church.] What we cannot help with, you can.”

Because of your support

Ruslan couldn’t be more grateful for the help of Open Doors and its supporters. Your prayers and support are what enable him and his team to bring the gospel to forgotten villages in remote areas.

Open Doors also provided counseling to local Christians who went through severe persecution. “When we contacted Open Doors and shared about [the] situations and that we needed support in solving such issues, everything was provided,” Ruslan says. “What you do is essential. You are not ordinary people but an answer from the Lord. We know that we are not alone but part of a large Christian family. [What does a family do?] At the most trying moments they will come to support you.

“Thanks to your prayers and support, we are able to survive in this hostile environment,” he says.

To discover more incredible stories like Ruslan’s, click here to download Open Doors’ free magazine, Presence.

 

Pictured: Ruslan (identity hidden for his protection)