90 Days to Freedom, Part 2

February 13, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Pastor Makset with his wife and children

Pastor Makset Djabbarbergenov, a citizen of Uzbekistan living in exile in Kazakhstan, was arrested and incarcerated in a Kazakh immigration prison. Uzbekistan demanded his extradition to stand trial for his Christian activity and for false charges of terrorism, but during prayer, God assured him that He would not send him back.

Makset spent three days in police detention, and three more in health quarantine before going to the prison. Once he arrived at the immigration prison, he managed to borrow a smuggled cell phone and called his wife, Aygul. She asked if he had received the clothes and food parcels she had registered and sent to him through jail officials. He hadn’t. “I went home and cried, I was so upset,” she said.

Shortly thereafter, Makset’s own cell phone was secretly slipped to him, enabling him to make regular, brief calls to Aygul and the children. It was a vital link, since the prison refused to allow her any visiting rights.

As weeks turned into months, however, Makset admitted it was hard to keep focused on God’s promise when everyone around him was sure he would be sent to Uzbekistan. “My fears kept building up. I knew it was Satan trying to put this fear in my heart. So I told him, ‘I have this letter from my God here in my hand, the Bible. Your words never came true in the Bible. You are the father of lies!’ ”

At first as he read from a smuggled Bible, he asked God, “Please show miracles to the men around me here.” But as he continued to pour over his Bible, sometimes spending more than four or five hours every afternoon behind the blankets draped around his bed, he said God revealed another reason he was in prison. “Instead, God showed me that it was me He wanted to show His face to. He was telling me that He could trust me, like Job, to go through this persecution. It was not just for the people around me, the authorities, the 10 or 11 other prisoners in my cell. God wanted me to see His power.”

During his three months behind bars, he read 22 books of the Old Testament and 10 of the New Testament, keeping a detailed journal of all the things God was teaching him as he read and prayed. A dozen other books were openly sent to him through prison officials, who apparently did not realize their religious nature.

One book told how a Chinese house church flourished and grew for 21 years, all the while their pastor was sitting in jail. “Persecution causes the spread of the church. It’s the key to growth,” he concluded. “So I told Jesus then, ‘If this is the way to grow Your church, I am willing to sit here in this prison.'”

Close Christian friends raised funds to hire an ethnic Russian lawyer experienced in representing refugees in Kazakhstan. He was less than hopeful. “It may be useless to hire me,” Aygul recalled him saying at their first meeting.

She told him she didn’t believe him. “We believe in God, and He will help us,” she responded.
Hopeful or not, the lawyer was the only person allowed to visit Makset in prison.

“He was my only visitor, and he came just a few times. And he was usually discouraging,” Makset said. “But at least,” he smiled, “I enjoyed the long walk I got to take from my cell to meet with him.”

Meanwhile, Makset and Aygul continued their furtive phone calls. By the end of September, they had agreed that they would accept asylum abroad if the UNHCR could help arrange it. They were still unsure, however, if the Kazakh government would choose to ignore Uzbekistan’s demands and actually allow Makset to go to another country.

Accepting asylum in another country was a difficult decision. After a previous arrest in 2008, Sweden and the United States offered the family asylum through the efforts of the UNHCR. “It would be good for your children,” they urged him at the time. “They are offering you citizenship there if you leave.”

“But I had just started a church,” Makset remembered thinking to himself. “I was tempted, and I had a one-month deadline to accept it. But after I prayed and fasted, I chose to stay, and fruit came-we baptized 50 new believers in the next few years. “

So when the UNHCR asked him this second time, he again prayed, asking God, “Then who will lead the church here, if I leave?” He heard God’s answer clearly, It’s not your church; it’s Mine. This time, he knew he was leaving behind an established congregation with a team of church leaders. With their difficult decision made, the paperwork began. In October, the UNHCR managed to send Makset papers through the lawyer to sign, agreeing they would accept asylum wherever it was offered, with one exception.

“Anywhere but Uzbekistan,” they said. Next week we continue his testimony.

Father, in Your Word, the Holy Spirit grants godly wisdom to those who ask. Thank You for the wisdom and courage You gave Makset to remain in Kazakhstan in 2008, and for the fruitful ministry following his arrest. But thank You also for the current wisdom You granted to leave. We pray for Your church in Kazakhstan that it might be a powerful force for good to those around them, and that Your gospel would be spread among the people of this country which  is dominated by the darkness of Islam. In the name of Jesus who reigns over His church, Amen.

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