Makset Djabbarbergenov, was put in a Kazakh prison last September and was facing possible extradition to Uzbekistan to stand trial for religious activity and false charges of terrorism. Last week we read that he signed papers for the UNHCR agreeing to accept asylum wherever it was offered-anywhere but Uzbekistan.
The process of obtaining an offer of asylum, however, proved slow and frustrating. “It seemed like my time in prison would never end,” Makset said. “I doubted God’s promise almost every day, all those weeks.” In spite of his fears, he said he always heard God speaking to him, “answering my doubts with promise after promise.”
On November 7, when his wife Aygul was finally informed that Sweden had offered them asylum; she broke down and cried for joy right there in the UNHCR office. It was the answer to the first of their prayers-Which country will accept us?
Now for the second prayer: would Kazakhstan actually let them leave?
“I was instructed not to tell anyone,” she said, “for Makset’s safety, because if people found out, it could make it difficult to get him out of prison.” She couldn’t even directly tell Makset. “Our lawyer found out later, when he took in the papers Makset had to sign, to agree for our amnesty visas. But we didn’t tell him any details, how we were doing it.”
The entire process was all carefully choreographed. The High Commissioner for Refugees waited to approach Sweden until Makset and Aygul had agreed to accept asylum. He didn’t approach the Kazakh government until Sweden had made its offer. Now, the commissioner cautioned Aygul to tell no one.
“I was so grateful to God,” she said. “But I didn’t dare tell our kids, so I had to keep it a secret from them and our friends until just two days before we were scheduled to leave. And even then, they knew we were leaving, but not where we were going.”
“But even after I knew that Sweden had accepted me,” Makset admitted, “I was not really sure that I would ever leave the prison safely. Would the Kazakh government really release me?”
Three long weeks passed without an answer. By the last week of November, Aygul cried out to God in frustration. “Lord, I have no more strength!” she prayed through tears. “I am ready to give up.”
At noon on November 30, Aygul walked into the head office of the UNHCR, responding to a vague call with no idea of what to expect. Good news? Or more delays? “The Kazakh government has just agreed to release Makset from prison, and to allow us to escort him and your family safely out of the country,” the official announced, looking pleased.
Makset isn’t entirely sure why Kazakhstan decided to set him free. He suspects that a likely factor was the widespread international outrage after June 2011 when the Kazakh government deported 28 Uzbeks back to Tashkent, to face almost certain imprisonment and torture. Rebuked for their clear violation of international law and agreements they had signed, the Kazakh authorities promised not to repeat it.
Warning that Uzbek officials might try to kidnap Makset as he left prison and whisk him across the border, the UNHCR advised Aygul to wait until the night of the following Tuesday, when they would walk him out of prison, and through the Almaty airport with his family, in a few quick hours. The UN officials admitted they “couldn’t really be sure it was going to work” until Makset was actually out of prison, through the airport immigration checkpoint, and on the airplane flying out of Kazakhstan airspace.
It was Friday and time was short. Makset had permission to leave, but Aygul needed to get the required permits for herself and the children before government offices closed that afternoon. “It was no small miracle to get our exit visa that fast, to be able to leave on Tuesday,” she said.
Aygul kept her secret until Monday, December 3. Then, guarding her words carefully, she told Makset over his mobile phone that he would be released the next day, and that UNHCR security officials would be waiting to meet him.
Next week, look for the conclusion of this dramatic story of God’s sovereignty.
Thank You, Father, for orchestrating Makset’s dramatic release from prison. As we look back over his story, we see how You used his time in prison to show him the power of Your presence. You used his time in Kazakhstan to grow your church there. And when You had raised up leaders to take over his work, You put all the pieces together in perfect timing to bring about his freedom. Thank You for the encouragement it brings to our own lives as we Your hand at work. We pray for Makset and Aygul as they rebuild their lives in Sweden and see how You will use them there…and we are confident You will. In the name of Jesus who has provided everything we need to accomplish His plans, Amen.