A Christian congregation in Azerbaijan is waiting to see if a judge will uphold a court order that denied its right to meet and “liquidated” the church. On April 25th Judge Tahira Asadova of Baku’s Administrative Economic Court ordered the Greater Grace Church to be “liquidated” after the State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO) accused it of failing to register. The liquidation order means that all of the church’s activities are now illegal. The church has appealed the decision in a higher court and is awaiting the outcome. “If the court upholds the decision, we will have no right to assemble,” said Mechti Suleymanov, an elder at Greater Grace Church. “If we continue to meet, then they will come and start harassing us.”
Greater Grace’s problems are part of a larger religious crackdown in Azerbaijan, where the population is 88 percent Muslim. Although the government is secular and freedom of religion is technically guaranteed by the constitution, in 2009 the SCWRO began requiring all religious groups to register. To date, only two of the Protestant churches in Azerbaijan have had their registrations approved. The overwhelming majority of the registrations have been granted to Shia Muslim groups. “For the most part, people are quiet,” said Suleymanov. “They know there is nothing to be done about it. They are just trusting God.”
Father, we pray that Your name will be lifted high in Azerbaijan. We consider today the plight of the Greater Grace Church, though for now we do not know the result of the court ruling on their appeal. Whatever the ruling is, we call on You to uphold them in their commitment to worship You. While You are not confined to earthly edifices, for Your name’s sake we pray that the church in Baku will be permitted to worship freely in their church building. And we pray success for other churches in Azerbaijan applying to register officially. If they are forced underground, we are encouraged by thoughts of China and other countries where the church grew and flourished underground, and we pray that the believers in Azerbaijan will be comforted and encouraged to continue to serve in Your authority and power. Thank You for Your promise to Peter, and to us, that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Whatever the government there may do, we know that Your church will survive and grow. In the name of Jesus who has triumphed over the evil one, Amen.