Central Asia (MNN) – Some Central Asian churches may soon be facing stricter regulations. A Central Asian country, which we can’t name for security purposes, has freedom of religion. But, it limits this freedom through religion laws.
Possible Compulsory Reregistration
And right now, it’s looking at amending its current one. Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith says, “They are apparently getting ready to put a law through parliament that would impose new restrictions on freedom of religion and belief. This particular bill would apparently require all registered non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox religious organizations to basically reregister.”
(Photo Courtesy of Slavic Gospel Association)
From what Griffith understands, the amendment hasn’t actually been submitted to parliament yet, but it’s on its way. Still, it’s interesting the nationally recognized Islamic faith along with the Metropolitan Region of the Russian Orthodox will both be exempt from these requirements.
“But, the specifics on the law basically would require local Russian Orthodox churches…(I’m assuming that means outside of the approved structure) they’re going to be forced to reregister as well as most protestant organizations,” Griffith explains.
Affect on Churches
The amendment has a lot of provisions to it, including heavier punishments. However, until the final draft is put through parliament, there’s no sure way to know how the amendment will affect churches.
“There are possible punishments being rendered under the administrative code for first offenses. Fines if there are violations. And there’s also a provision possible there about children’s participation and meetings for worship,” Griffith explains.
“The current draft going through the Prime Minister’s office apparently requires one parent, close adult relative, or guardian to be present at a religious event. And a child would not be allowed to be present if one parent objected.”
Unregistered churches technically can’t meet. However, this hasn’t stopped unregistered churches in the past. Still, if these churches reregister, it could be a long process with the possibility of not being granted reregistration.
And while registration is supposed to grant the churches the ability to carry out certain activities, Griffith says what they’ve found in practice isn’t always the case. Even registered churches can face challenges from their country’s government when trying to do ministry.
“We know what the churches are going to do. Regardless of what man says, they’re going to obey God and they’re going to continue to proclaim the Gospel,” Griffith reassures. “They may have to do it clandestinely. They may have to do it discreetly, but, they’re going to obey the Lord.”
Raid on Literature
Meanwhile, in a different Central Asian country, an official state-registered Baptist church member’s private apartment was raided. The original reason for the raid came on the grounds of the raiders claiming to be looking for a gun.
(Photo Courtesy SGA)
Instead, they confiscated this particular individual’s Christian literature, including the Bible. And now, the individual who was raided is being charged with possessing the Christian literature.
“That’s a concern because usually what we’ve seen in more recent years, the unregistered Baptist churches there have faced quite a lot of difficulty. But, typically the ones that are registered with the state, the Union of Evangelical Christian’s Baptist, they’re the largest evangelical fellowship in the former Soviet Union, they’re registered and they haven’t encountered as many difficulties as the unregistered,” Griffith shares.
“Well this is the first instance, at least in recent months that I’m aware of, where somebody connected with an actual state-registered Baptist church got raided.”
In the past, sometimes children’s summer camps have been raided in Central Asia. Still, raids on actual registered churches were rare, if they happened at all.
But the recent upset along with the other Central Asian country looking to amend its religion law indicates how these countries are starting to become even more strict against Central Asian churches. And it’s something which should be concerning Christians across the globe.
SGA’s Immanuel’s Child ministry is gearing up at Russian Christmas approaches January 7. (Photo courtesy of SGA)
“We just want to keep the resources flowing to those churches as best as we can and help support their pastors, their missionary pastors, their children’s workers to be able to continue on their ministry as best we can,” Griffith says.
“And that certainly is our prayer that the Lord’s hand would continue to be on these situations. I mean, nothing takes Him by surprise and he’s going to continue to build His Church. And by God’s grace and provision, we’ll continue to be able to serve them and help them the best we can.”
How to Pray
Slavic Gospel Association stays away from politics, but the ministry’s main concern is being able to come alongside the churches it works with. So please, will you intercede for these Central Asian Christians and churches through prayer?
Pray for the churches in Central Asia, for their ability to share the Gospel, and for God’s continued work there. Also, pray for these Central Asian churches as they approach January and their Christmas outreach program, Immanuel’s Child. Ask for the Gospel’s impact during this time of outreach along with the encouragement and protection of the outreach workers. And finally, pray for an abundance of people to come to Christ during this Christmas outreach.
To learn more about SGA’s work and how to help, click here!