On April 10th, the National Security Committee secret police arrested Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov of the Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in Khujand. He remains in custody, under investigation on criminal charges of alleged "extremism." The charges follow the seizure of hymnals and Christian books during a raid on his church. The pastor's family and church members have received no news of his physical condition nor state of health since the arrest.
In early February 2017, the secret police and other law-enforcement agencies began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations. They particularly targeted the church in the town of Konibodom, demanding that the members renounce their faith and leave the church. Some believers were beaten, while others were dismissed from their jobs. The officials, who admittedly stated that their "purpose is to close down churches in Tajikistan and take away their property," enforced closure of the Konibodom church in March.
In early April, the authorities then began raids on the central Sunmin Sunbogym Church in Khujand. While searching the church's premises, they seized the mentioned hymnbooks and other Christian literature. The secret police also condemned another book they had confiscated, More Than a Carpenter, which was written by the highly respected American author Josh McDowell. The officers stated that a group of their religious "experts" concluded that this book, as well as the other Christian texts, are all "extremist."
Authorities frequently use extremism-related charges to punish individuals for exercising freedom of religion, even though these churches are officially registered with the state. Punishments include prison terms of up to twelve years unless an individual voluntarily agrees to stop their activity. Meanwhile, officials in Dushanbe have also closed two kindergartens. One was closed after officials found a Christian songbook, and the other because believers were employed there.
Please prayerfully uphold all the believers in Tajikistan who have come under increasing intimidation and persecution by governmental authorities. Ask God to mightily intervene on their behalf, providing them strength, protection, provision, guidance and encouragement... as they wisely navigate appropriate ways to handle the opposition targeted against them. Also pray that Pastor Kholmatov will soon be released, and that all charges against him are dropped. May the Lord's presence be evident in this case so that those in authority will witness His power at work and come to acknowledge Him as their personal Saviour and Lord.
According to reports, Ethiopia's northern Tigray State is currently exploring the possibilities of adopting a new law that would limit Christian activities to within official church compounds. It is believed that non-orthodox Christians would be the most greatly affected as the new law would make it compulsory for churches seeking its own property to have a minimum of 6,000 members.
Ironically, this number happens to be greater than the total population of non-Orthodox Christians in Tigray State. Furthermore, it is reported that the new law would curb any evangelizing from taking place outside church compounds. Recently, a similar law was implemented in the neighbouring Amhara State to the detriment of its Christian community.
Pray that God will divinely intercept the progress of the proposed new law so that it will not be implemented in the Tigray State. In fact, throughout the deliberation process, may there be a tremendous awareness of God's presence -- impressing upon the state's lawmakers and others of political influence that any new legislation contrary to the spirit of religious freedom should not be passed. We also pray for the believers of Amhara State that they would be spiritually strengthened and emboldened to serve as powerful witnesses in their communities.
After attending VOM-led training sessions with her husband, "Christina" began to meet with women in four villages, teaching Christians and witnessing to non-believers. Before attending the training sessions, she had been afraid to openly share the Gospel. The non-Christian women had frightened Christina by showing her the graves of missionaries, and some vendors in the local market had stopped accepting her money after discovering that she was a believer.
However, Christina gained much encouragement from the sessions on evangelism and church planting, and she praises God for the new method of sharing the Gospel that she had learned during the training. The training sessions -- which included more than a hundred participating pastors, evangelists and their wives -- offered courses in Biblical storytelling, church planting and worship with traditional instruments, among other relevant topics.
May this ministry training continue to be an effective means of reaching even more villagers for Christ so that they, too, will be able to personally testify of His life-saving grace.