Uzbekistan is a country in turmoil, both politically and socially. Russia’s economic decline could negatively impact Uzbekistan’s recent growth, Islamic extremism is on the rise, and human rights are largely unprotected. Former President Islam Karimov, who died on September 2, 2016, forbade all political opposition, strictly controlled the nation’s media outlets, and was accused of using systematized torture to maintain his control. His actions even caused political and human rights activists to flee the nation. Sadly, many predict that newly elected Prime Minister and Interim President Shavkat Mirziyoyev will follow in Karimov’s footsteps.
In addition to former President Karimov’s actions, Uzbekistan has also come under scrutiny for its use of child labor in cotton harvesting, and it remains a highway for human trafficking into Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East. In 2014, the government did decrease its number of child workers and agreed to address the trafficking problem, however, much work still needs to be done.
Uzbekistan is currently ranked number 15 on the World Watch List, and Tashkent, the nation’s capital, is also considered a capital of Islamic culture in Asia. The government prevents any religious practice by groups that it considers to be “extreme,” and it heavily punishes the distribution of materials and other activities done by any group that is not officially registered. Several evangelical churches don’t even try to re-register, because the process is so difficult. Several raids and imprisonments have taken place in the past few years, and conditions are becoming increasingly difficult for evangelical churches. Local imams won’t even allow Christians to be buried in state owned cemeteries.
In the midst of this persecution, the number of evangelicals is still growing, and they have the potential to reach their Uzbek neighbors with the gospel! We are forced to work underground in Uzbekistan, but our cultural flexibility allows our School Without Walls (SWW) students to share the gospel with the unreached in an effective and relevant way.
- That Uzbeks, Russians, and Koreans in Uzbekistan can overcome their past differences and develop more cross-cultural outreach. Please also pray that Russian and Korean Christians will continue their excellent evangelism to their own people and grow in passion to reach Uzbeks.
- For School Without Walls (SWW) to effectively train leaders for the underground church, for the growth of the successful sports outreach and other creative forms of evangelism, and for God to provide funds for much-needed Scriptures, along with audio and other electronic resources for training and evangelism.
- That God will heal the mistrust and rivalry that has often marred relationships among Christian groups, building on the growing sense of unity in the face of persecution, in order to bring revival and a new passion and commitment to Christ among Uzbek churches.
- For Uzbekistan’s new president to recognize the importance of Christian morality in ending many of the social problems plaguing the nation, and to end anti-Christian propaganda, repression, and persecution of evangelical Christians in the country.
“My father is a Muslim, and a very respected person in our community. He was always proud of the fact that he is the son of an Imam. When he found a Bible in my room and asked if I was a Christian, I had to choose: My family, or Christ. In that moment, the lessons that I learned about fiery trials at SWW strengthened me,” shared Botir, a SWW student from Uzbekistan.
“After that, my father cursed me, and he often beat me severely because I renounced Islam and disrespected him as the head of our family.” Despite this treatment, Botir remained steadfast in his decision to follow Christ. “Thanks be to God that, during this difficult time, my brothers in Christ opened their homes to me. I felt like Jesus was with me. It was hard to forgive my father, but SWW helped me to see that I needed to do it, so I started to pray for my family,” he shared.
“I can see that my character has improved since I started studying at SWW,” said Botir. “The main difference I can see is that I am now thankful to God for everything that has happened in my life. The Lord has also opened up a career path for me in youth ministry. ” Botir is now ministering to more than 35 young people through youth ministry in Uzbekistan, and he leads a home Bible study for 10-12 people, despite how dangerous and challenging this can be. He has already helped to lead three children to Christ!