Uzbekistan is the strategic key for all of Central Asia, and tensions remain high between the post-Soviet regime and the Islamist movements (most radical in the Fergana Valley). Much of the population is tired of poverty, corruption, and failure to make economic progress, and Islamists attract jobless young men. Pray for genuine change, and leadership that governs for the sake of the people. Pray for the true peace only Jesus can give.
Tashkent is the Islamic capital of Central Asia in terms of both numbers and influence. Islam is more a part of the Uzbek cultural identity than it is a faithfully practiced religion; folk/occult practices are deeply tied into the beliefs of mostly the rural Uzbeks. Since a burst of Islamic activity soon after independence, the government has reined in most Islamic missionaries and mosque-buildings and tightly controls and monitors all Islamic activity.
Uzbek believers continue to increase despite great opposition. The prospect of retribution from three sides - the government, local Muslim leaders and the community (family and neighbours) - has not halted growth. There are now probably more than 10,000 Uzbek believers, where there were possibly none only a generation ago. But much prayer is still needed:
- For the discipling and mentoring of new believers. No one knows how many isolated individuals and clusters exist, but there are far more than those affiliated with officially recognized churches. Many fall away when difficulties intensify; pray that Christians might be integrated quickly into home groups or fellowships where they can grow. Many others find their witness curtailed by fear; pray for boldness for them.
- For local believers who are accused of being cultural/religious traitors and "rice Christians". Pray for gentleness and humility as well as right motives for all those who seek to integrate into the churches.
- For the distribution of believers. Most Uzbek Christians live in Tashkent and other cities, despite 63% of Uzbeks living in rural areas.
- For indigenous leadership to be raised up. Bible training for this infant Church is urgently needed, as is spiritual maturity and godliness. Fast-growing churches need quality leaders even more urgently.
- For cultural authenticity. Ask the Lord to raise up culturally appropriate Uzbek Christian literature, music, worship styles and fellowship structures. There are Uzbek ministry-training courses, led and taught completely by Uzbeks. These things are beginning to emerge, with significant fruit as a result.
Uzbekistan's government relentlessly persecutes the Church. Dynamic and evangelism-oriented churches, especially Uzbek churches, are particularly targeted. Uzbek Christian leaders have extensive files on them compiled by the 14 different government agencies that monitor religious activity. Persecution tactics include: public humiliation, property seizure, book and Bible-burning, expulsion of Christian students, dismissal of Christian employees, arrests (followed by beating and torture) under the flimsiest of pretexts and massive fines for first offences (up to 50 times the annual salary). The near impossibility of legally registering has birthed a mobile and fast-growing house church movement. A well-networked union of house churches helps to create stability and support amid the persecution. Pray for Christians who are under pressure to betray fellow believers to the authorities. Pray too for those persecuted and in prison, that God may give them strength and boldness.
The unreached. Only a small fraction of the Muslim majority have ever had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Almost every Muslim people group is less than 0.1% Christian. Pray specifically for the:
- Karakalpaks, who live south of the Aral Sea and are more Russified Sunni Muslims with strong Sufi influence. Nukus, the regional capital, is witnessing unprecedented church growth, despite persecution being most intense in this area. A few thousand have come into the Kingdom in recent years. Since the government shut every non-Orthodox church, almost all growth is through underground house churches. Uzbeks in the region are also coming to Christ. Pray for the Church here to stand fast and to keep growing and for the completion of the Bible in Karakalpak.
- Tajiks comprise a majority in both Samarkand and Bukhara. There are few believers among them. Iranian-Median rather than Turkic, they are discriminated against by the government. Pray that their suffering might draw them to Christ.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.