Azerbaijan (MNN) — Have you ever been in a place where it seems like you just can't catch a break? One bad thing happens after another.
"The Lord takes those He has set apart for the most difficult task, to often take them through the most difficult suffering," says Eric Moch with Slavic Gospel Association. He's referring to an SGA-sponsored pastor in Azerbaijan who has endured trial after trial.
In the fall of 2007, Zaur Balaev was transferred to a prison colony in Azerbaijan to serve a two-year sentence. Balaev was released in March 2008 on amnesty, but it didn't take local officials long to threaten him with another prison term.
Moch says, "If it wasn't difficult enough for Zaur to endure incarceration and some of the persecution he's experienced from the local government, now his wife has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer."
Zaur's wife, Nunuka, underwent surgery in Moscow, thanks to financial assistance from SGA and its partners. SGA has been the family's only source of help. The Balaev couple then struggled with the challenge of getting to Germany for chemotherapy. Local officials chose this time to raid the church led by Zaur, claiming it wasn't registered.
"Literature was confiscated, and officials went through and…rifled through the office, reminding everyone of the oppression that was occurring during the Soviet days," stated Moch.
Azerbaijan is part of Central Asia, a small pocket of countries between Iran and Russia. Religious freedom seems to be disappearing in the region as Islam becomes increasingly tied with national identity.
"There is a growing sense of nationalism," Moch explains, "resulting in a people that may not really understand what the Muslim faith is, but [they] claim it because of their citizenship and national identity.
"All this included, with pressure from the Russian government to really pull them back in line, has resulted in a harvest that seems to be difficult to harvest."
Pray for Zaur and his wife, and pray for the nations of Central Asia. While justice usually doesn't come for believers in this volatile region, Moch says there is a silver lining.
"They often have to live under this harassment. Yet a lot of times, these are platforms for the Gospel, "said Moch. "The church is able to stand faithful, even before judges and local authorities, to share their faith and explain why they do what they do.
"Everything works together for the sake of the Gospel."