‘Joy’ on the line in Central Asia

By August 14, 2013

Uzbekistan (MNN) — Religious freedom is hitting a new low in Uzbekistan. According to Forum 18 News, police raided one children’s camp and they’re trying to take the property of another.

Each summer, hundreds of children have the opportunity to attend church-run Christian camps across Central Asia. (Image, caption courtesy SGA)

Each summer, hundreds of children have the opportunity to attend church-run Christian camps across Central Asia. (Image, caption courtesy SGA)

Local Protestants were holding an unregistered children’s camp recently when four buses carrying 80 officials arrived carrying 30 police and 20 riot police. Brandishing rubber batons, a source told Forum 18, they began questioning everyone — including small children.

After collecting statements for six hours, the officials took everyone at the camp — 9 adults and 22 children — back to the police station for further questioning.

And in another region, a children’s camp is at risk of seizure. “Camp Joy” sits on property purchased in 2000 by the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptist (UECB), a registered group of congregations supported by Slavic Gospel Association.

“The state does not want to buy the land back from the UECB. Instead, they want to confiscate it. The intention then is to turn around and sell the land to somebody else,” says SGA’s Joel Griffith.

Although the property’s intended purpose is hosting children’s summer camps and activities, it hasn’t been for this since 2009. That’s when UECB had to change their leadership as a result of a police raid on Camp Joy.

“They actually have not used that for children’s camps since then because it does carry a risk of arrest with it,” Griffith states. “Whatever children’s activities [UECB has] are held at different locations around the country.”

SGA partners help provide each child with his or her very own Russian-language New Testament, as well as other materials and needed supplies for camp ministries. (Image, caption courtesy SGA)

SGA partners help provide each child with his or her very own Russian-language New Testament, as well as other materials and needed supplies for camp ministries. (Image, caption courtesy SGA)

Baptists told Forum 18 that officials have no legal ground to stand on. Under Uzbek law, actions like this have to be done within three years of the land purchase. The UECB bought the Camp Joy property in 2000.

Believers told Forum 18 that they don’t understand why authorities waited 13 years to raise an issue like this. However, the case will go before a judge tomorrow.

“Once this court hearing gets held on August 15, we’ll have a clearer idea of where things stand,” says Griffith.

Pray for justice in tomorrow’s court hearing.

While Uzbekistan’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, Griffith says it’s basically non-existent in everyday life.

“Whatever the churches do they try to do it as quietly as possible, but it’s always at great risk,” he says. “[Uzbekistan is] supposed to have a very secular government; but again, you have the government cracking down on people of all faiths.”

The battle over Camp Joy is only one challenge the UECB faces. Griffith says they also have a hard time registering new churches with the government, another state requirement.

“All religious faiths encounter difficulty,” he explains. “Freedom of religion and freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of practice — they all encounter difficulties.”

It’s a problem noted in Forum 18’s religious freedom survey, published last week, as well as the U.S. International Religious Freedom Report for 2012. Open Doors USA puts Uzbekistan at #16 on their World Watch List, a compilation of the world’s 50 worst persecutors of the Christian faith.

“We need to pray that the Lord would move in the hearts of the authorities to change the situation on-the-ground in Uzbekistan,” Griffith states.

Ask the Lord to protect Gospel workers in Uzbekistan. Pray that the Gospel goes forth unhindered.

“The Church is determined and committed to carrying out the Great Commission, no matter what man may do, and they’ve certainly proven that through the years,” says Griffith.

“Despite the opposition, they’re going to go on proclaiming the Gospel.”

See how SGA supports them in this mission.

(Image courtesy SGA)

(Image courtesy SGA)

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