Kazakhstan (MNN) — Kazakhstan has experienced a lot of religious firsts over the last year, including the introduction of two new restrictive religion laws. The start of 2012 has thrust them into another one: a spot on the Open Doors World Watch List.
The World Watch List is a detailed analysis of Christian persecution worldwide, ranking the top 50 nations with the worst persecution worldwide. The 2012 list came out this week, revealing Kazakhstan at slot 45.
It's Kazakhstan's first time on the list. Still, Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association says he wasn't surprised to see Kazakhstan ranked.
"When you consider the ‘Stan' countries that are largely Muslim in makeup, Kazakhstan–since the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991–had really been a country where there was quite a bit of religious freedom," says Griffith. "Here in the past couple of years, we've seen that steadily start to decrease, sadly, with Kazakhstan joining the other central Asian Islamic Republics and cracking down on their religious groups."
Kazakhstan does seem to be following suit with surrounding countries. Other former Soviet nations have been on the list for years. Tajikistan came in at 34 this year, Azerbaijan at 25 and Turkmenistan at 18, to name a few. Uzbekistan moved up from 9th last year to a ranking of 7th for 2012–a placement two spots worse than Iraq.
"It's hard to imagine that the Soviet Union and atheistic communism came to an end 20 years ago," says Griffith. "It's almost like we're waking up and entering that world all over again. Even though it doesn't go under the name ‘Soviet Union,' we're seeing some of the same restrictive practices rear their heads again."
Much of the reasoning behind crackdowns in these nations is the avoidance of radical Islam. Unfortunately, Christians suffer so much as a result that ministry may need to resort to old ways, says Griffith.
"I think basically we have to do what we did during the Soviet days–as long as we're able to assist [churches] with resources, to do that as directly as we can. And then we have to start planning for times when maybe access is going to be very restricted and we need to be a little bit more creative about how we do it."
Ministry will not need to revert completely back to Soviet days; Griffith points out that the addition of internet and smart phone capabilities to ministry now certainly allow for more opportunities. Still, the safety of the church is a priority.
Prayer is needed for these former Soviet nations. The Gospel is still spreading despite restrictions, but pray for safety and boldness as these Christians enter a new year of hardship. Pray, more immediately, that SGA children's Christmas programs would not be disrupted tomorrow, Russian Christmas.