Possible crackdown on church

By August 3, 2009

Uzbekistan (MNN) — Pastors and leaders
in Uzbekistan's Baptist Union face criminal charges related to their children's
summer camp ministry. Accused of misusing property and unlawfully
teaching children religion against their will and the will of their parents,
they may face fines and/or imprisonment, as well as the confiscation of the
camp's property.    

"It's just simply a ridiculous
charge," said Joel Griffith of Slavic Gospel Association. "For any children that would come to this camp,
their parents sign an agreement allowing them to be able to come there. It's well-known that they're Baptist; it's
known what the Baptist church teaches. So
none of this is done under any mystery per se, but they're trying to make it
seem like this has been done without parental consent."

"Camp Joy" serves hundreds of
children every summer. The first signs
of trouble appeared when two articles attacking the camp appeared in a
government-sponsored newspaper, according to Forum 18 News. 

Forum 18 quotes one of the
articles: "‘Children attend religious
meetings every evening. They study various Protestant books. They ask Jesus for
forgiveness of their so-called 'sins.' Children become psychologically
traumatized in the camp.'"

The articles also alleged that
conditions in the camp were unsanitary. 
Baptist leaders deny all the charges, Forum 18 reports, except a few
fire code violations they had not finished correcting when authorities paid a
surprise visit. 

"'In Uzbekistan, optimal
conditions have been created for representatives of various faiths who live in
peace and accord,'" one of the articles concluded. "'However, the concept of freedom does not
mean that a 'paradise' will be created here for all kinds of missionaries…who
draw the youth of this country into their ranks by deceitful ways. Parents also
need to be vigilant so their children do not fall under the influence of such

The government has harassed
believers before, Griffith said, but generally not to this extent. Usually it targets the unregistered church, but
the Baptist Union is registered. Believers fear the development may indicate a government crackdown on

"I think the leadership there
feels that they have a really serious problem with radical Islam," Griffith
explained. "They're very, very afraid of
having that get out of hand there. But
for them to be able to crack down on radical Islam, they have to…in essence,
crack down on everybody. That is just
the reality of the situation there, and I think we're seeing that increase."

Technically, Uzbekistan's
constitution guarantees freedom of religion. 
In reality, however, Christians are harassed and oppressed. Many countries in the former Soviet Union
tend to respond to pressure from western countries, but in Uzbekistan, that is
not the case. 

"The leadership there just seems
to do what it wants to do, regardless of western pressure of any kind,"
Griffith said. He urged Christians to
pray for the Uzbekistan. While this
situation presents serious challenges for the church, it cannot stop the
progress of God's Kingdom. 

"We know that nothing will hinder
the Lord from building His church," Griffith said. "The evangelical churches survived under
communism, and they've survived in countries that are even more oppressive than
this. But we need to intercede for our brothers and sisters, to support them as
much as possible during a time like this."

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