Tajikistan (MNN) — A network of churches in Tajikistan is under heavy scrutiny. Their crime? Having children and teens under the age of 18 at religious services.
In Tajikistan, it’s illegal for underage minors to engage in religious activities, even if they’re with their parents. Several security officers attended Sunday services in two towns to film and take photos for evidence.
Kristin Wright, Advocacy Director with Open Doors USA, says they’re keeping an eye on the still-unfolding situation. “Since then, there’s been a criminal investigation against the church and against the members. These members are being questioned on a daily basis. It’s a situation of real concern for Christians, not just of this church, but churches across Tajikistan where these severe regulations really prohibit parents from even bringing their children to church and introducing them to the Gospel.
“Right now, the authorities are planning to close the churches and make the activity completely prohibited. So that’s obviously the worst case scenario, as well as just that constant stress the members are under, being questioned on a regular basis.”
Additionally, Tajikistan is 98 percent Muslim. But being a Tajik Muslim is more than their religion; it’s their ethnic identity.
Because of this, Wright explains, “the officers were even questioning why there were Tajik and Uzbek members in the churches, because they’re saying, ethnically, these individuals are Muslim, so what are they doing at a church service? However, of course, you and I believe people should be able to change their religion, but that’s not that easy in a country like Tajikistan. It’s one of the reasons why Tajikistan ranks at number 35 on the Open Doors World Watch List.”
She adds, “Last year, it’s also significant that the [United States] State Department designated Tajikistan as a country of particular concern for the first time ever, and that’s again because of these really strict laws against freedom of religion and belief.”
The persecution Tajik believers face isn’t just at the government level. It creeps into every sphere of their lives due to “very harsh Islamic extremism, mostly relegated to the family sphere [and] the local community where believers can face persecution from that direction as well.”
But persecution hasn’t destroyed the Church in Tajikistan, and God continues to sustain them. There are several ways we, as the global Body of Christ, can come around our Tajik Christian brothers and sisters today.
“We are encouraging people to pray for freedom of faith in Tajikistan and to pray for the persecuted Church. It would be amazing if Christians could be able to worship freely, share the Gospel freely, and of course, bring their children to church. We think that’s a very basic right.”
Wright encourages us also to “advocate for Christians who face persecution around the world. So I would definitely encourage listeners to visit opendoorsusa.org to find some really practical ways to get involved in advocating for the persecuted Church.”