Uzbekistan tightens lid on missionaries

By May 29, 2008

Uzbekistan (MNN) — Uzbekistan's religious freedom seems to
be dwindling in the past few years. Forum 18 has reported this year that the rise in oppression has included
police raids, detentions of believers and deportations of foreigners
participating in religious activities.

Slavic Gospel Association's
Joel Griffith said they have
work there, though it is not as extensive as their work in other former Soviet
countries. They sponsor some
church-planting missionaries and children's summer camps and ministries.  

Griffith explained that often the desire to maintain the
state religion is a sign of loyalty to one's country. "I
think you're seeing some of that attitude on display in Uzbekistan with some of
these recent attacks on state-run media against other religious minorities."

Forum 18 reported
that the state recently released an anti-missionary documentary for television called
"In the Clutches of Ignorance." Aired
May 16, it features several political and religious leaders who take a critical
view of missionary work and even accused missionaries who get funds from abroad
of undermining the Islamic faith. It
also accuses them of targeting "those with low political awareness and
weak-willed young people, as well as minors."

When the official religions are practiced nominally, the
government is content. However, outside
groups with extra zeal seem to get the attention of the government who tries to
oppose them in any way possible. "They have had an awful lot of problems with
Muslim extremism and, because of that, they tend to keep a very tight lid on
all religious activity–even that which
is officially recognized. They really
have a negative view of anything that they would consider to be extreme or
missionary activities," said Griffith.

In the documentary,
missionary activities were put on the same plane as the global problems of
"religious dogmatism, fundamentalism, terrorism, and drug addiction." The Forum 18 report said one member of a
religious minority group stated that some people are "afraid to go out in the
street where they live for fear of being persecuted." However, the same Forum 18 report said those
in Uzbekistan "who understand a little bit about what is going on in the
country sympathize with us."

Griffith asks that
we pray "that there would be a change in heart of the leadership, that they would realize that evangelical
churches believe in good citizenship. They believe in doing good works, and they
are typically supportive…as long as the ruling authorities don't do something
that is outside of God's will."




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