Restrictions, repression and refusal – this is typically the story of Christianity in Central Asia, where in many places it is immensely difficult for believers to openly express and share faith in Jesus. But as Christians have courageously stepped forward in the fight against Covid-19, unique opportunities to share about Jesus are emerging. Read on to find out more and your role in it…
“Why do you do this?”
A year ago, the moment that inspired this question in one Central Asian country would have been fanciful. But today across the region, where Christian activity and witness is often heavily restricted, it reflects the remarkable opportunities the pandemic is providing for people to hear about Jesus.
Unexpected four-hour window to talk about Jesus
The story behind this question began when Open Doors local partners heard that hospitals did not have enough small, portable machines that provide oxygen for Covid-19 patients for four hours at a time.
Having purchased machines – thanks to your amazing generosity – the partners contacted local hospitals, asking, “Who are the families that cannot be taken to hospital but need urgent help?” Names and addresses were provided for the partners to visit.
“One case was an older lady whose family was previously very hostile to the gospel,” shares Timur, an Open Doors local partner whose name we’ve changed to protect his identity. “The family didn’t even ask who these people were. They accepted them very gladly.”
Whilst the lady was given oxygen for four hours, there was ample opportunity to talk. “Central Asian people love to talk,” Timur continues. “After the family discovered their visitors were Christians, they asked, ‘Why do you do this?’ It was a wonderful opportunity to reach out to this family. Now this family attend church. They haven’t yet accepted Jesus, but their attitude completely changed.”
Christian books distributed openly for the first time in 20 years
Strict lockdown measures could easily have stopped all efforts to help people. However, a slight shift in approach not only meant helping over 2,500 people with vital aid – again, thanks to your support – but it enabled local partners to cut through the restrictions and surveillance that so often hinders their activities.
Given the limitations on leaving home, local partners made themselves available to deliver food to people – which the governments permitted. “In some cities, believers started to walk the streets and help people with food shopping,” Timur says. “Surprisingly, the police – who were watching the city and knew they were Christians – didn’t stop them.”
“Together with the food, believers also gave out (Christian) books,” Timur adds. “In some cases, it was the only moment, probably in the last 20 years, when we could do this openly.”
“The negative part of Covid-19, we all know, but the positive part for us is that many people who were closed to the gospel are suddenly open,” Timur continues. “We could meet families, thousands of them. They just needed help and somebody who could come and at least talk to them, because in some of the countries quarantine was so strict.”
There have been other areas where local partners have quickly adapted to lockdown restrictions. Online meetings and streaming have developed, enabling church services, youth work and leadership training to continue. Websites for young people are being produced. “God found solutions for us, even in this challenging time,” Timur says.
Father of five shares gospel in hospital before dying of Covid-19
Timur knows well the darker side of the pandemic – several of his key contacts have died from Covid-19.
“They are with the Lord,” he shares. “But here on the earth, we don’t have them with us anymore. Most of them left families. All of them were active in ministry, all of them were young – just 35 to 45.” One of them was married with five children. “He was preaching in the hospital, even in the last hours of his life. He was still trying to reach out to his neighbour in the hospital.”
For Timur and other Christians, whilst there is acute pain over losing people so dear to them, there is tremendous hope in knowing they’ll one day see them again. “We still miss them of course – they were all beautiful people – but we came to the point where we said, ‘We need to think about this as though they simply went ahead of us to another country. And there will be a very short time before we will also go there and we will see each other.’”
Sometimes Timur questions why God allowed these faithful believers to die. But he is finding that in trust there is overwhelming peace. “God gives a deep peace that He is in control,” he says. “He knows, He’s in charge.”
Believer sells fridge and furniture but still doesn’t have enough to feed children
The devastating impact of the virus on Timur’s friends reflects the broader effect it’s had on Central Asia.
“The problem was that, at first, people were not taking it seriously, but then, it hit very strongly,” Timur explains. “The governments were not ready in most Central Asian countries – not enough oxygen machines or medicines. Our brothers and sisters would call to ask for help to find medicines, and we tried to send it to them from abroad, but it was quite difficult. Many people started to die.”
Many governments, not knowing what to do, initiated strict lockdown measures. In Uzbekistan, people couldn’t even leave home to get food. Marketplaces, which economies and livelihoods rely upon, emptied as personal interaction became unsafe.
“We would have so many calls from our brothers and sisters who said to us, ‘We are going to sell our furniture,’” Timur relates. “One sister called me and said, ‘I’ve already sold my fridge, some other furniture, but we still don’t have enough to pay rent, and I don’t have enough money to feed my children. Could you please do something and help? Or at least pray.’ She was crying.
“We had these kinds of messages quite often,” Timur says. “It was quite a heavy experience. It felt like a disaster – on the church, on families, on people who we know.”
Sadly, as has happened across the world, following Jesus has led to many being overlooked in the distribution of aid. Across Central Asia, many believers from Muslim backgrounds have been denied help by their Muslim communities. One group of believers were not given food packages by their community, leaving them to survive by eating grass. Thankfully, Open Doors local partners have since been able to provide them with food.
‘Thank you very much to each of you’
Timur asks for continued prayers for the local partners serving on the frontline in Central Asia. “Pray for wisdom, because we are in a period of tuning up our methods and activities, looking for new opportunities, how to do even more for God in our regions,” he shares.
Prayer is also needed for those who have Covid-19. “We don’t have emergency cases, but with this disease we have discovered that in a few days you can suddenly becomean emergency case, so if you could pray for these members of our team to recover, that would be also very good.”
Timur closes with a word of gratitude for you. “We are very thankful that, even though we have never met personally, we feel your presence and love and faith in God, and we are very encouraged by this. There will be some day in heaven when we will spend a lot of time talking, looking back on the joys and on the work we could do together.
“Thank you very much to each of you. We will also pray for your personal situations, businesses and families, that God will protect and guide you, and give you shalom – a deep, deep shalom in your heart in whatever situation you are in.”
Source and photo Open Doors