Euro-Asia Baptist Congress Reveals Struggles for Christians
During their October trip to the republic of Georgia, both Steve and John Benham, MIWC's president and founder, attended the three-day Congress of the Euro Asiatic Baptist Federation. Traveling with them was MIWC Eastern European missionary Vitaliy Bolgar.
Steve greeted the congress, which included Baptists from nine different countries, and described the scope of MIWC's work in Georgia.
MIWC was one of only three mission agencies represented at the congress, and John said the three felt privileged to be a part of it. MIWC-trained musicians from Georgia performed at the event.
Each country's Baptist union president stood up and shared the experiences of believers in his nation.
"In some countries, such as Moldova and Ukraine, the church was strong and flourishing with little outside pressure," Steve said, "while in other countries [they] are experiencing intense persecution from both governmental and religious authorities."
One leader described worshipers facing people positioned outside of their church doors on Sundays writing down church attendees' names to report to their employers so they could fire them on Monday.
John said witnessing this kind of faith under persecution was refreshing, but challenging.
"The church under persecution is most pure," he said. "You don’t stay in the church if your relationship with God isn’t such that you would put your life on the line."
While at the congress, the Benhams and Bolgar talked with many other congress participants and received invitations to speak in Belarus and Russia.
MIWC was also asked to support ministries in Azerbaijan and Armenia by sending MIWC missionaries in Ukraine to those locations. Americans need visas to enter those countries, but Ukrainians do not.
"Through God's provision and blessing," Steve said, "Our missionaries from Ukraine are able to go and work in places where it is not possible for us to do so."
The federation provided substantial information regarding the current situation for believers and non-believers in these countries in the Central Asia area:
Uzbekistan—Christians and churches are fined for sharing the gospel. Outreach materials are confiscated by the police and government officials. Natural gas is not available so homes are cold. The natural gas in the region is instead sold from these countries to China, where they can make more money.
Tadjikistan—Residents here only have electricity for four hours a day (two hours in the morning and two hours at night). The people do not have natural gas at all due to the sale of it to the Chinese, as in Uzbekistan. Again, homes are cold as a result. If children under the age of 18 go to church or other religious activities apart from funerals and weddings, the family will be disciplined by the government.
There is intense persecution from Muslims in both Uzbekistan and Tadjikistan. Locals fear visiting the Baptist churches for risk of persecution from authorities and families. If a Muslim becomes a Christian, his or her family will immediately disown that individual.
Kazahkstan—This country passed a law that all churches must officially register with the government. However, in order for a church to register, a church must have at least 50 members and those members must be specifically from the geographic area where the church is located. For the Baptist Association in Kazahkstan, this means that half of its congregations are immediately excluded from being officially recognized.