Ministry map, Turkmenistan. (Image courtesy Slavic Gospel Association)
Turkmenistan (MNN) ― Churches in Turkmenistan have come under increasing fire within the last six months.
Slavic Gospel Association spokesman Joel Griffith says that proved to be more than a figure of speech for one church there. "The Baptist House of Prayer in Turkmenbashi (Kranovodsk) had been burned to the ground. Apparently, the authorities in Turkmenbashi called President Vasily Korobov, (he is the president of the Turkmen Baptist Union), and they called him in his home in Ashkabad, notifying that this church had been destroyed."
Griffith goes on to say that Pastor Korobov immediately flew to Turkmenbashi to meet with investigators and got a surprise. "Apparently, the police got drawn into the matter because the fire involves a religious organization. From what Vasily was telling us, they gave him a thorough interrogation."
Along with the police, the city's "Organized Crime Control Bureau" and many other officials are now involved. During the interrogation, they asked Vasily a lot of questions about the church. That makes believers uneasy, explains Griffith because "it just seemed like--the questions that they were asking him--they were looking for something other than just a church fire. He's not really sure what the authorities are doing."
At this point, no one knows whether the fire was arson or an accident. "They're asking for prayer that the Lord would protect the church at large from attacks against their ministry, as we see these things happening so often." Harassment against Christians has been intensifying in Turkmenistan since July, with several Christians facing fines and threats of ostracism and expulsion from villages and schools.
Reports from the Voice of the Martyrs, Compass Direct News, and Forum 18 indicate several believers have been accused of violating the country's law against participating in an unregistered religious community. This charge carries the punishment of a fine between five and ten times the minimum monthly wage.
Almost every foreign Christian has been expelled. Several national pastors have been exiled, beaten, heavily fined, or imprisoned. Congregations continue to be intimidated and forbidden to meet. Registration is a difficult and often results in closer surveillance. Unregistered religious gatherings of any size or kind are strictly forbidden
Raids are on the rise, too, which harkens back to a different time, notes Griffith. "We have to remember how things were under atheistic communism. Now, I wouldn't say that's it's gone that far quite yet, but it's beginning to head in that direction."
Even if restrictions continue to tighten, the Church has done this before. Believers will keep a low profile, and they'll operate discretely. Griffith adds, "If I know anything about the believers in the former Soviet Union, they're going to stand boldly and continue to serve Christ no matter what."
The investigation continues. "Pray that the Lord would use their godly and loving conduct to be able to open doors for the Gospel even through this horrible situation." Pray that Christians facing persecution will stand firm in their faith. Pray that the truth of the Gospel will permeate the nation. Pray that key Turkmen leaders will come to faith in Christ.