Interview with a master’s degree student from Tajikistan, Central Asia (no name is used in order to protect the student’s identity).
How did you come to know God?
I was born in an average Communist family (Tajikistan was a part of the Soviet Union at that time). My life was not different from the lives of my peers until I got seriously injured in a car accident. Being a member of a junior national basketball team, I was literally shocked, as it did not only put an end to my professional career, but it also left me with a limp and poor prospects looming ahead.
I used to tease Christians before, but on my way into surgery, where I was supposed to undergo a serious medical operation, I cried out “If You exist, God, help me please!” While in the hospital, I started reading the Gospel. I did not understand many things in it, but I decided that I needed Jesus, no matter what. One night I spoke out to God, “Forgive me please. I want to follow you.”
A couple of days after my conversion, an injection paralyzed me. Doctors did not know what was going on. However, a couple of days later, I got a little bit better. When I started walking again one month later, they said it was a true miracle.
Upon my discharge from the hospital, I tried to find an evangelical church to go to. When I found one, I invited my old friends (boxers, prostitutes, drug addicts) to come, too. That move turned out to be quite unexpected for the church leaders. So, it prompted us to set up a house church where everyone was welcome.
What ministry opportunities are there in Tajikistan?
Though no religious activities outside of state-run and state-controlled institutions are officially allowed in Tajikistan, we focus on personal evangelism. Today we have a couple of missionary teams at our church that preach in remote villages. However, we introduce ourselves as followers of Jesus, rather than Christians, because the latter triggers negative associations for Muslim Tajiks with the Orthodox Church.
There are two reasons that make evangelism challenging. First, as a result of the civil war, 60% of the men in Tajikistan are under 16, and since August 2011, any Christian activity for persons under the age of 18 has been strictly forbidden. Second, in Tajikistan, converts from Islam experience the worst persecution, perpetrated by family, friends and their local communities. They face extreme pressure to recant their Christian faith, sometimes even resulting in beatings and house arrest. Despite these difficulties, we initiate discussions over meals (Tajik people are very hospitable) with the view of organizing new home churches.
Do you face any persecution?
Regarding persecution, the government of Tajikistan is sitting on the fence. This superficial neutrality can be explained by the fact that there are less than 2,000 Evangelical Christians in the country. Other Christians are members of the Russian Orthodox Church, and they are not engaged in evangelism to the Tajiks. However, any Christian activity is heavily monitored. Sometimes the KGB steps up persecution, with raids, threats, arrests, and fines.
What prompted you to come to UETS?
There is almost no tolerance of Christian education, which is restricted by stringent administrative barriers in Tajikistan. Therefore, I am thankful to God for this opportunity to obtain knowledge I need for my ministry in Ukraine.