Uzbekistan: isolation and control
Uzbekistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is a dry and landlocked country in Central Asia. The leading cities of the famous Silk Road are located in Uzbekistan, and many well-known conquerors passed through the land: Alexander the Great in the 4th C, Muslim Arabs in the 8th C, Genghis Khan in the 13th C, and Tamerlane in the 14th C – the period from which Uzbekistan’s most noted tourist sites date. From the mid 19th C. Uzbekistan was controlled by Russia, but with the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 Uzbekistan declared independence.
Uzbekistan makes up nearly half of Central Asia’s total population, but the people are concentrated in the south and east of the country. The population is heavily rural and dependent on farming –mostly cotton (for export) and grain (which reduces food imports). The production of cotton as well as gold, oil and gas have reduced the economic shock from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, economic reform has been slow and poverty and unemployment are widespread. The economy has retained many elements of Soviet economic planning. Informal economic activity accounts for between one-third and one-half of output. Southern Uzbekistan has become a route for the transport of drugs from Afghanistan to Russia and on to Europe.
The 99% literacy rate achieved under Soviet rule is declining due to outdated and poorly maintained educational institutions. Health care resources have also declined. Politically, there is no legal opposition in the country and the government’s cruel and swift reprisal was seen in Andijan in 2005. Despite the media being tightly controlled by the state, a UN report has described the use of torture as “systematic”. Despite frequent criticism of its poor human rights record, Uzbekistan’s energy resources and strategic location have led both Russia and the West to seek closer ties.
The predominant ethnic group are Uzbek. Other groups include Russian (5.5%), Tajik (5%), and Kazakhs, Karakalpaks, and Tatars. Uzbek is the official state language; however, Russian is the language for much day-to-day government and business use.
Islam is more a part of the Uzbek cultural identity than it is a faithfully practiced religion; but 85% of the population are Sunni Muslim. Over 13% claim no religion and folk/occult practices are a real part of the beliefs of the rural Uzbeks.
Christians make up 0.8% of the population, with evangelicals being .3% of the Christians. Open Doors 2012 “World Watch List” rates Uzbekistan at No. 7 among nations that are the worst persecutors of Christians. The state also attempts to maintain tight control of Muslims – all religions face rigid registration requirements. The extreme difficulty of legally registering has resulted in a mobile and well-networked union of house churches. Proselytizing and teaching religion in schools is illegal, as are all unregistered religious activity.
GOING BEFORE OUR FATHER
- Pray for the people of Uzbekistan who are torn between the post-Soviet regime and Islamist movements and are tired of the poverty, corruption and lack of progress. Pray that people would be released from any cultural pressure to be Islamic and that Uzbeks might find freedom by serving the Lord their Creator and true Master.
- Pray for genuine change, reform and leadership in the government; for uprightness and governing for the sake of the people; for true religious freedom and tolerance for Christians.
- Pray for Uzbek believers and their house churches that face opposition and persecution from the government, local Muslim leaders and the community. Pray for strength and perseverance in the face of persecution; the discipling and mentoring of new believers; for spiritual maturity and godly leaders for the infant church; for increased believers in the rural areas. Pray for the development of culturally appropriate worship, music, literature and training materials.
- Pray for those who are under pressure to betray fellow believers to the authorities. Pray for believers who have been publicly humiliated, had property seized, have lost employment, been fined, beaten and tortured and are in prison – that God may give them strength and boldness.
- Many Christians in Uzbekistan are Korean and Russian. Pray for cross cultural and sensitive outreach to the Uzbeks and unity and trust between Uzbeks, Koreans and Russians. Pray also for the Koreans and Russians as they reach out to their own people in relative freedom.
- Pray for the remaining expatriate Christians in Uzbekistan, that they may successfully minister to the Uzbek people and win them to Christ.
- Pray for the unreached Uzbeks. Only a small fraction of the Muslim majority has ever had the opportunity to hear the gospel.
- Pray for ongoing Bible translation and distribution. The Bible Society of Uzbekistan is registered but its activities are heavily restricted. Scriptures are not legally for sale anywhere else in the country.
- Pray for writers to be raised up and literature and training materials to be printed and distributed.
- Pray for ways to communicate the gospel by radio. Most Christian radio is in Russian and English, and access to medium and shortwave radio is sparse.
- Pray for the circulation and use of video resources. The JESUS film is available in most languages and there are increasing numbers of Christian films and media resources. Pray for the development of more video resources – especially those targeted to the younger generation.