ALMATY, Kazakhstan (BP)–Central Asian Protestants will have an unprecedented opportunity to present their beliefs to government officials during a Protestant forum March 27-28 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The forum will be sponsored by The Arabic-Turkic Centre, an organization founded by the political party of Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev. Local Protestant leaders representing more than 50 denominations and agencies are expected to participate.
Christian workers in Kazakhstan are asking believers worldwide to pray for this unique meeting because of its potential impact on religious freedom in all of Central Asia. In addition to Kazakhstani government officials, representatives of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will be on hand to hear the presentations.
“The future of religious freedom is in the balance right now for Kazakhstan. The directions the government takes could determine if the free flow of the gospel that has occurred over the past decade will be restricted or allowed to flourish,” explained one worker.
“Ultimately God is in control and we will trust him, but this forum provides an opportunity for us to present clearly the concept of religious freedom in general and the beliefs of Protestants in particular.”
In recent months, Protestants in this former Soviet republic have felt a tightening of restrictions on religious practice. Some believe the government, which is reportedly drafting stricter laws, is simply trying to keep a rein on Islamic fundamentalism in this country of 14.9 million people located east of the Caspian Sea in Central Asia. However, others believe Muslim and Russian Orthodox leaders are pushing lawmakers to pass tough legislation because they feel threatened by the growing number of Protestant believers across the country, which is about one-third the size of the United States and shares borders with both Russia and China.
One goal of the forum is to present clearly the doctrinal beliefs, history, and involvement in Kazakhstan of the majority of Protestant evangelicals. Through this education, organizers hope to help officials distinguish between various religious confessions now present in Kazakhstan.
Confusion in this regard has contributed to the call by many people inside and outside the government to return to restrictive policies in order to control some groups. Also, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbaev has called on his regional administrators to take a firmer stance against unregistered religious groups. The growing Protestant and evangelical congregations are being closely scrutinized and overzealous police have trumped up drug possession charges against some evangelical church leaders in one area of the country.
Protestant leaders hope to get across the message that the gospel is for all ethnic groups — that Jesus is not the god of only Russians or Europeans — and that Protestant evangelicals have a long, worldwide history. They will point out that forms of Christianity existed in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, as early as the third century A.D.
The Arabic-Turkic Centre is inviting dignitaries from around the world to show their support of these efforts by attending the forum or, if that’s not possible, by sending a telegram. Interested individuals can forward the names of political leaders in the United States or abroad who would be interested in sending a telegram of support can send an e-mail to [email protected] for more information.
Alexander is a Southern Baptist worker focusing on the Kazakh people group.