Christmas is celebrated in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Central Asian republics on January 7th. This time difference between the December 25th Christmas celebration in western Christianity is the difference between the more modern Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar. Those who still use the Julian calendar thus celebrate Christmas in early January.
In eastern churches, it is a holy day, and churches invite many to come to worship and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This is also true in the relatively fewer churches in Uzbekistan, one of the former Soviet republics. However, the time leading to and culminating in Christmas is also the time when governmental authorities in Uzbekistan increasingly persecute Christians. Although Uzbekistan is officially a secular state, as it arose from many years of communism, it does have strict religious laws that severely limit all religious activities. Thus, it is one of the most restrictive countries for religious freedom.
Recent news reports have stated that Uzbeki police detained eighty church leaders in a raid at a ministry training conference. Police confiscated the Bibles and Christian books of those in attendance, which were later destroyed by court order. What was their crime? People in Uzbekistan are only allowed to worship “in registered places specifically set up for religious purposes.” Presumably, they would also have to be governmentally approved places. Four of the leaders of the conference were charged with serious criminal offenses, such as violating the procedure for holding religious meetings, carrying out unauthorized religious activities, and teaching religious beliefs without government permission. Four of the primary ministry training conference organizers are appealing their heavy fines (which is more than one year’s average salary in Uzbekistan), but few expect any relief from the appellate court. A church leader from Tashkent recently stated that the persecution and arrest of Christian believers has been on the rise since September 2012, and peaked at Christmas. The church leader also observed that even authorized, registered churches in Uzbekistan face harassment and a number of pastors have been fined substantial sums. Email and telephone requests for comment on these arrests by Uzbek government officials have not been returned.
Please pray for our fellow Christian believers in Uzbekistan. And if you want to contact His Excellency, Ilhom Nematov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the United States, you can reach him at 1.202.530.7283 or 1.202.887.5300, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am sure he would enjoy hearing from regular American Christians about the persecution of Christians in his country. He might not get to speak to many at the cookie-pushing, cocktail receptions on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C.