Did you know… according to Open Doors (www.opendoorsusa.org/), there are two types of persecution of Christians around the world today? When developing their annual “World Watch List” of the top 50 countries was persecution occurs, they consider both “squeeze” persecution (the pressure Christians experience in all areas of life) and “smash” persecution (plain violence). Often we in the West only hear about the most severe cases of smash such as beheadings by ISIS or mass shootings of Christian university students in Kenya. But for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, squeeze is most prevalent. Squeeze is itself troublesome, demoralizing and invasive to their lives, but it can also morph into smash with little notice. Today, we heard a report from Central Asia (www.forum18.org/) as a distressing example of this.
In early May, police in a region of central Uzbekistan stopped four national followers of Jesus who were travelling together by car through the area. The Traffic Police officer who stopped their car asked the four to produce their identification documents and the registration certificate of the car. He made the men get out of the car and inspected the car's passenger compartment and the trunk. By this time it was clear they had been targeted because the driver’s name and license plate number were known in police circles, because they were followers of Christ. The officer went on to ask them to show what they had in their pockets and bags. One of the men, aware of constitutional protections, asked that two witnesses be present for the search. The believers were told, “The Constitution and laws are for Tashkent (Uzbekistan’s capital); here we have our own laws," and the criminal police were called into the situation.
When the search of the vehicle turned up nothing to accuse the men of, the officers began questioning the men about the visas for international travel they had in their passports. They asked them to write statements describing their travels abroad. When the believers refused this illegal request, they were taken to district police station. There, they were interrogated for several hours. When one of them asked why they were stopped and detained, he was punched in the stomach and choked until he lost consciousness. Another, who admitted to the police that he has serious asthma, was placed in a cigarette smoke-filled room and threatened with rape. Squeeze had become smash.
Please pray for these brothers and their families. Pray that they would endure hardship, remaining faithful and bold. Pray that all the believers in Uzbekistan would know God’s peace in the midst of pressure like this. And pray as well for their persecutors, men who need the healing power and love Christ just like we all do.