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KAZAKHSTAN: Appeal Fails to Halt Seizures

KAZAKHSTAN: Appeal Fails to Halt Seizures

On 17 September, a court in the city of Almaty upheld an earlier decision to seize two buildings owned by the New Life Protestant Church. The facilities were being used for worship, as well as a means of support for those suffering from drug and alcohol dependency.

The seizure follows the arrests and convictions of the church’s three pastors. In November of last year, they were sentenced to terms of up to five years for allegedly “causing psychological harm” and having involvement in illegal associations. As part of the court ruling, the properties belonging to the church were also confiscated.

Since the seized church properties were not owned by the accused pastors, and as the church had no legal representation in court when the ruling was made, the church intends to file a complaint. In addition, there are plans to appeal the conviction of the pastors, which will have a bearing on the outcome concerning the church properties.

In a separate incident, the Grace Church in Nur-Sultan went to court to challenge the legalities relating to the confiscation of their property, as the government had seized it to make room for a kindergarten. However, on 7 September, the judge rejected their lawsuit. The church was given one month to file an appeal.

Source: Forum 18

  • Pray that the courts will recognise the positive impact these churches have had on their communities and thus rule equitably.
  • Ask the Lord to grant wisdom to the leaders of both churches as they work their way through the legal difficulties before them.
  • Pray all the believers involved will take every opportunity to act as witnesses for the Gospel as they endure this time of uncertainty.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

KAZAKHSTAN: Three Pastors Sentenced

KAZAKHSTAN: Three Pastors Sentenced

Three self-exiled pastors have been sentenced to terms up to five years for leading the New Life Pentecostal Church in the city of Almaty. The sentences were announced on 1 November, when the court rejected their latest appeal. The founding pastor, Maxim Maximov, faces five years in prison, while his wife Larisa, and ministry colleague Sergei Zaikin, each face four years. All three pastors intend to appeal the conviction at the Supreme Court.

The charges involve “causing psychological harm”, as well as alleged involvement in illegal associations. In at least one case, however, the time frame for the accusation was before the victim was even born. The three pastors have fled the country and are presently living in the United States, though they would like to return to their homeland.

The New Life Church was originally founded in 1991 under the former Soviet Union and officially registered in 2012. Despite its legal status, the church has faced repeated attacks by the state-controlled media over the past few years. Though all charges were against the three individuals, five properties belonging to their church – including the main worship building – have been confiscated and placed under a restraining order.

Some governing authorities have offered alternatives to resolve the issues. In November 2018, another church leader, Pastor Ivan Kryukov, was approached by police who suggested that all these legal problems could be dismissed if the church gave monetary compensation. A few months later, the church leaders were told that their collaboration with the secret police would settle any issues. Offers like these have been declined by the pastoral team due to the injustice of their situation.

Source: Forum 18

  • Intercede for these three exiled church leaders as they spend extended time away from their homes and church. Pray that the courts will provide a just and reasonable ruling.
  • Pray the congregation members find ways of meeting together for worship and encouragement.
  • Ask God to grant wisdom and courage to church leaders in Kazakhstan as they deal with the authorities.

Post your prayer in the comments below.

KAZAKHSTAN: New Restrictions on Religious Freedom

KAZAKHSTAN: New Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Kazakhstan is on the verge of passing legislation, which proposes changes to the 2011 Religion Law, Administrative Code, and many other laws.

According to reports, the draft Amending Law, which is currently before Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, imposes new restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief, including the compulsory re-registration of all registered non-Muslim and non-Russian Orthodox religious organisations.

Accordingly, the Amending Law, if adopted by Parliament would also introduce restrictions on religious education, sharing beliefs, and the censorship of literature, among others.

It is reported that while 1300 Protestant organisations sought registration under the 2011 legislation, only 495 received state recognition. Experts warn that if passed, the proposed legislation could lead to a spate of closures of religious organisations in Kazakhstan.

Sources: Forum 18 News Service, WEA Religious Liberty Commission

  • Pray that Kazakh lawmakers would see the benefits of religious freedom and refrain from adopting the draft Amending Law.
  • Pray that the church in Kazakhstan would stand firm despite the restrictions imposed by the state.
  • Thank the Lord for His word which cannot be stopped by any law but always accomplishes His purposes (Isaiah 55:11).
KAZAKHSTAN: Yuri Pak Released from Prison

KAZAKHSTAN: Yuri Pak Released from Prison

Yuri Pak was released from prison Saturday 17 June. Yuri a teacher, dean of a high school and a local church leader was sentenced to two years in prison, after being convicted of making a false emergency-services call.

In April 2015, someone used Yuri’s mobile phone to make a prank phone call to Kazakhstan’s emergency services. Authorities were quick to charge Yuri with making a bomb threat in that call and arrested him.

During the trial, the “evidence” used against him was a two-minute-long recording of a man, obviously drunk, and using rough prison jargon. Expert witnesses testified that the caller’s voice did not match Yuri’s voice. Additionally, the caller references spending 10 years in prison and being angry at police, but Yuri had not been in prison.

As a testimony to his character, Yuri’s students came to his trial to support him. His pastor also wrote a letter of support. Various local news stations reported on the spurious trial, but even with all that support, he was sentenced to two years in prison, apparently in retaliation against his involvement in a Christian church.

After his release, Yuri was able to attend the graduation ceremony of several of his students that same weekend.

While Yuri was in prison, many people wrote letters of support to him through www.prisoneralert.com. Yuri’s wife Olga, wrote to VOM, saying, “Our family is extremely grateful to each one of you for your prayers and letters with words of encouragement and faith. Your prayers and letters helped us to go through this difficult trial without losing our faith and courage. We believe that ‘your labour is not in vain before the Lord.’ With love in Christ: Yuri, Olga, Anna and Daniel Pak.”

Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA

  • Give thanks to the Lord for answered prayer for Yuri and his family. Pray the Lord will help them overcome the time of trial and separation.
  • Pray the Lord will use Yuri’s story as a witness to His Gospel and further extend His Kingdom throughout Kazakhstan.
  • Thank the Lord for the encouragement Yuri and his family received through receiving letters of encouragement. May those in authority in the prison who witnessed this support be moved and intrigued by this gesture.
The Prison Pastor

The Prison Pastor

Imprisoned as a threat to the state, Pastor Kashkumbaev had every reason to feel discouraged. But a pointed question from a Christian brother changed his perspective, leading to a powerful work of God in a Kazakhstani prison.

“You will serve 10 years of hard time,” the investigator said solemnly. The elderly pastor would be almost 80 by the time he completed his sentence, and part of it, he learned, would be spent in a psychiatric ward.

Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev knew that prisoners in the psychiatric ward were routinely drugged, causing them to lose the ability to even think or move. They would drug him to a point of losing his mind. His heart sank. While he was not afraid to die, he didn’t want his seven grandchildren to see him in that condition. Death didn’t scare him, but losing his mind did.

The ‘crime’
In May 2013, Pastor Kashkumbaev was arrested after being falsely accused of harming the health of a church member at Grace Church, a legally registered church in Kazakhstan. Authorities filed five charges against the pastor, including a charge of inciting religious hatred.

The psychiatric ward
Pastor Kashkumbaev was filled with dread as the day approached for his transfer from the prison in Astana to the psychiatric ward. But before he left, he received a visit from a good friend and brother in Christ. The pastor, with tears in his eyes, told his friend, “This is probably the last time I will talk to you in my right mind.”  “Where is your faith?” his friend replied.

That simple question was just the encouragement the pastor needed. “I felt like I was under the cover of the risen Lord,” he said. Pastor Kashkumbaev’s outlook on his imprisonment changed completely, enabling him, with God’s help, to lead almost 100 fellow prisoners to Christ during his nine-month imprisonment.

One night as Pastor Kashkumbaev slept, he felt a hand grip his throat to strangle him. As he instinctively grabbed the hand and tried to pull it away, he saw the darkness and evil in his bunk mate’s eyes. At the same time, however, he felt at peace. “What do you need?” he asked the man.

Suddenly the man’s appearance and behaviour changed. “When are we getting out of here?” he asked. After climbing out of his bunk, the pastor tucked the man back into his bed and prayed over him.

After the incident with his bunk mate, Pastor Kashkumbaev began thinking of his cellmates as sick children. He had compassion and love for them, he cried and prayed for them, and he did what he could to help them. Knowing he might be given mind-altering drugs any day, the pastor took every opportunity to share the Gospel with them.  

When the day finally came for his first injection, the pastor turned to his cellmates for help. As he began to lose consciousness, he cried out, “I am dying!” His cellmates, who didn’t want to lose him, called for the guards. “The old guy is dying!” they yelled.

The guards rushed into the cell and carried the pastor into the hallway. After helping him regain consciousness, the doctor ordered that no more drugs be given to the pastor.

The confession
Prison officials ordered him to write down how he had become a Christian. Pastor Kashkumbaev gladly shared his testimony and told them about Jesus. In his prison ‘confession’, he wrote in detail about what Jesus had done for him. And, being a pastor, he made sure that he included a sermon.

Most of the inmates in the psychiatric ward were summoned to meet with the psychiatrist only once or twice, but he was called 18 times. “Why are you so concerned with me?” he asked the psychiatrist.

“You are such an interesting character,” she replied. “We don’t sense any evil in you. This isn’t normal.” “Christians are not supposed to answer evil for evil,” he told her. “We are called to bless people. We are called to bless friends and enemies with a sincere heart.” The clinic finally called in an independent expert to evaluate Pastor Kashkumbaev. “I don’t understand how you ended up here,” the expert told the pastor. “You are a completely adequate person.”

Authorities decided that the pastor should be returned to the prison in Astana, but before he left the psychiatric ward he was able to lead several more people to Christ.

The addict
Before returning to Astana, a young heroin addict was brought into Pastor Kashkumbaev’s ward. As the young man suffered from withdrawal symptoms, he underwent seven sleepless nights.

The pastor shared the Gospel with him, even though someone in the cell was reporting him to the authorities. “Only Jesus can help you!” he told the addict while holding his hands. The young man clung to him as if he were drowning.

“Don’t think that no one needs you,” Pastor Kashkumbaev continued after sharing Jeremiah 29:11. “From these words from God Himself you can see that He needs you. You are needed. God keeps His Word. It is as good as done! For Jesus, your addiction is nothing. All you have to do is believe that He can heal you. He is alive; He is risen from the dead to help you, to justify you.” “What do I need to do?” he asked the pastor.

“We are going to pray together right now,” the pastor replied. “But you have to believe that God hears your every word.” The addict repeated the prayer after the pastor.

After saying the prayer, the young man slept for the first time in a week. Knowing that evening roll call was just an hour away, the pastor prayed that he might somehow be allowed to continue sleeping.

When the officers finally came for roll call, Pastor Kashkumbaev stood between them and the bunk of his sleeping friend. “Why is he sleeping?” an officer asked the pastor. “He should be standing during the roll call.”

“He has not slept the entire week,” he quietly explained to the officer. “He asked me to pray for him. God gave him this sleep that he needs desperately.”

When the young man awoke 20 hours later, the pastor prepared tea and something for him to eat. “Do you remember that you asked Jesus to come into your heart?” he asked him. “Yes, I do,” he replied. “Where is Jesus? In my heart?” The pastor then taught him how to pray.

“You are now a member of God’s family,” he told him. “You are not addicted to any drug,” he continued, and knowing that drugs were freely sold in the prison, even by the guards, the pastor said, “you can say no.”

For four days Pastor Kashkumbaev taught and encouraged the young man before being transferred to another cell. As he was leaving, the former drug addict began to cry. “What am I going to do without you?” he asked. “Are you alone?” the pastor replied. “Who is in you? Hold onto Jesus; you are not alone, you will do fine.”

The release
Pastor Kashkumbaev was released from prison in February 2014, and four of the five charges against him were dropped. He has returned home, however he remains under house arrest and must check in with police every two months. He continues to minister to his congregation.

The pastor said he does not regret his time in prison. “In prison the Holy Spirit opened one dimension of prayer to me,” he said. “We need to pray the same prayer for both friends and enemies. Pray that they will know God and sincerely love Him and Jesus Christ, whom He sent, His only begotten Son.”