All aspects of public life in Turkmenistan are under strict government control. Its citizens have little access to the internet, their movements are controlled by the authorities, their spending monitored and they must not be out after 11 p.m. For Christians the pressures are even greater. Police monitor church activities, raid Christian homes and harass and arrest Christians, particularly church leaders.
Religious meetings in private homes are banned. There are just 20 registered churches – the only places where it is legal for Christians to meet. In 2016, all state-registered religious communities had to apply for re-registration. The previous requirement of five adult members was increased to 50. Churches find it almost impossible to get registration. Christians are not only isolated from believers outside this very closed country but also the various Christian groups inside Turkmenistan have little contact with each other.
The religious context is dominated by Islam and a pervasive presidential personality cult, first established by former President Niyazov and continued under President Berdymukhamedov, who can remain president for life. Ethnic Turkmens, whose identity is bound up with Islam, account for around 80% of the population.
Christianity in the region dates back to the third century and about 9% of the population are Russian Orthodox Christians. There is a small, growing community of Muslim-background believers, who are normally rejected by their family and will often lose their job, be removed from any public office and come under intense pressure to return to Islam. Yet they are full of joy and have a great thirst for the Word of God and the leaders long for training and equipping for ministry.
Turkmenistan’s Council for Religious Affairs is staffed entirely by Muslims and rarely grants permission for Bibles to be imported. Missionary activity is considered harmful to society. Christianity is associated with negative foreign influences.
Ask the Lord to sustain and equip isolated and hard-pressed Christians, especially converts from Islam. Pray that more churches can register and function legally, and Bibles can be circulated more freely.
The above content can also be found in the Praying for the Persecuted Church (2021-2022) booklet