Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me. (Psalm 69:17 ESV)
For many of our brothers and sisters around the world, the psalms of David are a great encouragement. As we consider the situation of the church in Turkmenistan, let us remember that we worship a God who hears the cry of his people and responds because of his great mercy and love. And let us join with their cry, lifting them up to the Father.
A “hermit” nation
Turkmenistan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and became an independent republic. Saparmurat Niyazov, who had ruled the Communist Party of Turkmenistan from 1985, was the first president of the nation. He became “President for Life” in 1999 by decree of a parliament hand-selected by Nayazov, who referred to himself as Turkmenbashi, the “father of all Turkmen.”
The current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has cautiously moved to open the country to the rest of the world and broaden its relationships beyond Russia, its most important trade partner. However, the country remains highly repressive, politically autocratic and withdrawn from the international community, leading many to describe Turkmenistan as a “hermit nation.”
By law, the Turkmen constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but in practice the church faces a number of pressures. The practice of religion is highly regulated by law. Religious services may only be held in registered, authorized facilities; no religious services, including Bible studies, may be held in homes.
There has been some improvement under President Berdimuhamedow, but during the Niyazov regime, all religious services were required to recognize the spiritual authority of Turkmenbashi and quote him and his writings (contained in a book called the Ruhnama) during religious services. The Ruhnama remains an important part of Turkmen life and culture.
Further, all religious organizations are obliged to report any financial assistance received from outside Turkmenistan, making it difficult for local communities to raise funds and other support internationally.
For more context on the situation of Turkmen believers, see the following interview ERLC conducted with Vitaliy Proshak, a consultant with Mission Eurasia:
Prayer for the Turkmen Church
Here are a few ways that you can pray for the Turkmen church:
- Pray that Turkmen church leaders would be strengthened and encouraged to preach the Word of God faithfully despite government policies that repress speech.
- Pray that the government would open and provide greater protection for Christians and for greater freedom of assembly.
- Pray for Christians whose communications are wire-tapped to have great wisdom on how to communicate with each other.
- Pray that security forces monitoring Christians to encounter the gospel.
For additional information on Turkmenistan, take a look at these resources:
- Open Doors’ World Watch List
- U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report
- Under Caesar’s Sword Country Report
- Operation World Country Report