At a prearranged location, “Rob” (name changed for security reasons) waits, watching for a familiar vehicle among the heavy traffic passing by on the street in front of him. When he sees his friend’s car maneuver to the curb, he gets in and they drive around for a few hours. In this Central Asian country, where meeting in public could draw the attention of Islamic extremists, using cars is one of the safest ways for Christians to fellowship and worship.
“Secret believers in restricted nations use a number of discreet meeting places in order to practice their faith undetected,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, whose organization partners with Christians throughout Central Asia. “VOM workers have heard of church meetings in the forest, in a rented vacation home in the country, and even in a chicken coop.”
Rob and his friend cruise the neighborhood and talk freely about their faith, sticking to side streets to avoid police checkpoints and meeting only during the day for safety.
Rob pulls out his mobile phone and the two men begin to sing along exuberantly with recorded worship music. “People who watch Christians drive by and see them singing so passionately usually just assume they’re singing the latest pop songs,” says Representative Foley. “But for Central Asian believers, they can sing heartfelt songs of praise to God most freely when they are driving around,” says Representative Foley.
After worshiping in song, Rob and his friend listen to an audio Bible and then discuss what they’ve heard. Then they pull into a restaurant parking lot for a few minutes to pray — with their eyes open. Then Rob’s friend drops him off again at a street corner.
“The worship and fellowship time is usually about an hour,” says Representative Foley.
According to Representative Foley, Rob and other Central Asian Christians have had to become accustomed to meeting other Christians in creative and covert ways because Christians in most of Central Asia are generally the only believers in their homes and communities. “Apostasy from Islam is punishable by death, so if their faith is discovered, they will almost certainly be killed by authorities if not their own family members,” says Representative Foley. “An hour of fellowship in a car serves as a great encouragement as they practice their faith in secret.”
A few hours after his first meeting, Rob is out on the street corner again, waiting for a different Christian friend. This time, it’s one of the local church leaders he meets several times a week. As the church leader navigates through heavy traffic, Rob asks how his ministry is going and how he can pray for him. And then they pray, staring straight ahead watching people pass by them. “This is how they pour out their praise and needs before the throne of God,” says Representative Foley.
(file photo) Inside a car in Central Asia—the safest place for believers to worship and fellowship
Representative Foley says that as Rob and the other believers drive around their city of committed, conservative Muslims, they are aware that small groups of Christians are doing the same thing in other cities around their country. “They are worshiping and praying together in the only safe place they have — their vehicle,” says Representative Foley. She says Rob told Voice of the Martyrs, “Jesus said, ‘Wherever two or three gather and wherever two or three call my name, I am with them.’”
After being dropped at a street corner for the second time, Rob leans into the church leader’s open car window. “See you on Tuesday, friend.” Then he walks away from his “church”—something the auto makers likely could not have imagined would become so meaningful to Christians in Central Asia.
Individuals interested in seeing the latest prayer requests from underground Christians in Central Asia can visit www.vomkorea.com/en/ and type “Central Asia” in the search bar. Support for Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s work with underground Christians in Central Asia can be given via electronic transfer to:
KB Bank: 463501-01-243303
Account Holder: (사)순교자의소리
Please note “Central Asia” on the transfer.