3 Central Asia

Central Asia

   In the 1990s, the Asian countries absorbed into the Russian Empire and ruled by the Soviet Union became independent as all emerged as autonomous nations. Georgia and Armenia were predominantly Eastern Orthodox in faith, while the others were predominantly Muslim. Throughout the region, Protestantism exists as an extremely small group with roots in the former Russian Empire. The Protestant presence can be traced to the early 19th century, when Russia conquered the Caucasus region and forced Molokans, a Russian Free Church group (and later some Doukhobors), to relocate into undeveloped areas of Transcaucasia.
   In 1862, a German Baptist, Martin Kalweit (1833-1918), moved to Georgia, eventually settling in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), where he began to hold services for other German-speaking people. Among his early converts was Nikita I. Voronin (1840-1905), a Molokan, who helped recruit Vasilii G. Pavlov (1854-1924) to the Russian-speaking Baptist contingent. In the 1880s, Pavlov studied at the Hamburg seminary established by Johann Oncken (1800-84). From Georgia, primarily through Pavlov's efforts, the Baptist Church spread to neighboring countries such as Azerbaijan, and also into Russia proper. Georgia became a center uniting Baptists throughout the Caucasus and Ukraine.
   As early as 1890, some members of the Evangelical Christian movement (similar to Baptists) settled in Turkmenistan, and a community began to develop reinforced by Mennonite and Baptist migrants. In 1892, they formed their own settlement, called Kuropatkinsky, not far from Ashkhabad. An Evangelical movement began among both German- and Russian-speaking residents of Uzbekistan in 1898, and a first congregation was organized in Tashkent in 1902. Christian Brethren missionaries worked in the region for several decades but withdrew in 1928, their fruits absorbed by the Evangelical Christians. An initial Evangelical church was founded in Petropavlosk, Kazakhstan, in 1908; it served the scattered German-speaking community. In 1912, a Russian Baptist, Rodion G. Bershadskii, moved to Bishkek and built the first church in Kyrgyzstan.
   These initial churches, scattered and disconnected, survived until the 1928 law that withdrew legal status from all religious groups in the Soviet Union. Some congregations, such as in Tiflis and Ashkhabad, continued to meet underground. Some revived in 1944 in time to join the new Union of Evangelical Christians and Baptists, created by the merger of Baptists and Evangelical Christians.
   These churches received new life in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union, but they have subsequently found themselves the targets of governments that have allied themselves with the respective majority religious communities. Neither the Eastern Orthodox groups (such as the Georgian Orthodox Church) nor the Muslims have a history of religious tolerance, and reports are regularly filed of both official and unofficial discriminatory acts against the Baptist and other Protestant churches that have arisen since the 1990s.
   In 1992, churches in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan formed the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Central Asia. It has several thousand members. The largest community of Evangelicals is found in Kazakhstan (some 10,000) and Georgia (around 4,000). Recently, Baptists and Pentecostal evangelists from South Korea have entered Central Asia. Yoido Full Gospel Central Church, the large Pentecostal center in Seoul, for example, reports five affiliated churches in Uzbekistan with a total membership of more than 2,000.
   See also Georgia; Turkmenistan.
   Further reading:
   ■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)
   ■ Steve Durasoff, The Russian Protestants: Evangelicals in the Soviet Union, 1944-1964 (Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1969)
   ■ Albert W. Wardin, ed., Baptists Around the World (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 1995).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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