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19 July 2013

Unable to return home, but still passionate about ministering in Azerbaijan - interview part two

Unable to return home, but still passionate about ministering in Azerbaijan - interview part two

Rev Elnur Jabiyev is the former general secretary of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan and arrived in the UK with his wife and two children in August 2009. Here he shares his experience as a Christian living in the UK, unable to return home because the authorities in Azerbaijan know about his religious activity there, including smuggling Christian literature into the country.

What made you come to the UK?
I came to study at Spurgeon's College in London. I had desired and prayed to study theology, but Azerbaijan is a Muslim country and we are not allowed to have Christian colleges or universities. God amazingly opened the door for us to come here, with the help of David Coffey and Spurgeon's.

Have you been welcomed here?
Yes, very much so. We have lots of friends and churches here who are praying, supporting and encouraging us. Without this we would not be able to survive here as there are lots of pressures, including studying and dealing with our visa. It has been very difficult but we really thank God for the support we have received. We have no family here, only friends.

How do you try to help your Christian friends in Azerbaijan?
Not many Christian organisations work among Turkic speaking countries including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, as many of them were closed off as part of the Soviet Union. I am trying to encourage Christian organisations to work in Turkic speaking nations, helping our people and God's ministry to grow.

I am building up a ministry to reach Turkic speaking people in the countries mentioned above,, helping with training and church planting and providing Christian literature and resources. I started this when I was in Azerbaiian. It is very difficult to start something from scratch, especially as I am a foreigner in Britain. We would welcome any support from Christians around the UK, including literature, resources and knowledge of training.

What can Christians in the UK learn from other cultures?
Firstly I must say that I have found Christians in Britain very generous, prayerful and supportive, and open to offer help to those suffering.

But in terms of spreading the gospel, it seems that many Christians here just gain knowledge for themselves and their own discipleship. Many churches here seem inward-looking, and not willing to take the news outside the church.

I found it a big challenge when I came here to see how people were reluctant to share their faith on the streets. I felt it was a huge blessing to go out, especially in a country without persecution, but people did not want to join me. Christians here need to learn how to spread the gospel among their own people, in work places and neighbourhoods. It seems that many Christians switch off after Sunday, not desiring to share with others.

Back home, despite the persecution and sufferings, Christians pray: "Lord send me someone to preach to", and people come to Christ every week. When people give out Christian leaflets they know that they are risking trouble, and people may be angry, beat them or report them to the police, but they still desire to preach the gospel. I feel that Christians in the UK need to learn how to desire to preach the gospel and overcome their shyness. My vision and prayer is that I can help Christians here to have experience exchanges, meeting those in Azerbaijan and learning from one another.

When people say that preaching on the street does not work in Britain I disagree – we have seen people come to church after speaking to them on the street. Often the people who are sceptical have not even tried it, and there are lots of barriers in their thinking. I would encourage people to look at God's word – He says "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8). Jesus promises to send his Spirit to help us.

What piece of advice would you give to Christians in the UK?
I would encourage Christians in the UK to open their hearts for God to use them, and not be afraid but focus on God's word. Sharing our faith is not just for 'special gifted people' who we call 'evangelists'.. We need to begin to think and pray about those outside the church rather than being inward-looking. We can pray for God to provide opportunities for us to speak with people - not just on the street but in our families and at work.

I would leave this verse with people – Romans 12:2: "Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God - what is good and is pleasing to Him and is perfect."

Find out more

If you would like to get in touch with Elnur and support his ministry to reach Turkic speaking nations please contact Lucy Olofinjana at l.olofinjana@eauk.org

Read more about what life is like for Christians in Azerbaijan in the first of our interviews with Elnur.

Member organisation Release International also recently interviewed Elnur. Click here to watch Elnur's interview.