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11 June 2015

House of Lords celebrates new Turkic Belt ministry

House of Lords celebrates new Turkic Belt ministry

Turkic Belt Ministries (TBM) was celebrated yesterday evening in the House of Lords at an event hosted by Baroness Cox.

A passionate advocate of freedom and human rights across the world, Baroness Cox welcomed guests to what she described as an "historic event" and paid tribute to the founder of TBM, the Rev Elnur Jabiyev, a man she described as "one of her personal heroes of faith and freedom".

Elnur, who we interviewed back in 2013, was former general secretary of the Baptist Union in Azerbaijan and came to the UK in 2009 to study theology at Spurgeon's College. 

Having intended to return home after his studies, Elnur was sad to find that he and his family could not return safely due to his previous evangelistic activities in his homeland and the threat of persecution. But Elnur's passion for resourcing, training and supporting Christians in the Turkic Belt region has grown and continues to grow.

You may not know much more about Azerbaijan than it hosting the Eurovision song contest back in 2012, or playing host to this weekend's European Games, but it forms one of many nations in the Turkic Belt in Central Asia, stretching from Turkey in the west to Tajikistan in the east –including Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. 

Unknown to many, the region has a rich Christian heritage and once had many vibrant Christian communities. Christian missionaries were common in the area from as early as medieval times, resulting in the sharing of the gospel across the region, particularly through the Silk Road trade route.

Today many Turkic Belt countries are Islamic states and often environments where Christians are persecuted for their beliefs. Those who do follow the call of God into ministry sacrifice their careers, livelihoods and safety to obey Him. Elnur, a former policeman, is just one of many Christians who have lost their jobs and security after the authorities discover they have become a Christian.

The vision of Turkic Belt Ministries is to see the whole of the Turkic Belt rediscover its inheritance and return to God, building on their rich Christian heritage. They hope to translate Bible commentaries and other resources into local languages and help to train and support local pastors, church leaders and missionaries. 

As well as working within the region, they also aim to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to Turkic and Russian-speaking people who live across Europe and in the UK.

God has already provided a strong support network for TBM, with many of the advisory board and trustees approaching Elnur to offer their support after feeling prompted by God to get involved. The advisory council includes Eddie Lyle of Open Doors and Mervyn Thomas of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, organisations that form part of the Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission.

Elnur spoke at the launch of how he and his family owe everything to Jesus. Describing his experience of persecution as a "privilege", he said losing his job and being separated from family members was worth it given all Jesus has done for him. He spoke of the incredible freedom we have in the UK and how blessed we are here to have so many opportunities that Christians in his homeland are denied.

A key part of TBM's vision is to build strong links between the Church in the East and the Church in the West. "We need to let them know we've heard them and we're standing with them", in the words of Rev Graham McBain, chair of TBM's board and minister at Alliance member church Upton Vale Baptist, Torquay.

Speaking at the launch, general secretary of the European Baptist Federation Rev Tony Peck said he had visited many churches in the region and heard Christians say that they are desperate to stay in those difficult situations rather than leave, so that they can maintain and grow the Christian witness in their homelands. But they need help and support. 

Tony added that they need to know they are not forgotten by us, and churches are encouraged to offer their support, campaigning on religious freedom issues and praying for them.

A pastor from Azerbaijan shared that when we hear about the destruction of Iraq's historic Christian monuments and heritage we can look at this from a distance, or we can choose to take the situation into our heart. 

He prayed that people here would see that picture, seeing the world through God's eyes and serving the body of Christ; "for if one part suffer, the whole body suffers". 

Find out more about Turkic Belt Ministries at www.turkicbeltministries.co.uk.