(This article is from the Missio Nexus “Counting The Cost” daily devotional series in cooperation with Voice of the Martyrs. To subscribe, email email@example.com) As a former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan’s churches developed in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Although Azerbaijan is rich in oil and gas reserves, corruption and the country’s authoritarian government have impeded economic growth. Nevertheless, poverty has been reduced and the country’s infrastructure is gradually improving. The major religions of the Azeri people are Shiite Muslims, and 2% are Christians. However, families are the main persecutors of Christian converts, and as with many Muslim nations, Azerbaijan has a shame-honor culture in which those who leave Islam are considered to have brought shame on the family. The government also pressures Christians with with heavy fines.
What does it mean for a person to follow Christ in this nation? For many years now, churches have been denied the ability to register legally. Secret police attend and sometimes raid church meetings, which the government classifies as illegal. In 2015, the government published a list of banned religious books that included the Old Testament. Those caught with banned religious literature are fined. The government is tightening restrictions and often asks church leaders to submit lists of members’ names. Some pastors and leaders feel this is an attempt to gather information for later use against church members or pastors. Many Christians faithfully share Christ with neighbors and family members despite legal pressure and possible fines. Thus Bibles are difficult to obtain. Churches can purchase them, but they cannot be printed legally. Voice of the Martyrs brings Bibles, including children’s Bibles, into the country and provides legal assistance to persecuted pastors and churches.