After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, was formed fifteen independent States, one of which is the Republic of Azerbaijan, a country with a predominantly Muslim population. The opportunity to practice it in any other religion is often expensive. There are no precise statistics, but of the 9 million population of only 10 thousand are Christians. However, despite small numbers, they believe that one day their country will be subdued under the rule of Jesus Christ.
Azerbaijan was part of USSR for 70 years. Covering an area slightly smaller than Maine (USA), Azerbaijan is the 93rd largest country in the world. Its location on the Western coast of the Caspian sea gives it a strategic importance. Iran frames its southern border. Turkey is in the West. Russia — in the North.
The capital of Azerbaijan Baku is a thriving modern metropolis, mostly thanks to the oil wealth of the country. At the time this country produced more than half the world’s oil reserves. Now, after 26 years after independence, the government is trying to get rid of its Communist past in exchange for closer ties with the West.
Azerbaijan is home to about nine million people. Most of them are Muslims. Exact numbers no one knows, but, according to some estimates, only ten thousand people — Evangelical Christians.
“I was the first Azerbaijani, who accepted Christ,” — says Sary Mirzoyev, pastor of the Baptist Church “Love.”
In 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he became the first Azerbaijani who converted from Islam to Christianity.
“Nobody understood why I did it, but seeing how God works in my life, I realized that all around me are spiritually dead,” he says.
He accepted Christ, being in the same Russian Church. At that time there was no Church for ethnic Azerbaijanis. According to Mirzoyev, in 1995 God gave him a prophetic word that the Azerbaijani Muslims come to Christ through his testimony.
“All believers, which I knew was Russian, says Sarah, the Lord said that the Church will soon be filled with Azeris, and God will do it through me.”
22 years later, he heads the largest Azerbaijani Evangelical Church. Most of its members are converts from Muslims.
“Sometimes one service that we have 30 or 40 people accept Christ as their personal Savior,” says Sari Mirzoyev.
To establish this Church was not easy. Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, believers, in particular Christians and other missionaries that are regularly involved in evangelism faced with various harassment and intimidation. He said that in recent years adopted religious laws even more complicated registration processes of the Church, publication of Christian literature and open proselytism.
“It would be impossible to effectively share the gospel without God’s wisdom and assistance of the Holy spirit,” says Alan Bedoev of “Mission Eurasia”. He works with a network of unregistered house churches outside the capital. According to him, in the countryside for a story about their faith can be fined or even arrested.
“To preach the gospel here was never easy,” he adds.
Hafiz is involved in the service called “School without walls”, which tries to reach Muslim families.
“Muslims often comment that we live in joy, and they wonder where we have this joy. We tell them that we are Christians, and seeing how our lives had changed, Muslims can see the gospel,” he says at a secret meeting of young Azerbaijani believers..
Ali, another convert, uses the program “School without walls” to help young people in search of meaning of life. He says that at home a little easier to talk about faith: “It is a convenient and simple method of Bible study. Young people can communicate face to face and ask each other questions in a safe environment.”
And the fact that people can read the Bible in their native Azerbaijani language, contributes significantly to the growth of the local Church.
“Previously, generally it was impossible to find the Bible, but now people had access to the Scriptures,” says Gulshan Huseynova, an employee of the publishing house “Kitab Shirketi”.
Gulshan Huseynova works at the only Christian publishing house in the country. In 1995, the authorities allowed her to publish Christian literature.
“We started to translate the Bible, to the Word of God in their native language. We then began to publish books for children and other Christian literature,” she says.
But in the capital, the community pastor Mirzoyev undergoes constant monitoring. In the past the Church has repeatedly closed, and he was arrested.
“We have a tough road, but we are all overcome by the power of Christ who loves us. We faithfully pray for our President and the entire country,” says Sari Mirzoyev.
And in the predominantly Muslim country, where Evangelical Christians are only about ten thousand, he believes that all his people will come to God.
“We want people to nine million Azerbaijanis have believed and come to know Christ. This is our dream,” he continues.