Uzbekistan Accuses Development Orgs of Being Missionary Fronts

Agape Press provides a brief news report from Uzbekistan:

…The government of Uzbekistan has closed down two Protestant churches in Samarkand, the latest in a series of moves to expel foreign-funded institutions from the authoritarian, ex-Soviet state. Uzbek officials say a Seventh-Day Adventist church and a Protestant church run by a Korean pastor have been closed for violations that include illegal proselytizing. On Monday, an Uzbek court closed down a branch of Central Asia Free Exchange, accusing the American-funded group of urging aid recipients to convert to Christianity. Last month, police broke up meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in seven Uzbek cities, while another American-funded group, Global Involvement Through Education, was fined for what were called “attempts to convert locals to a religion of Protestant character.”

Interfax gives some further details:

“A Kokand district civil court has completed the first hearing into the case of [Central Asia Free Exchange]’s Fergana office,” a local justice department spokesman told Interfax on Tuesday.

The trial was launched following a wide array of complaints from the local population, the spokesman said.

“Witnesses have testified that CAFE officials explained that humanitarian aid was provided to converts to Protestant Christianity. They promoted Christianity and gave poor families in villages foreign-made bicycles,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the complaint against Global Involvement Through Education was that

“Under the pretext of teaching English, the foreign employees persuaded students of local universities to convert to a Protestant-style religion. Material evidence, including educational audio and videocassettes, CDs and various printed materials promoting Protestant ideas, was presented in court,”

According to its website, The Central Asia Free Exchange was

established with the emergence of Uzbekistan as an independent nation in 1991 and is registered as a humanitarian aid organization in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

The organisation believes in working closely with local people to develop “relevant, holistic, locally sustainable development”. Its partners range from NATO to George Soros to the UNHCR to the evangelical Samaritan’s Purse. The president of the organisation, Jeff Liverman, is a Christian, but CAFE does not stress any religious motivation.

Global Involvement Through Education, meanwhile,

…was incorporated in 1990, by a group of friends whose business and vacation travel had opened their eyes to the richness of the cultures of Central Asia, North Africa, Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. What they had experienced of these countries’ natural beauty, hospitality and culture dismissed stereotypes portrayed in the western media.

Its purpose is described as

…promoting international cross-cultural educational opportunities accomplished through assisting and facilitating various educational projects and programs throughout the world.

Whether or not the two organisations have actually engaged in missionary work is difficult to judge; one can hardly have confidence in the judicial processes of such an oppressive country (and I should add that although this blog has sometimes complained about unethical, endangering or tactless missionary behaviour, I find authoritarian repression of such activity to be far more objectionable). However, posing as educationalists is an established strategy for some missionaries; an interesting article on “Teaching English as a Missionary Language (TEML)” by two Australian academics notes that:

Our own searches have revealed a vast interconnected network of missionary organizations using English language teaching as a key tool. The Mission site offers ‘Christian Missionary Opportunities to Teach English as a Second Language’ and provides connections to a wide range of other organizations. A brief sample includes the following:…

  • Educational Services International (ESI) urges people to; “Teach English overseas in Muslim Asia, China, Russia, & Central Europe. Current opportunities in Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgzstan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Russia, Ukraine.” (

Over the border, a blogger who was recently in Afghanistan gave the following account last September:

In Mazar there is a strange organisation deviously called Partnership in Academic Development (PAD) which I had suspected for a while after having gone there to check out their library and English language programme…I spoke to an Afghan friend recently who confirmed my suspicions. They go for students and offer them free English and computer lessons, and then start talking about Jesus and love. I was told recently that the mullahs rumbled them, and they had to move to a different part of the city, near the UN office, and keeping a low profile.

Uzbekistan’s appalling human rights record, meanwhile, is a frequent topic at Forum 18.

2 Responses

  1. […] I noted problems arising from alleged links between missionaries and development work in Uzbekistan just a few days ago. […]

  2. […] as a front for missionary activities was recently seen in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan (as I blogged here); an academic article that looks at the phenomenon of Teaching English as a Foreign Language can be […]

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