A CHRISTMAS APPEAL FROM KESTON'S DIRECTOR
by Lawrence Uzzell, Keston Institute, 15 December 2000
Dear Friends of Keston,
The next time you attend an Advent - or any other - worship service, look about and reflect on what you take for granted. You don't fear that the mayor will send bulldozers to tear down your church building. You don't worry that the local council will forbid your congregation to rent or buy property, or conduct Sunday-school classes, or distribute Bibles. You don't hear reports that your fellow believers have been arrested, tortured or executed just for practising their faith. Those who read the publications of Keston Institute know that every one of those forms of persecution is taking place right now in some of the countries that Keston studies. Despite some bright spots, the overall trend is toward greater repression: most Russian and Chinese provinces and most former Soviet republics have less religious freedom now than a decade ago.
Remote Turkmenistan, 1,500 miles (2.500 km.) south-east of Moscow on the Iranian border, is still ruled by the same old Communist Party boss as before the Gorbachev reforms. I vividly recall visiting its capital this year and standing in the middle of a heap of rubble; that is all that remains of what used to be the city's largest Protestant church. The church had been torn down by the secret police - not decades ago under Stalin, but in November 1999. Officials are now threatening to do likewise to the city's other Protestant places of worship.
Now as in the past, Keston Institute serves as the voice of the voiceless - believers in faraway places poisoned by generations of Marxist-Leninist rule. Experience shows that our work makes a difference. A simple phone call from an experienced, Russian -speaking specialist at Keston to a provincial bureaucrat can bring concrete results - even in hyper-repressive Turkmenistan, where Baptist prisoner of conscience Shagildy Atakov was recently allowed to have a medical examination. Many believe that Keston's work is the main reason why Russia has refrained from putting into practice the harshest provisions of its 1997 law on religion, which would cripple more than 95 percent of that country's Roman Catholic parishes.
Religious leaders, human-rights activists and western diplomats have been urging us to get heavily involved in China. They tell us that they need studies based on the same Keston style that has already proved so successful elsewhere - combining passionate commitment to freedom with meticulously accurate, judicious reporting. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, I can now say that 2001 is the year in which Keston will make that vision a reality.
My colleagues and I never forget that it is supporters like you who make Keston's work possible. Without you we would not have been able to place a full-time Keston correspondent in Russia from 1995 onward, just as the clouds were darkening there. Without you we would not now be actively recruiting new correspondents to work for us in China and Central Asia. Your selfless gifts and prayers are the key to literally everything we do. During this season of hope, please keep Keston in mind. Both the needs and the opportunities are greater than ever. On behalf of the oppressed and threatened believers in the countries we study, please accept our thanks.
Keston News Service costs per annum GB£30, US$50 or DM 90. Details of our bimonthly magazine Frontier and quarterly academic journal Religion, State & Society our available via or website http://www.keston.org
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