Moscow is known for its rich history, the perseverance of its people through hardships, and its architectural masterpieces. Think of Moscow and a picture of the intricately colorful St. Basil’s Cathedral comes to mind, or the impressive Kremlin walls protecting golden-domed churches. Moscow may bring to mind solemn paintings of icons, war veterans with furry hats – their chests decorated with medals, or cups of steaming tea and pink borsch soup. Yet the face of Moscow, and even the face of Russia is rapidly changing.
Over the past two decades, Moscow has changed from a city lacking even basic groceries to a metropolitan area where exclusive, extravagant brands sell their wares. Money is flaunted and sought after. Alcoholism and AIDS are rampant.
Perhaps, though, these are not the greatest changes. If you take a minute to watch the people that rush past in the metros and markets, you will notice that many different nationalities are mingling in Moscow. In fact, Moscow has the largest Muslim population of any European city. By 2050, Moscow is predicted to become predominantly Muslim. Currently, it is estimated that over 3 million Muslims reside in Moscow. Russia may one day soon be the largest Muslim country in the world.
Where do they come from?
Most immigrant Muslims come from the desperately poor republics of the former Soviet Union: Tajikistan, Uzbekistan,Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Azeris, Chechens, Kazakhs, Dagestanis, Tatars, Turks, and Uighurs are just a few of the many Muslim people groups that inhabit Moscow. Over 50 different Muslim people groups call Russia their home, (with people groups ranging in size from 100 people to over 5 million!)
Why are they coming?
It is estimated that between 800,000 and 2 million illegal immigrants hit the streets of Moscow every day (and between 2-6 million immigrants in Russia). When the average salary in Tajikistan and Afghanistan is often less than $30/month and jobs are scarce, the lure of Moscow’s wealth is often the only hope for survival.
Willing to take the most menial of jobs, they are employed throughout the city for meager wages. Street sweepers, construction workers, janitorial workers, clerks, drivers, trash collectors, and factory workers are just some of the employment they seek out.
What are living conditions like for Muslims in Moscow?
Since Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, life is understandably hard for migrants. Many times up to 40 Central Asians will share an apartment and live as simply as possible, so that they can send back money to their families at home.
There is also a growing resentment and fear towards immigrants in Moscow. Hate crimes against Central Asians has been steadily increasing. Beatings, murders, and even bombings against Central Asians by “neo-nazis” are all too-common news stories. In 2006, 539 hate crimes were directed toward Muslims, mostly Central Asians and people of the North Caucasus. Many crimes, however, go unreported, because the victims fear being deported by the authorities.
It is also not uncommon to hear of employers refusing to pay Central Asians for their labor, or taking their passports and holding them in a sort of modern-day slavery. Since most are here illegally, they have no recourse.
Still, the tide of immigrants continues to flood Moscow, because the prospects at home are so bleak. They are willing to risk the hatred, suspicion, and injustice for the chance at providing for their families or finding a “better” life.
Are there believers among these people groups?
Only about %0.025 are Tajiks are believers. Less than 2% of Aghanis, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, or Kazakhs are evangelical Christians. In all of these countries persecution is a very real threat. Afghanistan and Uzbekistan are among the top ten ranked countries in the world that support persecution towards believers. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan are also in the top 50 countries in the world where Christians are harshly treated.
In Moscow, there are a handful of evangelical Christian churches/small house groups that are Central Asian. Out of the handful, the majority are Kazakh churches. There is a tremendous need for discipleship among new Central Asian/ Muslim-background believers.
Are Muslims in Moscow being reached with the gospel?
As far as is known, only a handful of workers are specifically reaching out to Muslims in Moscow. The door is open, the hearts of Muslims are open, yet there is a desperate need for more workers, especially workers who can speak the heart language of Muslims (e.g. Tajik, Afghan, Kazakh, etc.).
Why is Moscow strategic for reaching Muslims?
Moscow is currently an open door for reaching out to Muslims. Not only are most Muslims in Moscow separated from family and cultural pressures (and thereby more open to the Gospel), but the persecution from government, which would be prevalent in most Muslim countries, is not a factor in Moscow.
Since Muslims in Moscow are often immigrants, they are also overwhelmed with life in such a big city, lonesome for family, and seeking friendship. Friendships that may take years to build in other countries can often develop quicker here by offering help and hospitality.
Also, since so many different people groups are represented in Moscow, it can be a great opportunity for reaching many nations from one city.
What resources are available for reaching Muslims in Moscow?
The Jesus film is the main resource that has been translated into most of the different languages in Moscow. DVDs are readily received as gifts and have been useful for distribution.
Some people groups have the full Bible available to them, while some only have portions of the Scriptures available. There is a recent translation of the Scriptures that is culturally attractive and well-received, known as the CARS Bible (Central-Asian Russian Scriptures), although is only useful to Muslims who can easily read and understand Russian language.
Audio Scriptures are another useful resource and widely available in many different languages. Since many Muslims come from an orally-based culture, audio Scriptures along with audio chronological Biblical stories are very useful tools in evangelization and discipleship.
What are the barriers to reaching Muslims in Moscow?
It is amazing how open Muslims in Moscow are, whether it be to broad sowing (giving out a Bible or DVD, etc. to someone you meet) or for developing more long-term friendships and discipleship. Currently, we have a great need for additional workers, especially those that can speak the heart language of Muslims in Moscow. We also have a need for funds and translation of printed materials, such as the CARS Bible or a chronological Bible study course that we plan to translate and print in various Central Asian languages.
We also have a need for mature, national believers who can reach out to their own people.
Finding an adequate meeting place can sometimes be a hindrance. With rental properties being some of the most expensive in the world, other creative alternatives, such as house churches, must be explored.
How can we pray for Muslims in Moscow?
*Pray for more workers, both national and foreign to be called to Moscow to reach Muslims.
*Pray for the spiritual and physical health of workers already in Moscow.
*Pray for continued and increasing vision and effectiveness for those with a passion for the work among Muslims in Moscow. Ask for all to have a spirit of love, service and humility.
*Pray for the effective gathering of Central Asian believers and/or seekers into new churches that are organized in a way that is reproducible in their home countries.
*Pray for the translation and printing of needed materials in Central Asian languages in Moscow.
*Pray for more Russian churches to catch the vision of evangelizing and discipling Central Asians in Moscow.
*Pray for a strong core of Central Asian believers in Moscow who have a vision for reaching fellow Central Asians. Pray for their protection, maturation in the faith, and for provision of their needs.