Tashkent (AsiaNews/UCAN) Once on death row for murder, now he is a senior deacon for the Pentecostal church. This is the story of Sergey Malov, a former inmate himself, now director of the Rehabilitation Centre for former prisoners run by the Pentecostal Full Gospel Church in Tashkent.
"I found it adventurous to sneak into the flat through the small window when people were sleeping and I liked to be a leader," Malov remembers. But during a break-in he killed the member of a rival gang and for that was sentenced to life in prison, later reduced to 15 years.
In prison Malov became a Christian and in 1989was ordained deacon. Today he is married and in charge of the Pentecostal Rehabilitation Centre. The Centre's main goals are to evangelise and to socially rehabilitate former prisoners. Since its inception in 2001 it has treated more than 100 released prisoners.
"The goal of the rehabilitation program is to give recipients a positive perception of the surrounding world through the word of God, work and abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes," Malov said. "Most of them learnt about the Centre whilst in prison from Full Gospel Church members who visited them, distributed Bibles and talked about Christianity," he added. "In our centre we try to support those who started their faith in detention as well as those who need help but are still ignorant of Christ."
Still, staying at the Centre is no picnic. But "we are sure that prayers, work and obedience can stop them from being imprisoned again," said Sergey Nazarov, another former prisoner who now works as an assistant to the head of the Centre.
The Centre provides some employment and income opportunities through a private company that produces metal lattice frames, doors and gates. "We pray God to give us more orders as we have so little money," Malov said.
The Full Gospel Church in Uzbekistan was established in 1986 and now has more than 10,000 members. It is one of the most active Christian Churches in the field of evangelisation. It uses Uzbek language to preach and relies on local folklore to draw young people. This has caused local authorities to harass it.
Muslims make up about 88% of Uzbekistan's 25 million people and Russian Orthodox Church members about 9%. The remaining 3% belong to other religions. Catholics constitute a tiny community of about 500 members.