Christians said they saw a "sign from God" following a firebombing attack by Muslim militants on an evangelical church in Kyrgyzstan. The flames burned through much of the interior but stopped at the open Bible on the altar.
"This is an amazing sign," said a man identified only as Paul, from Operation Mark, a partner of Release International in Kyrgyzstan.
"This happened once before when Communists set fire to a Pentecostal Church during the night. The Bible and that building survived too, and there is no doubt the church in Kyrgyzstan will survive — and continue to preach the gospel."
Release International, a persecution watchdog group, reported on Monday that the radicals doused the Evangelical Christian Baptist Church in Kaji-Say with petrol, setting it on fire as a way to carry out revenge for outreach efforts.
The attack took place last week, with the fire spreading through the pews and altar cloth, but stopping right before it could touch the open Bible.
Firemen arrived to put out the flames, and no one was reported hurt, as the church was empty at the time of the fire.
Christians, who are a minority in Kyrgyzstan, say that they have been facing increasing opposition to their Gospel outreach efforts, with Operation Mark warning that tensions are getting worse.
Besides radical attacks, believers also face challenges in the face of the government, which forbids missionary work. The restrictions are found throughout countries in the region.
"In Kazakhstan, unregistered churches are not allowed to gather. In Tajikistan, Christian parents are not allowed to take their own children to church and in Turkmenistan many Christians have been arrested and beaten, interrogated and threatened. Copies of the Bible and New Testament have been confiscated," Paul explained.
"But the most difficult situation for Christians is in Uzbekistan and its autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan. Any gathering is illegal. In some places the only way to meet as a small group is to drive around town in a car."
Back in October, Kyrgyzstan, which has a history of communism, was listed by Pew among the top 10 nonreligious nations that are most hostile to Christianity and other religious institutions.
Other watcdhog groups, such as Open Doors, also reported on a number of attacks on churches in the country in 2017.
Last July, a church was robbed during the night, with furniture broken, and threatening messages left by hardline Muslims reading "We will kill you," "Don't teach our children," and "Allah."
"There have been reports in the past of Christians being denied the right to bury their dead, a family fleeing their village and a husband beating his wife and daughter to try to force them to recant," Open Doors noted of the challenges facing Christians at the time.