After a converting to Christianity, a man in Central Asia who was once a successful drug smuggler now uses his skills to run an undercover Bible distribution center.
Persecution watchdog Open Doors shares the story of Alim, who, as a young man ran an ambitious drug-smuggling operation in Central Asia.
However, he was eventually caught by authorities, who locked him away in a prison cellar. While in prison, Alim struggled to find purpose in his life.
"For a long time, I neglected the spiritual questions. I was empty, and I didn't want to live," he recalled.
One day, his cellmate offered him the New Testament book of John to read. With little else to do, Alim began reading - and soon began asking questions, wrestling with the concept of eternal life.
Reading the Gospel in that prison cell, Alim met Jesus, forever changing his life.
While serving the remainder of his sentence, he became free from drugs and alcohol and began to grow spiritually. By the time he was released from prison, Alim had decided to enroll in seminary.
Eventually, Alim began pastoring a local congregation. However, because the area was hostile to Christians, the church was forced to meet in hiding, regularly rotating locations.
Still, Alim continued his ministry - even put his smuggling skills to use. Today, he directs one of the largest Open Doors Bible distribution facilities in all of Central Asia.
"Alim and his team smuggle the illegal Bibles, discipleship resources and evangelism materials stored here to churches throughout five nearby countries," notes Open Doors. "This underground network provides believers with the vital words of Jesus to sustain their Christian walk. They also do what Alim's cellmate once did for him-help unbelievers meet Jesus for the first time through the words of the Bible."
"Of course, it's dangerous," Alim said. "The authorities will come and search, but the materials are hidden."
A sign hangs over the illegal Bibles that displays the words of Proverbs 8:10: "Choose my instruction rather than silver; knowledge rather than choice gold."
While Alim will return to prison if the Bible distribution center is discovered by authorities, he continues to work tirelessly to spread the Gospel: "We are here to start a revolution: to bring people from death to life!" he said.
The persecution of Christians runs rampant in some former Soviet states; in fact, Open Doors International listed Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan on its 2016 World Watch List of the 50 places where it is most dangerous to be a Christian.
Ranked 15th on the list, Uzbekistan is the most persecuting country in Central Asia, and in the Republic of Azerbaijan, (34th on the list) Protestants are considered "extremists." The country also has many "prisoners of conscience" who are Christian, Muslim, or other religions.
To learn how you can support Christians in Central Asia, click here.