Yermek Balykbekov — The Gospel Prospering among Ethnic Groups in Central Asia

BRIEF BACKGROUND INFO. ON CENTRAL ASIA

Central Asia includes the five republics of the former Soviet Union: Kazakhstan pop. 17.5 mill, Kyrgyzstan pop. 6 mill, Tajikistan pop. 8.5 mill, Turkmenistan pop. 5.4 mill, and Uzbekistan pop. 30.3 mill – a total population of almost 69 million. Afghanistan pop. 31.5 mill, is also sometimes included. Central Asia is historically tied to its nomadic, Turkish language-based peoples, of which there are 25 ethnic groups, and the Silk Road, which has acted as a crossroad for the movement of people, goods, and ideas between Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, and East Asia.  In the 3rd – 4th Centuries, the region was Christian, evangelized by Nestorian, Assyrian missionaries, but later Buddhism and Islam became the dominant religions. Today, there are less than 3% Christians in Central Asia, including the Orthodox Church. They are increasingly being discriminated against by the authorities – Uzbekistan perhaps being the most restrictive country against Christian believers.

REPORT FROM YERMEK BALYKBEKOV

In June, my wife and I, and our two daughters had a great opportunity, to spend our vacation in a very special way. In the middle of June, we traveled from our northern city Karaganda to Almaty, located in southern Kazakhstan, near the Chinese border.  We participated in a Turkish language speaking gathering of Pastors, (“kurultrai” in the Kazakh language), where national pastors and Christian leaders from Central Asia came together – from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tatarstan,  Turkey, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Karakalpakstan, and Christian leaders from the Uighur people.

During our gathering there were so many great and powerful testimonies that touched our hearts. Some of the pastors and church leaders have been persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ.  They are experiencing opposition from their families, the authorities, Muslim leaders, and their neighbors.  In spite of the many trials facing the followers of Isa (Jesus Christ), there is a deep hunger for God, so,  the number of those coming to faith and learning to be disciples of Jesus, keeps growing!

A leader from one of the Central Asian countries shared his testimony.  He told us how God used persecution for His own glory. That man (let’s call him Omar) was imprisoned for 15 days for simply being a believer and being unable to pay a fine of 1.500.00 USD, which is the penalty for being a Christian and doing religious activities in this country.  While in prison, he was placed in the same cell with an inmate who had been convicted of  terrorism.

Omar shared the Gospel, not by words, but by living out his faith day by day. Although the prisoners were given only one meal a day, he always prayed for the food.  His cellmate was amazed by Omar’s daily prayers for the food and for his joyful attitude towards every situation he faced. After a while, the Muslim prisoner began asking a lot of question about Omar’s beliefs.  Just before he was released, having daily been watching Omar’s life, he came to faith in Christ, expressing he had never met a man like Omar who was so full of hope, joy and faith – he wanted that!

When Omar himself was released from jail, he was sternly warned by the authorities not to preach about Jesus. You all know how the Apostles in the Book Acts responded when they were threatened not to share their faith; they just continued to preach!  

This was one of dozens of similar testimonies I heard in this conference. It proves that Central Asian believers are becoming more mature and eager to make disciples. Many of the them are working underground, due to safety issues for the believers and their families. Supernatural healing, visions and dreams are taking place in people’s lives, which also contribute to the spreading of the Gospel among Muslims, and the growth of the Church in Central Asia. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. I also strongly believe, it is due to the work of intercessor groups who have been faithfully praying  without ceasing.

During this vacation, my family and I also had the opportunity to visit brothers and sisters in Uzbekistan. It was great to be with them and hear so many testimonies, as well as sad stories of persecution. But, it is the price of being a believer who is a Christ follower!  There is a great hunger for the Lord among Uzbek Christians and they have great courage in spreading the Gospel. One of the Karakalpak (Central Asian ethnic group) brothers said to me this: We never pray that God will stop persecutions – we pray that God will give us boldness to preach the Gospel”.  These people are heroes of faith!

Dear partners, I want to encourage you not to give up in praying for the Central Asian nations and partnering with us the way only you can! Sometimes, we don’t see the results and get discouraged, but I tell you, they are there. Praise the Lord! We are all coworkers in His Kingdom! May God bless you!

In His Field, Yermek Balykbekov, Karaganda, Kazakhstan

FROM R.K.’S CORNER

Those of you who have been with us throughout the years know that The Bridge has been active in supporting the Christian faith in Central Asia by partnering with a number of indigenous faith-based groups various countries  It goes  back as far as 1993, when we helped establish the first Bridge-sponsored Bible-based Leadership School with Agape Evangelical Center in the city of Almaty, Kazakhstan. Gradually, our ministry began serving other groups and individuals in other areas. One of them is Yermek Balykbekov.

The partnership between Yermek and The Bridge began in 2004. To familiarize yourself with Yermek, his ministry, and our history together, please go to our web address on the Internet:

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/category/kazakhstan/

The hallmark of Yermek’s passion as a Pastor, is to see his Kazakh people, not only have faith in Isa (Jesus Christ), but become His disciples who reflect God’s Kingdom in every aspect of life  In this issue, Yermek reports from two gatherings of indigenous Christian leaders he attended in June, one in Kazakhstan, and one in Uzbekistan.  If you desire to join us in helping sponsor Yermek, please note Kazakh Workers 2 on your gift.  Thank you!

 

 

 

Disciple Support Ministries — Paul Cowley Ministering Outside the Camp!

Today, those of us who publicly confess and openly live out our faith in Jesus Christ as His disciples in the midst of our contemporary society saturated by atheism, secular humanism, anti-Christian “activism” and political correctness, may be tempted to get discouraged. It’s difficult to follow Christ, even in our private lives. Acting Christ-like in public will typically get you a strange stare, if not outright ridicule or arrest. Use the name of “Jesus” and you’ll be risking a riot.

This is not peculiar to decaying Western Christendom societies. This norm is global. We live in an age where most any “religion” is tolerated, but Christ’s ethics is not. Because Christ’s morality necessitates a God-ordained, fixed compass on what is “righteous” and what is “unrighteous.” And this generation simply won’t tolerate such “intolerance.” What is a Christian to do in such a depraved popular Culture as ours?

If we look at the context of Jesus’ days on earth, we find it was not so different. His standard of “right” and “wrong” was mocked and maligned by the popular religious elitists. His acts of kindness were twisted and turned into fanatical frenzies of mere miracle seeking. His humility was scorned, His Words largely ignored and His passion became a parade of perverse public voyeurism on the lonely, narrow road to Calvary. In that sense, not much has changed, after all.

Mankind rarely invents new depravities, but simply repeats, popularizes and institutionalizes them; then call them “Culture.” This begs another pertinent question, “What is a Christian to do when Culture clashes with Christ?”  The answer is simple, but certainly not easy: We are to follow Him!

It will require doing things that are God-pleasing, but viewed by others as ignorant, if not intolerant. It will require passing by “golden opportunities” offered by the world, but rejected by Christ’s “narrow” standard.  We should not expect applause, appreciation or admiration for faithfully following Christ. Indeed, we should anticipate much the opposite, and still, continue following in His Steps:

“Do all things without complaining and disputing that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Phil 2:14

In the slums, this great Spiritual Conflict is readily apparent. The Pastors of the slums confront such contradictions daily. If they faithfully follow Christ, they contravene much of the common Culture.  Poverty has as culture of its own, seeped in deceit, dependency and vicious competition. In extreme poverty, things that would normally assault our spiritual senses quickly become “culturally acceptable” and are swept under the carpet of carnal convenience.

The conditions of spiritual “poverty” are even more stunning. Mob justice, prostitution, sorcery, witchcraft, chronic lying, fleecing the church flock, fornication, stealing and cheating are often viewed as culturally allowable and acceptable, and as basic survival techniques. This is not to disparage a particular culture, this is simply the truth about life in the slums.

Our Pastors minister in conditions of extreme material poverty, yet God still requires them to rise to the occasion as representatives of Christ.

Poverty is something God cares deeply about, but it provides no excuse for sin by the poor man. Illness and infirmity are conditions that Jesus directly addressed and abated, but they provide no excuse for sin by the disabled. Unrighteous discrimination, be it tribalism, racism or sexism, are sinful in God’s sight, but they provide no excuse for sin by the one discriminated against.

All of us have conditions, circumstances or a conscience afflicted by abuse, neglect and oppression by others. But in no way does that excuse us from responding in a Christ-like manner. And the more we respond like Christ, the more abuse, neglect and oppression we can expect from the world around us. We may be shunned, as Christ was shunned. We may be set aside, as Christ was set aside. We may be considered, if not literally pushed, “outside the camp” of “normal” society.  Just as Christ was!

“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  Hebr. 13:12

In the local Culture of our Pastors, physical deformity is considered proof of either God’s curse, the work of the devil, demon possession or all three! Consequently, those with birth defects are typically killed at birth. Those who live are confined indoors for life!  Their presence outdoors is socially unacceptable. People are afraid their presence will bring curses to others in the community. Our Pastors live and minister within that context. And again, our Pastors suffer for confronting discrimination against the physically or mentally infirmed. A Pastor permitting such people in his church will quickly see his congregation disappear. Hence the magnitude of the moment on the picture below.

The man in the wheelchair is Peter. He has no use of his legs, and limited use of only one hand since birth. He has lived a life of being shunned. He learned to read and write at home, because no school would accept him as a child. He attends a popular church, but due to his infirmity, they will not let him do more than attend the church and receive his tithes. He is not permitted to serve in any capacity, due solely to his visible disability. He lives in a neighborhood that is not his tribal community, because he has been rejected by his own family and his clan. He lives among the poorest of the poor in a place that is the very bottom of the slum housing hierarchy. He knows what it means to be “outside the camp.  He was “outside the camp” and that is where Jesus expects us to minister.

Peter and I first met many years ago in a Bible Seminar.  Nearly ten years later, he happened to see me walking out of the Kibera slum. He asked me if he could come to the Bible School even though he was not a Pastor or leading a Ministry. We accepted him immediately without any regard to qualifications, culture, conflict or consequence. He was “outside the camp” and that is where Jesus expects us to minister. The next Wednesday morning, just after the sun had risen, Peter was already at the Bible School in his wheel chair waiting for us. He was grinning from cheek to cheek. “Good morning Brother Paul! I am ready to begin learning the Bible!” The other Pastors arriving with me were confronted front and center with a most culturally uncomfortable situation. Peter was physically deformed from birth, from “another” tribe, and from “that” most despised part of the slum! I watched and waited along with the ten Pastors who came to open the Bible School. And I prayed. And waited.

The Pastors welcomed Peter heartily! They greeted him with the genuine and sincere enthusiasm I would expect from a Christian, but would not expect from the Culture. They then did what Jesus  would do, they washed not just his feet, but his mud encrusted wheelchair! They carried him up the steep and narrow Bible School steps in his wheelchair.  They carried him down at every break, and back up, again. It takes four grown men much effort to do so. And then they pushed, pulled and mostly carried him every step of the muddy way back to his shack in the worst corner of the slum.

Every week since then, the Pastors of DSM meet Peter at his shack in the early morning hours to bring him to the Bible School. Four men volunteer in the morning, and four in the evening, come rain or shine! One Pastor takes notes for Peter, another coaches him through the class, tests and assignments. A third Pastor writes out his homework. Everyone welcomes him as one and the same as any other student. Surely this is not following Culture. This is the narrow road of following Christ. Peter has not brought a curse to us, as the prevailing Culture predicted. He has been a blessing to us. As the Pastors minister to Peter each week, I see what a Christian can do in these days.

In the final analysis, it just doesn’t matter what is going on around us the depravity, the antagonism, the opposition or discouragements of the current Culture. When in doubt, just do what Jesus did. Wash feet. But not just any tidy, acceptable or obvious feet nearby. Even “culturally-relevant” do-gooders do that much.

Begin with feet Outside the Camp. That’s where Christ is!

FROM R.K.’S CORNER

Last week, Steve and I had a delightful visit from Kenya by Paul Cowley and his 14 year old son, Isaac. Paul gave us updates from the mission field where he, with his wife, Marcia, and their three children, have served among the poorest of the poor.

Fifteen years ago, in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya – Africa’s largest urban slum, Paul founded Disciple Support Ministries, a non-denominational Bible Training and Disciple school for local pastors and ministry leaders who are serving their own people.  They are the Pastors of the Least”.

Steve and I have known the Cowleys for nearly two decades. We have followed their walk of faith from a prosperous lifestyle in South Florida to the slums of Africa. Embracing the small beginnings through hard work and prayer, Paul and Marcia now see good fruit.  DSM has expanded into a recognized, reputable agency for positive, long term change in the personal lives and communities of the approx. thousand pastors/ministers who have already graduated, as well as in the current student body of 250.

The key is solid Bible teaching and training at being, not just believers, but disciples –  followers of Jesus Christ!  Paul’s moving report from DSM in this issue of The Bridge Report, confirms the quality of training received.  The Cowley’s and the Pastors of the Least are indeed worthy of our prayers and financial support.   Please mark your donation to DSM: KENYAN WORKERS

The Ugandan Water Project – Living Water for the Thirsty

by James Harrington

Roots

The sounds of laughing, yard games, and the lively buzz of backyard barbecue conversation greeted me from across the street. It was Memorial Day 2007, and I was returning home from helping a friend with a house project. We had a great relationship with our neighbors so the festivities in their yard meant I was welcome to come grab a plate and enjoy the gathering.

Upon filling my plate, I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to a gentleman from Uganda, a pastor and schoolteacher, who had come for a conference. We sat and talked about our lives – the similarities and differences – and I was struck that this man said the biggest challenge he faced in church and the classroom was that those he was trying to teach were so often without clean water and that the daily struggle for safe drinking water was common in the lives of most Ugandans.

That first encounter left me productively disturbed. In August of 2008, after a year of learning, planning, and fundraising – five friends and I traveled to Uganda and saw the first two Rainwater Collection Systems installed on rural churches in Uganda, marking the beginning of the Ugandan Water Project. Since those first projects, we have continued to grow. The Ugandan Water Project now works in over 350 communities and has brought clean water to more than 155,000 people.

UWP employs a staff of 13 in Uganda (mostly Ugandan nationals) where we implement 3 primary solutions: Rainwater Collection Systems, Borehole Well Rehabilitation, and Water Filter Distribution. Sanitation and hygiene projects are beginning to take a larger role as well. Our projects focus on strengthening communities by resourcing schools, churches, clinics, and other foundational centers of local life.

Beyond the water resources we provide, UWP is a vehicle for bringing a tangible expression of the love of Christ to the communities we serve in Africa, while simultaneously creating an encounter with Jesus for all who engage in UWP’s programs. Matthew 25 tells the story of the sheep and the goats; Jesus reveals that when we serve those suffering in poverty – we serve Him personally. Applying that principle means that when UWP partners with families, churches, businesses, public schools, college groups, etc. – and support their efforts to learn about the water crisis in Uganda and raise funds for projects, there is an encounter with Jesus woven into that experience simply through the act of serving the needs of the poor.

The past ten years has been harder than I would have ever guessed, but from where we stand now, I believe the future impact we will have, is greater than we can imagine. Our vision rings louder and resonates deeper than when we first began:

“The Ugandan Water Project sees Uganda free from the burden of water-borne disease where water, sanitation, and hygiene resources empower communities to transform themselves out of poverty and live the lives they were created for.”

Diving Deep into Schools and Campuses

One of the great opportunities the Ugandan Water Project saw from the start, was the opportunity to partner with schools and colleges. Anchored to the cause of clean water for Ugandans, and driven by the values at the center of our Christian faith – we knew that service, self-sacrifice, compassion and other themes would resonate even in environments where incorporated Christianity isn’t welcome.

UWP has designed a robust program for working with public schools. Communications Director, Megan Busch, a former high school teacher, worked with UWP volunteers in the education field to write curriculum that corresponds to various subjects and grade levels. UWP’s founder, James Harrington, travels to schools across the US to help teachers and students launch 2-4 week campaigns that challenge students to change the world through raising funds to bring clean water to a specific school in Uganda. The results are amazing; just in recent months: a charter school in Arlington, TX raised $5,000; middle schoolers at the McDonogh School in Baltimore raised $8,000; and the 7th grade at Clarence Middle School near Buffalo, NY raised $23,000! These numbers are not the whole story – these results were the overflow of a message that we all have a purpose and destiny to impact this world and our efforts should be built around the only thing that actually works – the combination of Love and Self-Sacrifice.

College campuses have been another arena for amazing impact.  Water:Now is an event built on the assumption that God has designed us with far more capacity and power than we realize and that if a person could catch a glimpse of their real God-given-potential it could change their life.  UWP partners with Christian student groups to host an evening on campus where clubs, organizations, teams, Greek life, and the general student body are invited to come learn about UWP and change the world.  When students arrive, they are invited to participate in the audacious challenge to fund a water project for a specific school in Uganda ($3,000-$5,000) . . . in 1 hour.  The result is something between a flash mob and a telethon.  As the timer counts down, students reach out through various platforms to ask friends and family to make right-now-donations.  It often comes down to the very last seconds, but to-date, the goal has been met, every time! The final challenge comes amidst celebration – reminding students that they have 24 hours in every day and now that they have seen what they could do with just one – dream new dreams and take bold action to change this world for the better.

The UWP’s staff believe that the secret ingredient that helps them connect effectively with the next generation is their willingness to take huge risks on the conviction that young people are created to change the world right now and they are desperate for a chance to prove it together.

Good Intentions Ain’t Good Enough

The Ugandan Water Project operates both as a Christ-inspired ministry and as 501(c)-3 international development organization. From the beginning, UWP’s leadership knew that in order to have a platform and influence in the global industry of development work they would have to be ruthlessly committed to excellent, professional water projects.

One example of this is the evolution of UWP’s Rainwater Collection Systems. These projects began as simple plastic tanks fed by gutters from community buildings. Declaring the slogan, “Always Learning!” the staff and volunteers began step by step isolating and improving each part of the process – solving problems, updating materials, investing in training, purchasing tools, and above all, learning from others around the world. The result is that today’s Rainwater Collection Systems are recognized as the best available version in Uganda.

Another area of professional growth was Monitoring & Evaluation. UWP was not satisfied with simply giving a water resource to a community and hoping for the best. The organization realized their responsibility to prove that their projects would produce real change. “Ultimately, we aren’t in the water business . . . we’re in the transformation business” says UWP’s founder, James Harrington, “and we can’t prove transformation unless we measure what we do over time.”The organization committed 18 months of research and design to their M&E strategy and in May of 2016 launched a cloud-based set of data tools with partner, mWater. Now the organization tracks various indicators and can see proof that clean water in a community increase the number of girls in school; and that clean water at a school increases test scores dramatically. They can also prove that church growth directly correlates with a church bringing clean water to their community.

Theses investments in professional expertise have opened doors for the Ugandan Water Project to partner with other organizations and ministries – sharing with them far more than just the projects they do.

Next Steps

Perhaps you want to see your school or college group involved with the Ugandan Water Project. Maybe you’ve been looking for a way to engage your business with a charity that is driven by the values of our faith in Christ while still respecting the boundaries of today’s workplaces. Or you might be looking for a context to bring your neighbors and friends together for your own barbecue to change the world. If that’s the case, UWP would love to explore those ideas with you. There are more than 300 communities on UWP’s waiting list for water projects so there are plenty of opportunities!  Contact them today and let them know that you read about them in the Bridge Report.

FROM R.K.’S CORNER

The first time I laid eyes on James Harrington was in 1975. I had just moved to Upstate New York where I had helped establish and administrated a private elementary/junior high school in the Ithaca area. James was then a newborn, son of one of my colleagues at the school. I watched him grow up during his early boyhood. In his mid twenties he married Christy, a businesswoman in her own right, and together, they have raised three beautiful daughters; the oldest is now 18.

Seeking to serve the Lord via a number of entrepreneurial endeavors in the market place, also within the Christian community, James finally found his calling: presenting the Living Water Jesus gave to the woman at the well (John 4:3-15) to the millennial generation by engaging them to help meet the physical need for clean water among the poor in Africa through his Ugandan Water Project!

In this issue, I have asked James to share his vision for building bridges between Uganda and the millennials in the States. This is a project worthy of support!

Mark your donation: Ugandan Water Project.

James’ contact information: Tel. +1 585-315-6160

EMail: info@ugandanwaterproject.com