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:
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!