Category Archives: Kazakhstan

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!

 

 

 

Kazakhstan – R.K.’s visit to Yermek Balykbekov in Karaganda

FROM R.K.’S CORNER

RK Ulrich 2012Kaz - Kar 2014 Yermenk with WifeIt is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I believe it is equally true that seeing in person is worth a thousand pictures.

In 2003, John Macintosh, a Canadian missionary to Russia who visited our home in Florida, shared Yermek Balykbekov‘s testimony with my husband and me.   A year later, I briefly met Yermek personally while in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It took, however, ten years — not until my trip to Central Asia in May – before I was able to personally see him and his family in their own home, which is located in the city of Karaganda.  In the interim, we had become good friends and ministry partners thanks to modern online technology which enables us to communicate directly face to face across the globe on the screen in real time. Karaganda is located in the central part of the country which is a ten hour ride by overnight “express” train due north from Almaty.

It was fun to be among Kazakh and Russian people without any guide or translator – no one on the train spoke a word of English; on the other hand, I am not fluent in either Russian or Kazakh.  The sink-and swim sense in trying to communicate and be understood without words is wonderfully challenging – I had a great time with the people on the train! Once in Yermek’s home, language was not an issue; both he and his wife are quite fluent in English. 

During my three day visit I stayed with Yermek, his wife Kamazhai and their children, and was met with boundless love and hospitality.  They walked me through their lives and community while introducing me to their friends, family, and church fellowship. A scrumptious celebration meal with members of their extended family who are believers in EISA (Jesus), was indeed a feast fit for a king —bountiful with many Kazakh delicacies, all made from scratch with natural ingredients!

Before you read on, you may like to familiarize yourself with Yermek’s background, testimony and ministry to his people.  You will find that by clicking on the PDF Archive button on the top menu list, then scroll down to the October 2011 Bridge Report and click on it. You can also click on the following link:

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/pdf/october2011.pdf

THE BACKDROPKaz - Kar 2014 Mosque

The diverse ethnic peoples of Central Asia were oppressed for seventy years under the brutal force of the Soviet Union with demands that they conform to the Russian language and culture to find their identity as the atheist “Soviet citizen”. In 1991, when the Central Asian peoples declared their independence and established their individual national boundaries, the young generation began searching for their identity and spiritual significance.

Being rooted in Islam since the 8th century, Kazakhstan reached back, rejected the Russian influence, and declared that the Kazakhs, their language and culture were to be dominant. Although the country comprises over 100 different ethnic groups, “The Kazakhs belong to Islam and Islam to the Kazakhs”, became the slogan. It was not publicly acknowledged that there were thriving Christian communities all throughout Central Asia in the six centuries before Islam, mainly due to the massive missionary efforts of the Assyrian church. The historic fact is – Christianity was there before Islam!

The years right after the fall of communism, Kazakhstan was wide open to the Gospel, being called “The Gateway” to the other more spiritually restrictive neighboring countries. The evangelists from the West found open hearts to faith in Jesus mainly among the ethnic Russians in the country. Agape in Almaty with whom I just celebrated their 25th Anniversary as Evangelical Center, is an example of that (see last month’s report).

It continues to be more difficult to reach ethnic Kazakhs with the Gospel, as they reject Jesus, considering Him to be a Russian or American god.  Another deterrent to the Gospel is a recent legislation which was passed and ratified by the President a couple of years ago, which has placed more government regulations on churches, and restricts individuals to openly share their faith in public.  This restrictive law does not as readily apply to the Muslims or the Orthodox church.  The new-found oil riches has lifted many out of poverty into a better life,  but with the drawback that the prosperity has created a consumer society of materialism which drowns out the quest and hunger for God. In spite of all that,  the young men in Karaganda flock to the magnificent-looking new mosque in the center of the city and find their identity in the resurgence of the Muslim faith. Not so many find their way to the Christian church.

YERMEK’S MINISTRY

Kaz - Kar 2014 Church - CrossYermek, more than anyone I know, understands the importance of presenting the Gospel so that it is relevant in the Kazakh cultural context. “We must demonstrate that receiving Jesus Christ does not mean we must forego our own culture to embrace a foreign one, but that in Him we become the person we were created to be as Kazakhs!”  A three time national Champion in Marshal Arts on behalf of Kazakhstan, Yermek laid down his future ambitions when he met Jesus Christ, and returned from Moscow to his home city where he tirelessly labors to present the Christian faith to his people. For several years he pastored a growing fellowship of new believers.Kaz - Kar 2014 Yermek at Kaz Church Recently, he felt called to merge his fellowship with one of the larger Russian-speaking churches in the city where he is Assistant Pastor and leader of the ethnic Kazakh believers within the church. “It is important that we understand who we are as Kazakhs in Christ, but also that we belong to and function together in love with the larger Body of Christ in the city and world-wide.  We recognize that God equally loves all nations of the world.”  He has been given space in the church building to decorate a large room in the Kazakh tradition where he conducts services , teaches, and trains the believers in the Word of God, using the Kazakh language.  Their meetings always include food and fellowship.

Kaz - Kar 2014 Intercession WallGreat emphasis is placed on intercessory prayer. The prayer corner has pictures of friends and family members being prayed for. “Prayer is the very backbone of what we do together. We are now in the period of the Islamic RAMADAN. We are surrounded by Muslims who faithfully pray five times a day to Allah. Should not we as believers in Christ pray the more to our God—the author of Life?” Kaz - Kar 2014 Yermek showing TrinityRegularly, he and a group of brothers do prayer walks in the city while proclaiming the Word of God over the people! To the left, Yermek points to the customary three intertwined strands of the circular wood that is placed at the open top of their traditional YURT, the customary movable home of the Kazakhs living the nomadic lifestyle on the steppes.  He likens it to a tangible symbol of the Biblical Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Their national string instrument,  the DOMBRA, is displayed in the background.

HOME AND FAMILYKaz - Kar 2014 Dessert with Family I had a delightful time with some of the believing members of Yermek and Kamazhai’s family. Hospitality with food is a hallmark of the Kazakh culture—it was quite a feast!  There were a variety of dishes of all sorts – meat, vegetables, fruits, pastries –  all colorful, tasty, and homemade!  The main dish is the traditional Beshparmak – “Five fingers”, signifying that it used to be eaten by hand, which is horse-meat with potatoes and vegetables, seasoned with culinary spices – after all, they live along the Silk Road! After dinner, I was given extravagant gifts — a gorgeous Kazakh national costume with hat, a shawl, and miniature handmade replica of a the yurt, the Central Asian camel (which has two humps) and the Dombra.

Kaz - Kar 2014 BeshparmakKaz - Kar 2014 Yermek and Kamashai at table

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE KAZAKH CULTURAL CENTER

Kaz - Kar 2014 Kazakh ArtifactsKaz - Kar 2014 Playing DombraYermek is actively engaged in The Kazakh Cultural Center downtown where both adults and young families with children are introduced to their Kazakh cultural and historic heritage.  So much was lost and forgotten during the seventy years of Soviet rule when the Russian language and culture were dominant. During my visit, I was introduced to language teachers and artists, musicians, and dance teachers  with many volunteers who conducted a variety of classes; the building was full of joyful activities by children  of all ages.  I was especially taken by the masterful playing of the national instrument, the DOMBRA, by the music teacher who was training a young girl how to play.  Please watch the video below:               The Center is an important meeting place for the building of inter-relationships between families within the community!  The glass cage above contains Kazakh artifacts still in use today.

Kaz - Kar 2014 Downtown Victory DayOne evening, I went with the family on a walk downtown. New, impressive buildings, expansive malls, broad avenues, and beautiful fountains with splashes of colorful lights demonstrate that Kazakhstan has made the leap into the modern world  and has been transformed from being known, just twenty five years ago, as the obscure hinterland of prison and labor camps for unwanted Soviet citizens to becoming a major economic and perhaps political force in today’s world.Kaz - Kar 2014 Yermek's Trade SpotTo supplement the rather meager Pastor’s salary, Yermek has opened an attractive trade spot, (kiosk) in the hallway of one of the malls downtown.  Among miscellaneous personal and household items, he sells mobile phone cards and accessories.  Right now it is touch-and-go, but “My goal is that, hopefully in the near future, my business will enable me to be fully self-supported as a minister of the Gospel.”

Yermek understands that if he is to effectively reach his people for Jesus Christ, he must be active and relevant both in church and in the marketplace. “We must not only preach the Gospel, we must also demonstrate it through our lives – just as Jesus did.”

We would like to raise an extra $500-$800 per month toward Yermek and his ministry.  If you want to sow into his life and ministry to his Kazakh people, you may either:

Give via PAYPAL by clicking on the DONATE button above and follow instructions, or:

Write your check to The Bridge International, mark it 8342 KAZAKH WORKERS 2, then send it by postal mail to:  The Bridge International, 13762 SW State Road 84, Suite 423, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33325.  

If you desire to give a set amount monthly, please download the Electric Funds Transfer Form (Direct Deposit) from the DONATE page above, fill it in and send it to us with an attached void check.  This authorizes us to withdraw your donation monthly from your bank account. You may also call me and give your EFT information over the phone:  +1-954-916-0521.

Two sisters — different ethnos, cultures, languages, backgrounds and outlooks on life—yet one in heart and spirit through Jesus Christ.

Two sisters — different ethnos, cultures, languages, backgrounds and outlooks on life—yet one in heart and spirit through Jesus Christ.

Who will capture the hearts and minds of the next generation in Kazakhstan - Allah or Jesus?

Who will capture the hearts and minds of Kazakhstan’s next generation – Allah or Jesus?

 

 

Kazakhstan, Almaty – Agape Evangelical Center’s 25th Anniversay Celebration

A splash of colors with worship, music, dance, prayers, exhorting Biblical teaching, food and fellowship — a magnificent three day celebration with close to a thousand indigenous Christian believers in this Muslim-dominated country! A new fellowship hall was just added to the church building with Isaiah 54:2 (“Enlarge the place of your tent…”) pasted in large letters on the wall as a statement that God’s Kingdom keeps expanding in Kazakhstan!Kazakhstan - Agape 25 Celeb 1 Kazakhstan - Agape 25 Celeb 2 Kazakhstan - Agape 25 Celeb 3FROM R.K.’S CORNER

RK Ulrich 2012In the last three months, I have traveled overseas to several countries where The Bridge has been in partnership with indigenous believers for a number of years.  The most extensive was a three week visit in May to Central Asia, which caused me to delay the May Bridge Report till this month, so this is a combined May/June issue.

The purpose for my visit was to partake in the 25th anniversary celebration of Agape Evangelical Center in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and visit two other Bridge partners: Sargon Daniali and his family in Almaty, as well as Yermek Balykbekov and his extended family in Karaganda. My itinerary also included a trip to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

In 1992, our Bridge team met Baikal Dzoziev, a Russian Kazakh, in Moscow during a conference we sponsored on behalf of renown Bible teacher Derek Prince, who was the main speaker.  In the late eighties during the communist era, Baikal had come to faith in Jesus after a traumatic event.  He and a comrade had gone trekking in the nearby mountains of Almaty when they were overtaken by an avalanche which buried them both and killed his friend.  Pinned under masses of snow, Baikal, then an atheist communist, cried out to a God he did not know, and promised that if He would rescue him and let him live, he would seek to find Him and serve Him.  Miraculously, he got out, and came to faith in Jesus.

Shortly afterwards, he met three other underground believers — Yuri, Nikolai, and Natasha.  In 1989, they formed Mission Agape, knowing the Lord had called them to share their faith with others in Kazakhstan and Central Asia.  Although still illegal to be a Christian, the team began to openly evangelize in streets and parks.  Several times they got in trouble with the authorities.  That did not deter them; they kept on sharing their faith, and people responded!

In 1992, three years later after Mission Agape was founded. The Bridge came alongside these new believers and began helping them in their ministry.  Agape Church was established, and in 1993, The Bridge helped establish a Bibleschool for church planters, and for several years sponsored their school (now Bible College), church planting, and pioneer outreaches of the graduates. Agape has been fully financially self-supported for more than a decade — it is in every way an  indigenous Christian Center in Kazakhstan!

At the 20th anniversary in 2009, I expounded in several Bridge issues on the founding and history of Agape. To learn more, please copy and paste into your browser:

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/pdf/may2009.pdf

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/pdf/july2009.pdf

http://www.bridgeinternational.org/pdf/august2009.pdf

You may also find these articles on this website by clicking on the PDF Archive button and go to the May, July, and August  2009 issues.Kazakhstan - Agape 25 Celeb 4

Kazakhstan - Agape 25 Celeb 5 THE MOTTO OF THE CELEBRATION: PSALM 118:19-21

“Open to me the gates of righteousness; I shall enter through them, I shall give thanks to the Lord.  This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous will enter through it.  I shall give thanks to You, for You have answered me, and You have become my salvation.”