Training Strategies in Central Asia

Resistance to the "new" Islam by Central Asian Muslims presents an opportunity for indigenous Christian missionaries.

For some time now the Middle East and Indonesia have been the hot spots of Islamic belief and way of life. Today Central Asia is about to emerge as the next hot spot, even though it has already had an Islamic heritage for hundreds of years.

People groups in this area of the world originally practiced some form of Shamanism, and its beliefs and practices are inherent in their culture even today. After being conquered by Muslims, there were many areas where a new form of Islam developed, converging Islam with the indigenous religions of that time. These indigenous people are known for taking pride in their unique traditions.

When the Soviet Union took over the regions of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan, and Azerbaijan, all religious beliefs were squelched by the new government. Or so they thought. A remnant of Christians, as well as Central Asian Muslims, remained underground, each practicing their own variation of either religion.

New Islamists create window of opportunity for Christians

In 1991 when the former Soviet Union released these countries, they regained their identities, and religion was, to some extent, tolerated. Increasingly large numbers of Muslims from the southern "-stan" countries began migrating to Central Asia, attempting to regain their former control. But these new Islamists consider themselves to be superior to the indigenous Muslims. The new Muslims look upon these cultural differences as religious aberrations, and they are intent upon destroying this Central Asian cultural heritage. Naturally, the indigenous people are resentful of this criticism and interference.

Due to the religious contentions between the two Muslim sects, Christian indigenous missionaries are finding fertile ground for planting seeds. Native Christian missionaries do not try to change cultures or heritage – they only seek to change the hearts of the men and women and lead them out of darkness.

Even so, the work is difficult because the workers are few. While there is a predominance of Islamic schools, indigenous Christian missionary training is just beginning. Christian Aid has assisted one ministry that has taken it upon themselves to provide training courses in very strategic locations.

Short term training

This ministry leader is conducting short-term (two to three months) training seminars for Christians who are committed and already involved in some kind of ministry. He picks strategic locations, so that students may come from many different cities and villages. Christian Aid has been able to assist these students during their schooling because of gifts given by donors who specifically designated their gifts for this purpose.

Students need support for travel to and from the training centers, for their food and school materials. The training sessions are generally held in a church or other available facilities, which are intimate enough for teachers to impart their personal missionary experiences. Trainees bring with them their own bedding – a roll-out mattress. Some of them sleep in the church and some stay with local Christians who provide housing.

There are many Tajiks living in Uzbekistan, as well as Tajikistan. Many of them have friends and relatives working in Afghanistan, some of whom are active in political fighting.

Once missionaries in Central Asia have been properly trained for evangelistic outreach, they will be able to travel freely across borders into difficult and dangerous areas with the gospel. When workers gain the trust of the people, there is hope that they will be able to plant churches in Afghanistan.