The Uyghur People of Kazakhstan

In recent years, Christianity has begun to take root in the Islamic republic of Kazakhstan. The small pockets of believers lighting the country typically reside in urban areas, leaving those in rural regions without access to the gospel.

The Uyghurs, a people living in rural Kazakhstan, originated from Turkish nomads living in Siberia. Large numbers of Uyghurs also live in China. For centuries, they lived along the Silk Road, transporting Chinese goods to Europe.

Literally translated, their name means "united." The Uyghurs living in Kazakhstan have been loyal allies to their people living in China, who struggle to gain independence. Often, they smuggle needed items into China.

Kazak Uyghurs have been heavily influenced by Russia. Most are bilingual, but choose to speak Russian, designated the official "language of interethnic communication", for everyday communication in Central Asia. Only 15 percent still use Uyghur as their first language.

Many Uyghurs cultivate cotton, grapes, melons and fruit tress through an irrigation system that pipes mountain water into the desert. The flat roofs atop their homes are used for drying grains and fruits. Uyghur men usually dress in long robes, and the women wear one-piece dresses covered by black vests.

Islam is the dominant religion of the Uyghurs. Most practice a mix of Islam and animism. Only a few hundred have converted to Christianity. As Muslims, they believe that Christians are their enemies.

At one time, a large number of Uyghurs professed faith in Christ; however, Christianity disappeared from the Uyghurs for more than 500 years, beginning in the 14th century. The last known group of Uyghur Christians were forcibly converted to Islam in 1930.

Slavik Radchuk, Christian Aid field director for Central Asia, channels funds to New Life Mission (NLMK) in Kazakhstan. Started in 1991 by Ivan Krykov, NLMK has planted 130 churches, one of which was started in 1994 among the Uyghurs. Approximately 120 Uyghurs now attend.

Krykov, a native Kazak, attended a Bible college in Estonia, after which time he returned to Almaty, the capital city of Kazakhstan, to raise churches for the following two years. In 1993, his newly formed missionary team sent out 25 gospel workers to 11 cities in Kazakhstan. Workers facilitate several humanitarian programs for the elderly, disabled and children.

NLMK opened a Bible school, and now has 77 branches and 29 mission stations in Central Asia. The goal of ministry workers is to open 1,000 new churches.

The Bible has been translated into the Uyghur language; however, they have been slow to accept the gospel message. Most cling tightly to their form of folk Islam, and native missionaries find that their greatest challenge is replacing the Uyghurs' false beliefs with the Truth of God's Word.