Kingdom of God Comes Quietly in Central Asia

Raised in a well-off Muslim family in Kyrgyzstan, Alima* could not believe that she and her two children were suddenly homeless.

She had always been a deeply devoted Muslim, reciting prayers five times a day, and was zealous to do good, according to native Christian missionaries. Her husband worked hard so the family could live comfortably in the impoverished Central Asian country, but then last year his coughing and shortness of breath hit, they said.

As Tariq’s health deteriorated, his attendance at the mosque became more frequent and intense, but soon he was so weak and in such pain that he had to be hospitalized. A pastor from a church in Bishkek, the capital, met him during one of his regular visits to the sick.

Kyrgyzstan law prohibits preaching Christ openly in the streets and inviting people to receive him, but evangelists can privately answer questions and pray for people who request it. In prayer, people can repeat prayers of repentance modeled for them, and after talking for a while, Tariq allowed the pastor to pray for him in Christ’s name.

His angry relatives at first refused to give him a funeral, but then practical concerns forced them to do so.

Tariq was comforted, but he declined the opportunity to repeat the prayer of repentance and believe in Jesus, the director of a ministry based in Kyrgyzstan said.

“A day later he felt worse, and Tariq himself asked the pastor to come to him,” the ministry leader said. “During the prayer, Tariq repented and accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. Later he said that at that point his fear of death had left him.”

Aware that death was imminent, Tariq began telling everyone he knew that Jesus was God. His wife was one of the first to hear him say this. Outraged, Alima resisted the urge to argue with him, but soon other relatives began rebuking him – openly and in harsh terms, the director said.

Three weeks after putting his trust in Christ, Tariq died. His angry relatives at first refused to give him a funeral, but then practical concerns forced them to do so, the director said. Searching for some other way to vent their anger, they forced his bereaved family out of their house, he said.

“Standing alone on the street, with no money and clothes, with two children, shocked and not believing this was happening to her, the only thing she could think of was to pray to God like her husband and ask for help,” the director said. “The next morning a pastor came to her and took her to our crisis center for women.”

For weeks native missionaries drew close to Alima through her grief and questioning. She cried out to them and to God.

“Christian people were next to her during that time, and it was not in vain,” the director said. “Today Alima is our sister in Christ, along with her children.”

Relatives came back to Alima and tried to cajole her back to Islam, he said.

“Alima says she knows the truth now, and that there is nothing more precious than God’s peace in her heart,” he said. “Today she prays, studies the Bible and serves in the church.”

Alima and her family are Dungans, a term used by people in former Soviet Union countries for Muslims of Chinese origin, specifically the ethnic Hui people of northwest China. The native ministry devotes its efforts to largely unreached peoples such as the Dungans, Uyghurs and Kurds, the director said. This year they undertook three trips to mountain settlements of Kurdish people that are difficult to reach.

“We drove more than 9,000 kilometers in total and organized 50 meetings in conditions where risk and threat from the Islamic community was great,” he said. “We established contact with 18 families, more than 100 people. Moreover, 12 of them accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.”

The ministry recently trained more than 900 lay leaders in 28 seminars and workshops, equipping them with knowledge and skills on how to serve, the director said. In 12 outreaches, more than 400 people who had not attended Sunday services began worshiping Christ.

About 86 percent of the country’s population is Muslim, with most of the rest nominally Christian members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Besides societal opposition, native missionaries face official obstacles. Kyrgyzstan’s 2009 Religion Law banning proselytism and distribution of religious literature is at odds with laws pledging to uphold religious freedom.

“By law it is prohibited to share the gospel of Jesus openly in the streets, but thanks to well-established relationships with our city authorities, they listen and consider what we say and do,” the ministry leader said. “In our city alone, in open spaces we conducted five programs, and workers were able to get into conversations with more than 2,000 people about the Good News. We cannot openly invite people to repent, but people approach us so that we could pray for them, and there they open their hearts to the gospel.”

Native missionaries such as these are working under difficult circumstances in countries throughout former Soviet Union territories. Please consider a donation today to help them bring eternal life to people who have virtually no chance of hearing the gospel.

*Name changed for security reasons

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