From Central Asia to Central Asia

15 Sep, 2017 | Central Asia
Nicole James
Two Central Asians read the Bible together.
When Aida* was 18, her mom became a believer. Initially, Aida wanted to pass off her mother’s faith as an old woman’s folly (people in Central Asia often start becoming more religious after the age of 50). But when she attended an Easter service at the church her mom attended, she met many young people.

“They were different than my friends. I found it weird and strange, but I really liked how they interacted with each other,” Aida remembered. At an evening fellowship meeting, which lasted until 3:00 in the morning, the youth shared with Aida that everything in their life was because of Christ.

A couple of hours later, around 5:00 in the morning, Aida decided to follow Jesus. “The reason is because I saw the difference in these young people, and I wanted to be like them,” she explained.

By then, Aida’s older brother had also became a believer. Slowly, one-by-one the rest of her family also accepted Jesus. “It’s unusual,” Aida shared. “Even though we are a family-oriented culture, most believers, when you see them, it’s just one person from the family. Sometimes it’s just the mother.”

Several years later, Aida joined the OM Ships Ministry for two years. “Being on the ship made me realise that God has a heart for missions. It’s not just about Central Asians; it’s not just about one particular country—God cares about all the nations,” Aida said.

Still, when her commitment ended—despite a rousing speech from OM Founder George Verwer challenging crewmembers into missions—Aida prepared to go home.

“OK, God, my two years are over, and I’m going back home. I’m not going anywhere, but I promise I will tell my people to go,” she prayed.

Back in Central Asia, Aida tried to go back to her normal life. “I wanted to be a normal person who goes to church on Sunday like all of my Christian friends,” she explained. Two jobs (and cities) later, however, she questioned whether having a “normal life” was what she really desired.

Around that time, she received an email from the OM country leader inviting her to planning meetings for the annual Central Asian outreach. Aida had participated in the two-week outreaches before and after her time on the ship, but she hadn’t maintained contact with OM since her return two years’ earlier.

After talking more with the country leader, Aida discovered he wanted to offer her a part-time job: coordinating the Central Asian outreach each summer.

“I remembered that when I was on the ship, I thought I would tell people that missions is important,” Aida stated. “I knew in my heart I would like to see Central Asians going out…. I would like to see the Central Asian church be involved in the world.”

She accepted the job. Seven years later, Aida is still involved with OM. “The company has projects that match my passion: mobilising locals into missions,” she said. “I guess it’s the right place for me.”

Mobilising Central Asians into missions

OM’s annual Central Asian outreach seeks to reach every city in the region with the gospel. It follows the same format as many of OM’s short-term programmes around the world: centralised training followed by outreach to surrounding countries. Currently, the three-day trainings are offered in two countries. Teams of two to four participants then travel to do outreach throughout the region for 10 days.

Structurally, the programme remains the same, but according to Aida, “Every year it’s exciting because every year it’s different people, and God is working differently.”

Aida and other organisers hope to mobilise Central Asians into long-term missions through the outreach programme. Increasingly, though, they’re focusing on churches instead of individuals.

In the past, Aida said pastors would accuse her of stealing their church members for missions. Now, a handful of pastors have organised entire outreach teams from their congregations. “God is doing something among Central Asian churches,” Aida shared.

Churches (or groups of believers) are also essential on the receiving side of outreaches. “It’s important that there are some locals that can do follow up” once short-termers leave, Aida explained.

Sisters sharing God’s love

Nastya*, who helps Aida organise the Central Asian outreach, grew up in a broken family. Her parents abused alcohol and argued constantly. Eventually, her father left.

During that time, Nastya asked, “God, where are you? Why is this happening to my family? What is my purpose in life?”

Somehow she heard about Jesus and wanted to go to the single church in her village. Afraid of her mother’s reaction, Nastya first prayed to Jesus that she would be allowed to attend. Her mother said, yes, and Nastya went to the church.

After the first service, Nastya wanted to accept Jesus. She prayed again: “Jesus, if you want me to became a Christian and believe in you, then change [my mother’s] heart so she will allow me go to church every Sunday.”

Again, her mother allowed Nastya to attend church regularly. From that point on, “God started working in our family,” Nastya remembered. Her mother became a Christian after one year, followed by her siblings. Seven years later, her father returned to the family, asked for forgiveness and accepted Jesus.

In 2005, Nastya participated in the Central Asia outreach for the first time. “I found out that I love [sharing] God’s love with people and talking to people,” she said. “I was a really shy person, but I found out that it’s not difficult for me to share God’s love with people. After that, I decided if we will have that kind of ministry in my country, I will make sure that I will be participating.”

Nastya said it has been exciting to see other Central Asians volunteering their time to share God’s love in the region. During training, participants learn about sharing their faith with Muslims, dealing with security, using their personal testimonies and telling Bible stories in a sensitive way. These lessons are new information for most participants. “At my church, we were never taught how to evangelise to Muslims,” Nastya noted.

Esther*, Nastya’s sister, joined the Central Asia outreach two years after Nastya. She participated five times because she wanted to communicate with new people, grow spiritually and “get encouragement to encourage others,” she said.

*Name changed

Nicole James is a writer for OM International, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.

Credit: Nicole James · © 2017 OM International This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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