Today is my last day in Kazakhstan after a two month on-again-off-again visit that included a month in Kyrgyzstan. Christianity came to this part of the world over a thousand years ago. While Europe was suffering through a spiritual dark age, the Christian Faith was confidently spreading east toward China via enthusiastic Nestorian missionaries. Bishops were appointed in all the areas we now call countries ending with “stan” as well as Tibet and China.
Then came the exterminator Ghengis Kahn, followed two hundred years later by Tamelane, the Muslim warlord who executed some seven million Christians. Since that time this part of the world has been nominally Islamic, and at the same time clinging on to its folk religious traditions. In Kyrgyzstan I visited an Islamic victory tower built on the site of a defeated Nestorian city.
In the Nineteenth and twentieth centuries Russia starved the people, suppressed all religions (especially Islam) and imported millions of Russian settlers. As a consequence Islam does not run very deep here today and th country looks to the West for its culture.
With the fall of Communism there was a brief window of opportunity for the seed of Christianity to be re-sown into this wonderful land. Missionaries from the western world came in numbers during the 1990’s with support and programs to help Kazakhstan battle an epidemic of drug addiction that erupted in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. The church began picking up the lives that Communism shattered. At the same time indigenous believers emerged into the sunshine after decades of underground activity.
These last two months I have been getting to know some of the local believers. It is not easy here any more for them. Almaty has some significant churches, but generally they have to keep a low profile and are watched by the police. Step too far into the arena of witnessing and they are in trouble. Recently a high profile pastor was driven from the country. Evangelistic literature is banned, open witnessing is banned, and foreign, preachers preaching is closely monitored.
The government gives lip service to Islam, but in reality, it is deeply suspicious of radical Islam as well as Christianity. If an Islamist begins stirring up trouble and calls for Jihad they usually disappear forever. This is a dictatorship and the president will tolerate no threats to his power, no matter which direction the come from.
please pray for this country. The people are wonderful, kind and welcoming. The country is stunning and economically on the move, but they need to hear the truth. They need to know about Jesus once again, they have been in spiritual darkness for six hundred years, the church is growing, but it is not yet secure here.