PICTURE EDITION 26: KYRGYZSTAN: A SMALL AND STRUGGLING CHURCH

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1. History

Kyrgyzstan was at the heart of the Silk Road trade for millennia because of its east-west oriented mountains and subsequent abundant food and water supply. The ancient nomads pioneered the many local trade routes before horse traders from China took them over and started trading further and further west, eventually reaching Europe. In fact the southern city of Osh was famously called the half-way point in this once great trade route. Various peoples, including the Buddhist Kushans and Uyghurs, ruled these lands before the Mongols invaded in the 13th Century. This invasion was devastating, costing the Kyrgyz their written language and their independence.

A century later the Turco-Mongolian empire of Timur brought devastation to the Christian communities of the entire Central Asian Region, reportedly killing over 7 million believers in his Satanic purge of Christianity form his empire in the name of Islamic domination. In 1775 the Russians, under Catherine the Great, began to take an interest in the Kyrgyz people and region. In 1876 they formally annexed most of central Asia. This was the first and only time Central Asia has been ruled by Europeans. Eventually Communism was brutally imposed on the Kyrgyz, supressing Islam at all levels.

2. VToday

In 1991 Kyrgyzstan finally gained its long awaited independence only to be ruled by two corrupt dictators, both removed through popular revolt. It has since become one of the few former Soviet Bloc countries that has successfully transitioned to a democracy and is friendly with the west, even allowing US troops to use its airport during the Afghan War.

With only 6 million people, so much mountainous terrain and few natural resources, Kyrgyzstan remains a poor country with an income of just 2% of the USA. Consequently, half a million Kyrgyz have had to seek work abroad, mainly to the north in Kazakhstan.

Most Russians left the country soon after independence, but they left a distinctly European landscape and culture in the Capital city of Bishkek. German is also widely spoken in Kyrgyzstan as it was where Stalin sent many of his German prisoners of war. At independence the country was 5% German! Nearly all have since left. However, if you travel several mountain ranges to the south of the country there is a distinctly Islamic ethnicity, culture and identity, and it also much poorer. That’s what I found when I was there in 2016.

As with most Central Asian countries, Islam is on the rise since the fall of Communism. Some 2,000 mosques were built with Middle Eastern money between 2000 and 2005. Increasing Islamisation has created an atmosphere of fear for the few remaining Russian Orthodox and newer evangelical believers. However, most Kyrgyz people are still nominal Muslims and we met some while there who were proud to talk of their obvious shamanist beliefs.

3. Evangelical Highlights

Because it was on the Silk Road, the Nestorian church with its amazingly active missionary movement came to Kyrgyzstan very early in the history of Christianity. Several uniquely Christian cities have left remains in the fertile valleys of Kyrgyzstan even to this day. We saw a stone image of Christ in 2016 while visiting an archaeological site of the Kyrgyz Medieval city of Balasagun destroyed by the Mongols.

With the fall of Communism there was a short window of opportunity for Christian missions within Kyrgyzstan and the church grew impressively in those few years. Today believers number some 50,000 or around 1% of the country, are centred in the northern city of Bishkek, and are culturally Western in their Church practice. This is a legacy of 120 years of a “real church” having a building and being registered with the government. This is unfortunate as visible Western displays of faith are associated with European subjugation and Islamic repression in the minds of the Kyrgyz peoples. Kyrgyzstan awaits a truly indigenous expression of the Christian faith such as we are seeing in Pakistan and Bangladesh. There are signs that this may finally be taking shape via a fledgling house church movement in the south.

4. Prayer Points

Pray for the young people who are making a stand for Jesus in the face of strong persecution

Pray for a culturally sensitive expression of Christianity to emerge, such as house churches

Pray for the intrepid and invisible church planters from South Asia. It is their backyard

Pray for boldness in the face of Islamic intimidation, property destruction and violence

Pray for unity between the old orthodox and the new evangelical believers

Pray for believers in the south, they are few and far between

Pray that radical Islam will become repulsive to the local people

Pray for apostolic leadership to rise up, people with a vision to take the land

Pray for the many young professionals in Bishkek who are now followers of Jesus

Pray for a decisive spiritual breakthrough, this used to by a largely Christian land!

Pray for the nomads, there are many. How do we reach them?

Pray for the emerging house church network of the Fergana Valley in the far south.

 

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