When Open Doors researcher Stefan* first visited Central Asia in the 80s, the church of local believers was tiny. But in the years since then, God has been powerfully at work – and not always among the people you might expect to come to faith in Jesus – ex prisoners and former drug addicts have found God’s grace and are building a new church.
It’s a difficult situation for the church in central Asia. Russia is no longer in control, so these are independent states – but in order to build a national identity, they are using Islam. And that means that when you are not a Muslim, you have problems, especially when you are active in evangelism. So it’s difficult for churches who are reaching out to Muslims, and it’s even more difficult for nationals who have converted to Jesus Christ – but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t at work.
It’s exciting how God is building his church in this area of the world. By now tens of thousands of nationals, of Uzbeks, of Tajiks, of Turkmen people, have come to faith. Each of them has their own unique story. The Lord is reaching out in special ways and he’s often taking care of people who are at the fringes of society – people we don’t think very highly of.
I know one very active believer who used to be a criminal. He described himself as ‘a really bad person’. And for that reason, he ended up in jail. He spent many, many years in jail because of his crimes.
But during his time in jail, he was visited by a lady who would bring him and the other prisoners food. She could not talk about her faith in Jesus Christ, it was not allowed, but she would simply enter the prison and give food.
He really loved her for doing that. So when he was released, he went looking for this lady. When he found her he asked, ‘I would like to know your secret. Why have you been visiting us in this prison for such a long time and giving this food?’
She said, ‘Because I love Jesus.’ In response the man said, “I would like to know more about Jesus.” And she shared her faith and he came to faith as well. And since then he’s been visiting prisoners trying to help them.
By now they have a whole community of people who have been in prison. It’s very special when you can join one of these meetings, because this is the way they greet one another: ‘Hi, my name is Vladimir Nine’ or ‘My name is Ali Eight.’ The figure they are giving is the number of years they spent in prison.
The Lord is building a special communities across Central Asia – and not just among prisoners. There are many people in the church who have struggled with drug addiction. The region is close to Afghanistan, a major production house for hard drugs, and they are smuggled into the region. Many people fall victim to this. A number of Christians are trying to reach out to drug addicts.
One Christian I met told me his story. He used to be an addict himself – first to alcohol, then to cigarettes, and then to hard drugs.
He was desperate. He tried to commit suicide twice. Miraculously, he survived and he wanted to start a new life, but he didn’t know what to do. A friend of his told him about a special rehab place, saying, ‘there is a special place here in town where they take care of drug addicts. The only bad thing is that the people who are running this house have this strange faith in Jesus. But if you just let that go in one ear and out the other, you’ll manage. They will really try to help you.’
He went to this place, and was taken in on the condition he didn’t drink alcohol, take any drugs and stopped smoking.
This man said, “I stopped with the drinks. I tried to stop with the drugs. But smoking… I was smoking all the time. I continued smoking in this house. And one day I was caught. I was called in for a meeting, and they told me: ‘You’ll be out the next time we see you smoking again.’”
“I went into my room and I was desperate. I wanted to break free from all these addictions and to have a new life. But how would I quit smoking? And I just cried out. I said, ‘Jesus, if you really exist, help me because I can’t do it alone.’
“That moment something happened. I felt something on my shoulders, very heavily. I did not know what to do. I went down to my knees and I stayed on my knees for a long time. I lost sense of time. I was just sitting on my knees and something touched me. From my head to my feet, something happened inside my body. And I got peace, complete peace. And I knew this is was something of Jesus. But I didn’t know Jesus.
“I didn’t know what was happening to me. I didn’t have any explanation. I just had peace. So after this I went back to the leadership of the house. And I said, ‘I would like to join your services.’ They prayed with me. And then the next morning I woke up and all of a sudden it dawned to me: ‘I’ve had no intention of smoking’.”
He was set free – and he’s still free. Today he’s an evangelist among his own countrymen. It’s just fantastic to see how he’s doing.
God is building a new church in Central Asia. Yes, there’s a lot of persecution, but there’s also hope for the church in Central Asia.
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