Kazakhstan Report

Bonnie Stewart on September 16, 2007

Key verse Luke 9:23 ?If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.?


Even after spending three months in Kazakhstan, I didn?t know what to write for this mission report. I wanted to give a good picture of my time there while still being brief, so if I don?t mention something you would like to know, (like yes, they do eat horse meat in Kazakhstan) don?t hesitate to ask.

Brief History/Background of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a country of variety. The summers are usually in the 40s (?C) and the winters -40s. The cities are modern but the land around them is miles of grassland called steppes with mountains in the south. The young adults dress fashionable, but the older generation wears traditional Kazakh clothing with their everyday wear. Since Kazakhstan became part of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, there are many Russians living there, but other nationalities as well including Ukrainians, Germans, and Koreans. Russian is the official language of Kazakhstan, but since declaring independence in 1991, Kazakh became the state language. If you want to make fast friends, speak to people in Kazakh. The Kazakh people are very friendly and hospitable. I was told the best method to fish students on campus is to befriend them first and then introduce them to Bible study. The students are quick to make friends and gladly give out their cell phone numbers. Cell phones are very popular and most people get a new one every two weeks. The official government of Kazakhstan is a republic, but it is mostly ruled by the executive branch with the president having almost total power. When Kazakhstan became independent, Nursultan Nazarbayev became president and is still in office. Even though he has more power than typical presidents, Kazakh people like him and feel he is leading the country in the right direction to become economically strong. For political reasons, in 1998 the capital of Kazakhstan was moved from Almaty in the south to Astana in the north. Astana is going through many changes. The once pastoral town has become metropolitan and new buildings are being built everyday. The projected date of completion for the city is 2030. It was very interesting for me to see a city in the process of being built. The construction has left a lot of ground exposed so whenever it gets windy, sandstorms bring dirt everywhere. Unfortunately, the new status as capital city has made many Astana residents corrupt. They try to make money however they can even if they have to lie and steal. Drinking is also very prevalent and many families are traumatized by the effects of alcoholism. A large number of students grow up without parents so groups of friends become their family and influence all their decisions. Kazakhstan is officially a Muslim nation, but it tolerates other religions. Islam is a secular religion for Kazakhs. They don?t obey all the regulations (for instance only a few women wear head scarves) but culturally they are Muslims and identify themselves as such. Another issue is that students sometimes develop a beggar?s mentality and expect to be given things for no work. It is quite evident the people of Kazakhstan need Jesus as their Shepherd.

Astana Ministry

Ten years ago, M. David and Pauline Byun moved from Almaty to Astana in order to pioneer the new capital. They came along with 2 shepherdesses: Sarah, who is Russian, and Maria, who is Kazakh. Through God?s training and the active work of the Holy Spirit, a strong ministry has formed. I was pleased to see so many students. The biggest spiritual struggle they face is persecution. Both family and friends will fight strongly to prevent students from joining UBF and rejecting their Muslim culture. Thank God that many continue to stand firm in the gospel of Jesus. A few years after the Byuns came, M. Francis and Susanna Yun joined the Astana ministry. They have 2 boys: Samuel 5 and Francis 4. The Byuns also have 2 boys: David 8 and Daniel 5. S. Maria now has a house church with S. Rustam and they have a 2 year old daughter named Marishka. S. Joseph came from Moscow to marry S. Sarah and recently they went to pioneer Karaganda with s. Akmaral. S. Adil and S. Anara also formed a house church a little over a year ago. I got to know the Astana sisters very well and some of the brothers. A few new sheep who were baptized at the summer conference also began to attend worship service regularly. The sisters are: Aisulu, Lyazzat, Alma, Akbota, Gulsum, Madina, and Botagoz. The brothers are: Kairat, Serik, Muhammed, Bulot, Arman, and Erbol. There are others who I didn?t get to know very well so I never learned their names.

The ministry in Astana is very active serving new sheep and also training the student shepherds. Monday nights the missionaries and house churches meet to pray for the ministry. Wednesday nights are group Bible study and prayer meeting. On Saturday M. Pauline would have a Bible study with the shepherdesses and then have 1:1 with me. Sunday worship services were very interesting. I was surprised when I saw them men sit on one side and the women on the other (I later found out it?s to keep away distractions). After a visit from Dr. John Jun a while ago, Astana was given the direction to make the Sunday service more ?happy?. Since Kazakhs are very musical, they added singspiration and more special music. Singspiration was longer, with 4 or 5 songs sung each week. Also, they included motions and sometimes called people up to join them (yes, I came up a few times). Instead of singing hymns between the prayers and message, different people would sing special songs and everyone was welcomed to sing along. During the message, S. Aisulu and I would sit in the back while she translated for me. Her English is very good because she studied International Relations at the University. Aisulu is very involved with Astana UBF. She does singspiration, she?s a prayer servant, and helps with the sisters who live in common life at the center. I was shocked to find out how much her family persecutes her. When she graduated, her family forced her to move out of the center and live at home. She has to come to church secretly. Even though she struggles with her family, she joyfully serves and firmly seeks Jesus.

While I had some free time to act like a tourist, most of my time was spent teaching English. I didn?t feel I could teach English very well since I majored in Biology, but they were still happy to have me. Many have improved with their English and while they still make mistakes, they have the confidence to speak anyway. In July, S. Lori from Columbia NY came to help teach English. I basically led Romans Bible studies while she taught grammar. Attendance to the lessons was low and scattered but I learned many of the shepherds have to work very late. After Lori left, I also had to take over her English lessons for the children and teach beginners as well. A few weeks before I left, S. Eric came to visit after spending 2 years in China teaching English. He took over my English classes and all the brothers were finally happy to have a shepherd come since only shepherdesses had been coming to teach English. The last week I was in Kazakhstan, we held an English Bible Academy for the new students. It was based on John 3 when Jesus taught Nicodemus about life in the Spirit. While many came only to hear English, we prayed that God would work in their hearts to accept the true life in Jesus.

Personally, I was expecting Kazakhstan to be less modern, so everything was a lot better than I thought it would be. You still can?t drink the water and everything seems to have meat in it. But they drink a lot of tea and I was mostly fed Korean food, so I survived. In Astana, I didn?t know the language and was far from everything familiar. Through writing life testimonies, I could see God training me to depend only on Him. I received Luke 9:23 as my key verse because I realized I didn?t have a sincere shepherd heart for all God?s people including Muslims. I have to deny my selfish opinions and declare that Jesus is my king in all matters of my life. I thank God that he allowed me to participate in the Astana ministry this summer and see his great work in Muslim nations. I pray to serve him with a shepherd heart for the students in Cincinnati this new school year. Amen.

Prayer topics for Astana

  • 50 1:1 / 30 SWS each week
  • co work with Karaganda ministry, S. Joseph can write powerful/clear messages each week
  • Kazakhstan to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, a prayer center for Central Asia and Muslim nations

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