CENTRAL ASIA — Esther* was Open Doors’ first team missions leader in Central Asia. She first travelled to Uzbekistan in 1995, after the country regained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. There she met a lady who helped her to make contact with local believers – and the ministry began…
When the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991, five Central Asian Republics gained independence: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Esther* – name changed for security reasons:
“This is when we started a special work and it was geared to the possible indigenous believers that we could find there. But there were almost none.”
Esther was Open Doors’ first team leader in Central Asia. She first travelled to Uzbekistan in 1995. There she met a lady who helped her make contact with local leaders.
“She helped me to really map the countries geographically, but also map the situation of the very, very few – really a handful – of Christians in Uzbekistan and in Central Asia. We started to identify the needs they had and we started to set up projects with them. Those were really very special times. Extraordinary even. I feel very privileged, because I was witnessing the birth of the indigenous church in Central Asia. And at times I looked as if I was walking in the book of Acts. So many things were happening.
“Most of the new Central Asian Christians were very young – between 15 and 25 at the time. And they would get to know Jesus by dreams or by healing or by special miracles. And then they would just leave, houses, work, school and go from village to village to proclaim the Gospel. They had nothing. They didn’t have buildings to gather in. They did not have songs. They didn’t have Scriptures and still it happened. It was very, very extraordinary.”
Open Doors was able to support believers through providing Bibles in local languages. But Christians continued to live under many Soviet-era restrictions in these authoritarian states. They also began to face pressure from a resurgent Islam, as all five countries have Muslim majorities.
“Before they were Communists, they were Muslims. So many of the older generation went back to Islam because this is what they knew from the old days. And it was a cultural Islam: if you were born in Uzbekistan or in Kazakhstan, by birth, you are also a Muslim. But when the young people started to convert then some parents became a little bit worried – and later on the government. But they said: ‘No, well you know, a couple of hundred Uzbek believers we don’t care. But then after a few years it had become a movement and people came to the Lord by hundreds. And then the governments started to get very, very worried what would happen and they were of course afraid of revolution or of all kinds of maybe political unrest or whatever.
“So then they introduced new laws against conversion – all kinds of laws. And people, new converts, started to lose their jobs to be expelled from their families, to be expelled from their houses and even to be threatened and even to be beaten up and a few even died.”
As the church moved underground, Open Doors could use its experience from other countries to help the secret believers. And today we thank God for 30 years of ministry to the Central Asian indigenous church.
“It was difficult, it was not easy. But there were so many blessings. There are so many testimonies of so many people who found the Lord – and were helped after this and who found a new family, not only in their countries, but everywhere, because they knew we pray for them, they know we give, they know we visit them. To some extent, you can measure it. But the real impact, only God knows.”
About Open Doors UK
For over 60 years, Open Doors UK has worked in the world’s most oppressive countries, empowering Christians who are persecuted for their beliefs. Open Doors equips persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries through programs like Bible & Gospel Development, Women & Children Advancement, and Christian Community Restoration.
Source: Global News Alliance, Esther’s Pioneering Ministry to Central Asia