“I’ve been to a couple Central Asian weddings,” Ruthie* said, as she strolled through the park past the seventh bride posing for official wedding pictures before being whisked off to the ceremony. Traditional nuptials last a few days and consist of multiple events and rituals, with guests being invited to one or more parts, depending on how close they are to the bride, she explained.
“At some of the weddings, I was only there for the ceremony. But with Maya*, I was there for everything.”
Ruthie met Maya, before she was married, in one of the few, small Christian fellowships in the 99 per cent Muslim country where they live. She and her husband, Karim*, had moved there to share God’s love with communities who had no access to the gospel, and they wanted to partner with national believers. Maya and, eventually, her husband, Jad*, were a natural fit.
“We were talking about health lessons and how we can grow in ministry,” Maya recalled about their initial contact. “Slowly we became closer and closer to this family, Karim and Ruthie. Now we are very close, like sisters.
“We meet with each other regularly; we pray for each other; we know what difficulties we have or they have; we help each other… So if in our family, my husband and myself, if we have any difficulties, any questions, we come to them.”
While answering emergency phone calls in the middle of the night, praying for and counselling each other might be part of any close friendship, Ruthie and Karim have another word for their relationship with Maya and Jad as well as three other couples in their community: discipleship.
Ruthie and Karim regularly meet with the four married couples—all from different fellowships—for prayer, reading Scripture, accountability, training and strategic planning. “We are sharing our daily life with them and asking them how they are doing,” Karim said.
They deepen the connection by “allowing them to speak in our lives and having permission from them to speak in their lives,” Ruthie added. “We make ourselves available to them, approachable.”
That availability is intended not only for the growth of the couples but also that of the emerging Church in Central Asia. “We try to model, ‘As we are with you, you need to be with people,’” Ruthie said.
“One of the couples, they had an issue together, and they called us at midnight, 12 o’clock,” Karim remembered. “We went there; they had a lot of issues; they said, ‘We don’t know what to do.’…We knelt down together …The Holy Spirit moved, and they both started to confess from both sides.”
Another pair, Ahmed* and Hannah*, recently gave birth to another daughter—a blow to Ahmed, who had fervently prayed for a first son. Despite Ahmed’s desire to follow Jesus, “it was a really hard time,” Ruthie said. “When I talked to his wife, she said, ‘Ahmed has totally changed now. He is fighting at home, in front of the girls, he was not like that.’”
“When I heard that my daughter was born… I just came [home]. It was night time, I was alone, and I started to cry, beating the floor,” Ahmed shared. He asked God, “Why are you not giving me a son? What do you want with me? Why you are quiet, since my wife was pregnant? Why are you not answering my questions?”
During that time, Karim took Ahmed aside, out of the city for a few days to pray and process his disappointment. After he’d returned home, Ruthie checked in with Hannah again. “He is a different person,” she confirmed.
When their baby daughter was a couple months old, with the other daughters in tow, Ahmed and Hannah accompanied Karim and Ruthie on an outing to a nearby lake. Ahmed hugged his daughters, splashed with them in the water and, in the evening, peeled bits of freshly fried fish away from the bones to feed them—paternal tasks that were neither modelled in his childhood (his father worked in another country and only spent two weeks at home each year) nor in his wider culture.
“Central Asian men are not hugging their children, but believing couples, we saw they take care of their children,” Karim explained. “Fathers, they know this is not just the woman’s responsibility.”
“Slowly, slowly, God gave me strength and has explained to me that each of your daughters is special; they were born for God, not for me. God created them for Himself, for His glory, for His work in this earth. I am just their father; I just need to raise them in a right way,” Ahmed shared.
Much of discipleship is doing life together, using challenges to point people to Jesus and encouraging them to share what they’ve learnt with others in the communities around them.
As foreigners, Ruthie and Karim recognise their influence only goes so far. “We are very good about sharing; what about the follow up? We are thinking, how do we follow up? We found we need locals around us,” Karim explained. “For developing vibrant communities of Jesus followers, we need to see the body of Christ in the bigger picture.”
That means national believers need to take the lead in ministry. At the weekly women’s group, the women Ruthie disciples teach lessons and facilitate discovery Bible studies. They learn how to include non-believers in the discussion and build friendships with those seeking truth.
With the men’s ministry and youth ministry, Karim also appoints national believers to give health talks, share devotions and follow up with interested persons. Through daily life and side-by-side ministry, Karim and Ruthie have seen growth in the couples they disciple.
Karim reported that they saw the couples overcome fear about how to talk to extended family about their faith and how to answer their questions from a biblical perspective. They have also been learning how to use tools, such as sports ministry and the women's gathering, to impact their community. They recognise how discipleship is important and how this fatherhood issue can bring change in their community.
"I believe this is the love of Christ pouring in their lives to spread the love of Christ in their community," Karim said. "We saw that this is not us; this is God. Jesus is giving them braveness. This is growth in their lives; trusting the Lord, their level of faith is increased.”
The Church in Central Asia is young, and believers—all in the first and second generation of faith—need discipleship. Pray they will grow in their understanding of God’s Word and that prayer and Bible studies will create momentum. Pray for maturity and boldness for national believers to share their faith with their communities. Pray for OM workers to continue sharing their journey with new believers and to add many more to God’s kingdom.
*Name changed for security
Nicole is a world traveller and writer for OM International, based in the US. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe. In her free time, you’ll find her biking, paddle boarding or curling up with coffee and a good book.