In parts of Central Asia, where being a Jesus follower is hindered by governmental restrictions and cultural bias, digital media is playing an important role in spreading the love of Christ.
Mansur*, an OM worker developing digital content for the area, knows the importance of mobilising the written Word, as his own faith commitment was heavily influenced by gospel-centred literature.
Mansur was born in Central Asia in the early 80’s under Soviet rule. When the regime collapsed, his country opened, allowing missions organisations — long forbidden from entering the region — access. But there were still obstacles to the gospel. “We had been in the Soviet empire for 70 years…and [they] tried to destroy our cultural identity…[our] people looked from the lens that [Christianity] is a Russian religion, not our religion…it’s a Western God, not our God,” explained Mansur. Even so, it was during this period, at the onset of Mansur’s teen years, that his family came to faith. Starting with his mother, sister and older brother.
A dream wakes a family
From a large family with eight siblings, Mansur lived in a small village with few resources. At the time, one of Mansur's older brothers (now a pastor) was suffering from back pain, but there were few options available. One night, his mother, Anna*, had a dream where two local men came to her, and they were shining as if bringing light with them. She put on a head covering and greeted them, and then pointed at her son who was sleeping on the floor next to her. She asked if they could help him. Then she woke.
Soon after, Anna visited a friend, a woman who, in the past, swore a lot. But on this visit, the friend was different. Her language had changed, and she had also stopped drinking alcohol. Anna wanted to know what happened. The woman told her: “I cannot explain. But come with me; I will show you.” Anna and one of her daughters went with the woman to a church where they met two pastors: the same men from Anna’s dream. Stunned, she called her older son and urged him to meet them. All three professed faith in Christ that very night. Mansur was not as convinced: “For me, it was a little bit strange. Like…are you sure? It was a dream! I wanted to look at something, like numbers or math.”
An eye-opening discovery
Mansur’s family began hosting a house church and a team of missionaries in connection with a local church began visiting the youth on Friday nights, sharing the gospel and playing Jesus movies. Worshipping with instruments native to the region and singing in the local language was also involved, but Mansur, having been educated in Russian, didn’t really care for this last part. What drew him were the books the Christ followers brought. The team introduced literature such as More than Just a Carpenter by Josh McDowell, a children’s Bible in Russian, and portions of the Bible. After reading More than Just a Carpenter and the Book of Mark, Mansur made an eye-opening discovery. He saw that Christianity wasn’t a religion centred on the West: “I started to research Mark and said: ‘Wait. This is Palestine. It’s East. It’s not America or England.’ And I just slowly started to understand.”
People go, but books stay
While the format may look different, digital media is helping introduce the words of the Bible people in Central Asia. Mansur said he believes this is why he is so happy in his current role: “I feel like children’s Bibles, teenage Bibles, Action Bibles, they are good. Books don’t need visas or monthly supporters…they stay.”
Mansur explained that while Central Asian believers cannot openly say: “I am reading the Bible,” posting something on social media is acceptable. On his own Instagram account, Mansur posts biblical content and people ask: “Wow, what is this?” When he tells them it is from the Bible, their minds are opened, and they often respond: “But you are Central Asian. You are reading the Bible?” He shows that it is possible to be both from Central Asia and a follower of Jesus. While deeper conversations are slow to come, Mansur said, for now, it is broad seed sowing. Mansur knows from his own story that God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11).
As the digital media team continues to develop more content and develops a follow-up team to respond to inquiries, pray that hearts and eyes would be opened to see that Jesus is not just a Saviour for the West but for Central Asia, too.