After living in the region for over fifteen years, co-workers John* and Maria* have seen how God has led them to intentionally serve their community through various ministries and letting their lives reflect the Word of God.
John and his family moved to this Central Asian country in 2006, after both he and his wife had a dream and clear confirmation about where God wanted them to serve. “I became a believer during my first year in university, and I started hearing about missions and having a desire to serve in the Muslim world. Once I graduated, I headed straight into missions, serving in different countries before I ended up here,” shared John.
For Maria, her desire to share God’s love with people who didn’t know about it in another country came later in life, as she first worked in a bakery for five years. “I started feeling that I wanted to serve those around me because so many missionaries came to my country to minister to us,” Maria shared. Once she started serving in Roma Gypsy and Turkish Muslim communities, she felt she needed to learn more about ministering to Muslims, which then led to her joining a five-month mission school while continuing in ministry. “I served in this community for six years before I felt God calling me to this Central Asian Muslim country, where I also met my husband who is from this country,” said Maria.
The need for discipleship
Both John and Maria acknowledged the challenges of serving in a majority Muslim community by culture but a very secular community by the government. “We have a small evangelical Christian community here and for them sharing the gospel can seem very daunting as they have a lot of fear towards the idea,” Maria explained.
Since the entire Bible was only translated into the local language twenty years ago, and historically, the church community has not known how to read or study the Bible on their own, John shared that discipling believers can be a struggle. “This is one reason why many times you see their faith isn’t reflected in the way they live out their life because they don’t know how to apply God’s word,” Maria explained. As a result, having home churches where they study the Bible is crucial for discipling believers and teaching them to share their faith.
Having these house fellowships isn’t only for the strengthening of believers but also for Muslims interested in knowing more about God. “Many local Muslims have a fear of entering a church, so inviting them to a home fellowship gives them and other believers a safe space to freely explore the word of God,” John shared. Due to many governmental restrictions on evangelical churches over the years, inviting non-Christians to church is illegal. As such, having house fellowships helps deal with this restriction. Over the years, the government has become stricter with approving the registration of evangelical churches to the point where there isn’t a single evangelical church registered. “The government has been monitoring churches even more over the past years and are even asking churches to put cameras in the church for further monitoring. We have to be creative in how we minister at our different outreaches and how we engage with the community,” John further explained.
The need for a father’s love
Broken homes, absent fathers and high suicide rates are just some of the social issues John and his team prayerfully navigate on a regular basis. “It is quite common to see single-parent households with absent fathers because the parents are divorced,” noted Maria. Her husband began to have a burden for boys with absent fathers when he started coaching a group of teenage boys in football. Maria’s husband first had the idea to host a Father’s Day programme, to which he told the boys to invite their dads. It was only on the day of the programme, when none of the fathers attended, that he realised how much of an issue this was and began talking more deeply with the boys about their home situations. Now Maria’s husband seeks to share God as father and His love with these boys.
The increase in absent fathers in these communities also means broken and unhealthy marriages, where most women are left with the burden of raising their families on their own. Maria realised that respecting and being faithful to one’s wife was something less common as people would make comments on how differently she and her husband interacted with one another. “I started going to a gym and got to know one woman a couple of months ago. I would sometimes mention little things about my husband, and she would be surprised that he would do things that showed his respect, support or love for me. It is also shocking for them to see that my husband, who is from their same cultural background, can have a healthy marriage,” shared Maria. She noticed how uncommon it was to see healthy marriages as many women go through divorces or are not treated well by their husbands.
John also expressed similar sentiments as he further added that the typical role of a man in this community would not allow him to help with things in the kitchen or household. “When we invite people to our house church, some of the first things they notice are that the Christian men help the women in the kitchen. We would usually share a meal before studying the Bible, and it would be the men who would clean up and wash the dishes, which our local friends would be shocked to see,” John shared.
As John and his team continue to see how God uses little and big things in their lives to reveal truth and meet needs in their community, they see how living a life that reflects the kingdom of God is crucial for strengthening the church and drawing people to know Him.