Jesus: where East meets West
God loves to use the weak and despised of this world to show his power and glory.
He particularly loves to have the glorious treasure of his gospel shine out of broken clay pots. There is a region of the world where God has been doing this in the most remarkable way over the last ten years.
It is the region of the world where East meets West and so appears on our television sets almost nightly. It is a region where the most powerful nations of the world vie for political domination, where personal fortunes are amassed by those in positions of influence, and where political alliances are being forged that will affect our future here in the UK.
In this same region God’s people are broken, the church appears weak, Western mission organisations have been forced to evacuate, and most people — especially Christians — are poor. The region is Central Asia, including some Russian ‘-stans’. From this very broken pot, God is sending missionaries to Islamic nations that are among the most violently opposed to his gospel anywhere on earth. Here is the story of one training initiative that God is using to equip Central Asian missionaries and send them to reach Muslims in the region.
The man God used
To make a clay pot for his use, God often breaks a man — with love (2 Corinthians 4.7)!
In the early 1990s God took Insur, a driven and successful Russian man who had a Central Asian heritage, and broke him. Insur comes from an ethnic group that traces its roots to the Mongol hordes who invaded Europe in the 13th century. Though from a nominally Muslim background, Insur was more interested in pursuing wealth and success in the heady days of opportunity after the fall of Communism. A serious accident that could easily have ended in his death led him to question the purpose of life, so he began visiting a newly-started church in his home city.
Aggressive by nature, Insur delighted in berating the preacher after each church service. But, week after week, church members genuinely welcomed him and gladly served him tea and coffee. Their simple but obvious love broke through his hard man defences. He accepted an invitation to study a Gospel with the pastor and, within a couple of months, found himself saying to the Lord Jesus, ‘I surrender’.
It was not lost on him that the name of the religion of his family, Islam, means ‘surrender’. Nor was he unaware that his warrior ancestors considered surrender the greatest shame.
Weak reaching the strong
Insur knew that his people group and other Central Asians were some of the most difficult peoples in the world to reach with the gospel. But God had broken through to him, and so clearly God could do so with others too. Within a few years, Insur and his pastor moved to the capital city of his Russian ‘-stan’ to begin a church specifically aimed at reaching the majority Muslim people-group of his nation. By 1999 God had drawn together the right people to establish a college to train missionaries to plant churches in Islamic regions of Russia and Central Asia. As well as biblical teaching and field-practice in church planting, the training has a strong mentoring element to help students bring the gospel to bear on the brokenness of their own lives. Most students have had to deal with alcoholism and domestic violence in their families.
100 church planters
Over the last decade the college has trained and sent 100 church planters into the field, with 20 currently training. More than half of these are believers who came to train in Russia from strongly Islamic Central Asian nations. Once trained, the Central Asian missionaries return to their home nations, where the church is typically poor and severely persecuted. Yet God has been pleased to send his precious gospel from these broken churches in broken countries to much more fundamentalist and politically influential Islamic nations to the south.
The weak reach the weak
These Central Asian missionaries reach Islamic people groups in these fundamentalist nations much more easily than do Western missionaries. Central Asian missionaries share common cultural and language ties with the people they go to, and are less likely to register on the security radar as proselytising religious activists.
Strong support the weak
There is a continuing role for the strong Western church in promoting mission in Islamic regions of Russia and Central Asia and to fundamentalist countries further south. This role is increasingly one of providing support for weak and fragile national churches with their ambitious missionary initiatives. It is decreasingly one of sending Western missionaries for direct gospel preaching ministries. Indeed, the governments of these nations will not permit such activity. Our support of nationally-registered and nationally-led training ministries and the church planting movements they serve is essential for continued gospel growth in the region.
Director, Eurasian Ministries UK
Security note: for the protection of the people and ministries reported in this article, specific cities, states and countries have not been identified.
More information can be found at http://www.eurasian-ministries.org along with details on how you can support Central Asian missionaries training to work among Muslims in the region.