It’s extremely difficult to put into words what I experienced recently on a trip to visit leaders in the church and specifically house churches in Kazakhstan and Italy. In many ways these destinations provided a polar opposite experience. Yet many of my take-a-ways from meeting the believers in each place were the same and may have direct lessons for us here in America. In the next few days, I’m going to share about these experiences. Today is part 1: Kazakhstan. Tomorrow I’ll share about my time in Italy and then a few posts on my take-a-ways from the experience. I hope you are encouraged from this series!
The purpose of my trip here was first and foremost to accompany my good friend David Toth. David is a leader of a simple church in Ohio and mentor of mine since the early days of this ministry. I believe that God provided a way for me to gain a greater appreciation of David and the investment he has made in this region over the past 20+ years of his life. David and Marian Toth lived in Hungary for 10 or so years where they invested in church planters in the region. It was here that David was able to mentor many of those who are leaders in the church in Kazakhstan today. It was a blessing to see the friendship and the bond that he has with so many who are serving and to fully appreciate his role in the Kingdom’s advancement in this country.
Together, we were able to meet with the pastor of an official church. A major issue right now is that the “secular” government, which is essentially authoritarian, has been cracking down on any unregistered religious groups. My understanding is that this is not just a target on Christian communities. After an uprising over gas prices last year, several government buildings were burned. Extremist religious groups were involved and thus a crackdown on unregistered groups ensued. From the perspective of the registered church pastor, he shared that he experiences no issues with the government so long as he is preaching the Gospel through official church channels.
On the other hand, many house church leaders we met were feeling the heavy hand of the government. Several groups have been shut down recently creating tension. On one hand, there seems to be freedom for the traditional church to speak freely about Christ, but it must be registered with the government. This relationship seems fragile. At any moment, the government could change its stand (much like they did when doubling the gas prices one day resulting in the riots). On the other hand, most people recognize that the house church will be the future of the church in Kazakhstan—even one leader who had his house churches shut down believes this. More on this to come.
THE Church Is Alive
The good news is that THE church is alive and well regardless of the church gathering methods. David and I were invited to share about “discipleship” with a group of believers who were hungry to learn how they could participate in the Great Commission. I was able to meet with a leader from Cru (from Kentucky!) who spoke of the openness and hunger of the locals to learn about Jesus. They have an active ministry among students there and also are engaging in church planting. One young man I met, who is committed to discipling other men, shared an amazing story of how the Lord miraculously has placed him in the region and how the men he is discipling are leading others to Christ and discipling them. I look forward to continuing this relationship.
I was able to experience this openness first-hand as I got to know a young man working at a coffee shop. The speed at which we were able to connect and get into talking about heart matters was amazing. I think this is common culturally. He is not a believer, but is open. Please pray for him. I am praying that he is able to connect with some of the other leaders there.
I am also grateful for the gentleman who helped us set up this whole trip. He was an incredible host and had the gift of help. I am truly grateful for his hospitality. He will be someone that will continue to have a huge kingdom impact behind the scenes in this city of 20 million that was estimated to have roughly 9,000 evangelical Christians. I also was able to visit and meet the owner of the only true Skate Shop in Kazakhstan. Perhaps there will be open doors for skate outreach there in the future.
Tomorrow Part 2: Italy
(I’ve not included names or pictures of people to protect their anonymity…and yes this picture of me with the bird is a bit over the top)