Slavic* looks out across the small room full of people. With just minutes before the start of the service, the room quickly fills up with people standing in an adjoining room and a few standing outside.
A few years earlier, doctors had told Slavic and his wife Natasha* that their young son, Vova*, needed to be in a dry climate due to his asthma. During this same time, Slavic felt God leading him and his family to move from Ukraine to Kazakhstan to start a new church.
On January 7, traditionally when Christmas is celebrated in the former Soviet Union, Slavic and a group of 15 people began a worship service in an area of their city with almost no evangelical witness. In just eight months the church now averages more than 60 people in a room that is smaller than most regular Sunday school rooms in America.
In July, the church celebrated their first baptism in conjunction with the mother church. One 26 year old man, Alex*, was baptized.
His mother’s family is from a popular non-Christian faith and his father is a Russian who lives in Russia and doesn’t have much contact with the family. When asked Alex says he didn’t believe in anything and was an atheist. However, more than a year ago some friends invited him to attend services at the mother church.
At first, he admits that he didn’t understand much, however, he liked the music and found the service to be peaceful. During some sermons he began to cry and says that he “still cries during many of the sermons.”
“When I started reading the Bible, I quickly understood that I was a sinner,” says Alex. “The Bible says we are all sinners. Of course, I never thought I was as bad as others, however, as I read the Bible, I understood it all that I am a sinner.”
During a service at the new church in January he heard a sermon from Matthew 5:8. As he heard the words “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” he repented of his sins and received salvation.
Since then, Alex has been discipled by Slavic and others. He began inviting his sister and mother to attend services. Eventually his sister began attending and participated in a youth camp in early August. While at the camp she repented and prayed to receive Christ.
Now that his mother sees a difference in him and his sister, she has begun attending services and even reading the Bible. Alex said, “I prayed for my mom and sister often.” Alex is happy that both are attending services.
“My life is different. Some things are completely different. I am not afraid of what people think of me now that I am a believer. To have faith in God is hard to explain to people so that they can understand. Sometimes it is even hard for me to understand,” said Alex.
Slavic sees God’s hand on Alex’s life and believes that God will use him in some type of ministry. He continues to disciple Alex and hopes that he will take some evangelism courses offered by a Christian organization this fall.
On a recent Sunday before the first day of school in Kazakhstan, Alex participated in the special service by singing with the small choir already assembled in the new church. As he stood singing, he smiled as he sang the songs that he has come to cherish in his heart. “My life continues to change as I read and understand the Bible,” says Alex.
Several years ago, through the Missions Mobilization office, one state Baptist group began partnering with this new church plant and others in Kazakhstan. Currently, there are 4 church planters and 3 church starts being supported by this group.
“Without the help of this group these new church plants would probably not exist today. This partnership is vital,” said Joe Ragan, IMB missionary.
Slavic understands that he will only be in Kazakstan for a short time. However, he is investing his time heavily in training and discipling believers like Alex who will be able to carry on the work long after he is gone.
Alex realized the need to share the Gospel message and has already begun to do just that. He said, “I enjoy sharing what I know and understand with my friends about God. Friends will listen, but they don’t always understand. One of my friends has started attending the church, but he is like I was a year ago. He is still living in the world, yet reading his Bible.”
In his own life he already know that he must be disciplined in readying God’s Word. “If you don’t continually read the Word and remember and think on the Word you will forget what is written. I need to be continually in the Word and dwell on His Word,” stated Alex.
The task sometimes seems overwhelming to Alex. He has experienced hardships at work due to him becoming a believer. His employer didn’t like him taking off on Sundays and leaving work early on Wednesdays so that he could attend Bible study. Just recently, his supervisor told him to find new work. “Sometimes it is hard to do what I feel the Lord is asking me to do. Sometimes I don’t understand it all. So, I ask the Lord to show me the way and to help me understand,” said Alex.
While Alex may not always understand what the Lord is saying, he already seems like he has a maturity in his Christian walk that belies his eight months as a believer. He has a new hope for a new beginning and a new purpose for a new life found in Christ.
*Names have been changed.
I am having trouble posting photos right now, but will try to edit this story in the next day or two… thanks for being patient.