Stories

Central Asian Teens: “Pray Our Passion Would Not Be Extinguished”

December 18, 2017 by Amy Lamb in , ,

We sat shoulder-to-shoulder as these teenagers shared story after story of lives changed by Jesus.

On a trip to Central Asia, Open Doors USA staffer Amy Lamb saw firsthand how Open Doors is helping young believers put their passion for Jesus into practice by providing discipleship training, microeconomic development and evangelistic resources in one of the world’s most persecuted places.

“Welcome, sister!”

One by one, each believer greeted me, dishing far too much food onto my plate.

We had gathered for a worship service for young believers. Together, we ate in an outdoor courtyard, laughing and playing games in this undisclosed location in Central Asia. One young man began strumming a guitar, and we sang familiar hymns and worship melodies, each in our own language.

This outward—and illegal—display of faith unsettled me.

What if the neighbors hear these songs? Won’t we be in danger? I thought.

But as I looked around the courtyard at each of the hearts raised toward heaven, I realized these young followers of Jesus knew the risk quite well. Still, they were unashamed.

As the sun began to set, our conversation shifted. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder as these teenagers and young adults shared story after story of lives changed by Jesus.

Christ Into Culture

This generation has grown up in an environment hostile to the gospel of Jesus. In some parts of Central Asia, believers can officially identify as Christians and worship as part of churches registered with the government, but evangelistic activity is strictly forbidden.

Registered churches are monitored closely by government officials, who frequently make it difficult or impossible for churches to comply. Unregistered congregations are subject to fines and sometimes arrest if discovered.

“The pastor of my church had to leave the country because of pressure from the government. Now he cannot return home without being arrested,” shared Malik*, a teenage believer. “After that, I was afraid to tell others I was part of the church. I fell away for a while because of my fear. Now I am involved in church again. I am attending discipleship classes and spending time with Christian friends.”

Ultsana* shared that she met Jesus when a friend invited her to a church meeting. “I didn’t understand all that was happening there, but I knew that God was speaking to me,” she said.

Ultsana continued attending meetings and came to understand who Jesus was and how He could transform her life. She began following Jesus and quickly became passionate for evangelism.

In this region, Christianity is viewed as a foreign religion. Many believers are seen as “bought” by imperialistic ideals. “They say to us, ‘You worship the Russians’ god!’” shared Ultsana. “We have to communicate that your faith is a choice you make, not an identity you’re born with.”

Some new believers wrestle with cultural superstitions and presuppositions about faith and family when they come to know Jesus. Even so, the goal of evangelists is not to impose their own culture on new converts, but to bring Christ into the local culture.

“I want to learn to share the gospel in the right way, in the way of Jesus,” said Ultsana. “My heart is to share Jesus with my people group. Most of all, I want them to know that Jesus is not just the God of the Russians, but he is the God of the Central Asians too.”

Following Together

The pressure many believers experience causes them to feel afraid and alone. But in this room, there is only joy, peace and hope that comes from knowing Jesus and following Him in community.

“Sometimes we share long into the night, if it is a really good talk about Jesus,” said Delia* with a smile on her face. A newlywed, she and her husband Daoud* disciple young followers of Jesus together.

“Do you fear gathering here?” I asked.

“We are careful,” Delia responded. “The hardest challenges we’ve seen are actually from the families of young believers. They can often be prevented from attending groups like this, if the family does not support them in following Jesus.”

Daoud added, “Family members wonder why young believers from a Muslim background have betrayed their faith. They say to us, ‘You are crazy!’ 

“Some of our families could report us for evangelistic activity, which puts us in more danger. But we try to come together and support each other like a family would,” said Delia.

Though some face challenges and even threats from their families, other teens were born into families that follow Jesus. Nadina* works in a shop developed by microcredit, supporting herself and providing a platform for ministry. She frequently hosts house church gatherings and worships alongside her family.

Nadina’s mother shares how she is helping disciple these young believers: “God uses us as parents for those without them,” she says. “We teach them to be responsible and live fruitful lives with Jesus. We tell them that following Jesus has consequences. They understand, and they follow too.”

As I listened, Nadina’s younger sister sat down cross-legged next to me. Not able to speak each other’s language, I drew a small smiley face in the notebook in my hand and slid it slightly into her view. She beamed, and taking the notebook and pen from my hands, she began to draw. Back and forth we passed the notebook, each drawing another part of the picture until the paper was filled from edge to edge with a happy outdoor scene.

On the corner, she drew two trees. As I added fruit to the leaves, I smiled and prayed, May she too bear fruit in her walk with Jesus.

Deep-Rooted Faith

Leaders like Nadina, her family, Delia and Daoud are planting and cultivating deep-rooted faith within a young generation of Christians. Indeed, their faith must continue to grow deeper to withstand the pressure to abandon their walks with Jesus.

I scanned the faces in the room. I wondered what prices these young people would pay in the future for continuing to follow Jesus.

Though I hope, for their sake, the price isn’t too high; I know they will be prepared for whatever may come. These teens are actively deciding each day to follow Him, even if it costs them their families, jobs, friends and freedom.

As our conversation came to an end, I asked, “How can we pray for you?” With tears in his eyes, one young man said, “Pray that our passion would not be extinguished.”

“God’s calling keeps us encouraged,” said Arman.* “It is a clear understanding that God called us to this ministry, and we have to stay faithful to that.”

Through their faithfulness, they will continue to experience and share that–knowing Jesus is the most valuable thing of all.

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