Christmas Story in Central Asia

December 12, 2012 by Open Doors in General

Painting of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus

“For us Christmas is a new holiday and a new tradition. In our culture we don’t have this holiday; we always only celebrated the New Year. In the past we heard that Russian churches celebrate Christmas, we thought that it was only about food and drink.” The church in this Central Asian country has gradually adopted Christmas customs. Giving gifts, celebrating the Lord’s birth with Christian brothers and sisters by eating together, and putting on religious programs, they have adopted many Christmas customs and use them to bring the message of the hope of Christ to their neighbors.

Their Christmas programs include a time of worship, a sermon, a nativity play, and, of course, national music and dancing; they say, “Of course there is dancing; during any celebration we dance! We are after all Central Asians!” Many people, who would not attend a church service, are happy to come to a celebration with food, entertainment and fun. These Christmas programs provide a perfect opportunity to introduce non-believers to the good news of Christ.

Many Christians in Central Asia grew up being taught to do good works-to pray the regular Islamic prayers, to live like their Muslim brothers, and to look to others for how to satisfy God’s demands. The also grew up with fear and shame, without an understanding of grace and gifts without expectations of reciprocation.

One man recalls, “One day I was sharing the gospel with a taxi driver. He asked me, ‘So, you say that Jesus will give eternal life to all those who believe in Him?’ When I confirmed that, he started to argue and told me that we have to fear God and respect Him. Then I asked him the question how he would like his children to meet him when he comes home after a day’s work. Would he like to see fear in their eyes? He was quiet for a while and said that he had never thought about it in this way.” He adds, “At Jesus’ birth, we see that God loves us. We have to do nothing; just accept it. He blesses us and gives us salvation.”

Through creative outreach at Christmas time, truth about Jesus and the significance of His incarnation is being communicated to people who are hungry for all that Christ has to offer.

“Many of our countrymen believe that God is far away and think it is impossible that He would talk to people,” says one believer. “In their opinion we just have to obey Him in fear and trembling. But God Himself comes to us and gives us salvation!” The message of Christmas is one of hope. One believer explains, “All my life I used to be afraid of death. My parents could not give me hope; they didn’t know the answer. First they were communists. Later, when I started to read the Bible, they told me that we are all Muslims. But the Koran does not give us certainty about eternal life. Christmas gives us that certain hope! ”

Though Christmas celebrations are beginning again in this country, most people have no idea what it means; for them it is just about the lights, decorations, and gifts. “When we became believers,” a Christian man recalls, “we were in touch with some expatriate workers in the country. We had no idea why these funny foreigners became ‘crazy’ by the end of December; they even invited us to celebrate Christmas with them.”

The next year he adds, “We had our own Christmas pageant and celebrations. Several years later all foreign Christian workers were expelled from the country, and churches were forced underground. But now we are opening up again. Last year a group wrote a play in which a couple acted as an old man and woman who follow Muslim traditions. This couple asked each other questions about Jesus and how He was born. The play gave a clear picture of the circumstances and significance surrounding Jesus’ birth.” Celebrating with other congregations in their city “under the wings of a registered church,” they were able to enjoy a good time of fellowship and fun. However, he adds, “Many churches in my country must still meet in small groups in homes. Inviting people who are willing to take the risk and celebrate Jesus’ birth.”

The Christmas season often provides opportunities to reach out where otherwise it would have been difficult. Last year, Open Doors’ staff was able to bring a Christmas party to a school for orphans and children with poor eyesight – a party the school would not have been able to finance themselves. Many were surprised that Christians had come to this Muslim community. Although direct preaching is prohibited, and the party was an open display of a Christian celebration, they were thankful for the generosity expressed toward their children. In addition, the Christians living in the community were grateful for the opportunity as well, knowing that it was a way to wisely bring the gospel of Christ to a world in need of the hope of the gospel.

Jesus, we thank You for Your profound love in coming to earth, in living as the God-man, representing all mankind. In this sinful, broken world, you lived a perfect life and offered yourself, pure of all sin, as a sacrifice for Your church that we might enter the presence of the Father clothed in Your righteousness. Thank You for these believers in Central Asia who have a heart to share the hope of Your gospel with those around them. Continue to give them opportunity and boldness, as they reach out with compassion and generosity, and with the truth of Your Word during the Christmas season. In the name of Jesus, our only comfort and hope in this life and the next, Amen.

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