Gospel in Tajikistan
Gospel in Tajikistan
The Word of God has been distributed and read by the people and that eventually might results in planting of new churches.
Introduction to Tajikistan
The population of Tajikistan is about 7 million. The nation is considered nearly 98% Muslim (Sunni) – majority of them being nominal adherents. Over 90% of the territory of Tajikistan is high mountains. The language and culture of Tajikistan is Persian.
Tajikistan is probably poorest of all the former soviet republics. Over 60% of the population is estimated to live below the official poverty line. The World Bank reckons it to be about $2,15 per day per person. Thus many Tajik men are forced to look for work in Russia.
Tajikistan declared political independence after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. The nation almost immediately fell into a civil war which was tribally based and lasted seven years (1991-97). The dreadful fruit of this war have been death and destruction - about 60 thousand of victims. In addition to this the majority of non-Muslim population particularly Russians, Germans and Jews fled the country during that time mainly because of persecution and increasing poverty. The Tajik people are still an un-reached by the gospel ethnic group.
Baptists in Tajikistan
The Baptist work started in Dushanbe, the Tajikistan’s capital in 1929. The new converts formed a congregation but the authorities closed the church. After many appeals the government registered the church as late as 1944.
In 1989 the Dushanbe Baptist Church had more than 800 members with almost half of them being German. The congregation included as many as sixteen national groups. In addition to the Dushanbe church the Baptists formed several other congregations in the country.
The Baptist Brotherhood of Tajikistan is comprised currently of 7 congregations and several affiliate groups that are scattered all over the country. Alexandr Vervai is the Brotherhood Chairman being one of the few Russian-German Baptists to have stayed. He has also made an attempt to rebuild the union in the 1990s.
The Baptist community counts about 500 members, including an increasing number of ethnic Tajiks. The ministry concentrates on evangelism, mission and church planting. During the past 10 years the number of churches and groups has doubled, and thousands of Bibles in Tajik language have been distributed. Majority of new converts don’t have any Christian background and they can learn about Baptist faith in discipleship courses through an extension training.
There are very many children in Tajikistan (over 50% of the population). Baptists organize summer camps and Vacation Bible Schools. There is also work with children in boarding schools. The Extension Bible School serves as an effective tool in preparing for ministry and it is organized in cooperation with Romanian and Moldovan Baptists. There are young Tajik leaders beginning to emerge who are trying to start new congregations.
Indigenous church planters lead a couple of groups under the oversight of the Baptist Church of Dushanbe. One of them has finished an Inductive Bible Study course and his goal is to start a new Tajik speaking group. He has organized a church planting team which includes ca. 25 people who meet in 2 subgroups and are members of the already existing Baptist Church. Church planter implements ‘one to one’ method of ministry and shares the gospel mainly with his extended family.
Over the mountain pass
We travel to visit an indigenous missionary who works in a Tajik city near the border with Uzbekistan. The distance is relatively short, only about 300 km but we need to travel 9 hours including passage over two mountain passes. We are in a jeep going through the high mountains, crossing the 7 km long tunnel and the most demanding mountain pass which is over 3,5 thousand meters above the sea level.
The highest part of the road is simply the naked rocks and there are … no safety barriers at all. The slopes are very steep and really deep. From time to time one can see virtually the blood freezing sights – wrecked cars that didn’t make successfully on the crooked curves and departed for ever in the abyss… The broken and creased wrecks look like peculiar monuments in memory of those who were buried in them.
Finally we meet our guide who is a local Christian evangelist. He works as a geologist. The secular job helps him to have appropriate social status and a good deal of authority among the local people. He explains that the basic method of ministry is to share the gospel among members of his extended family. He usually starts with a man who is the head of a family and always the others follow him.
The evangelist says proudly that he has good influence on at least 200 people. He takes us to visit one local family who lives in a village (locally called ‘kishlak’). The family is comprised of the middle age parents who have seven daughters. This visit shows the evident success of gospel ministry among the Tajik people. The evangelist has implemented the right method of work and it has proven really successful. I see that it was indeed worth taking the effort and risk in order to meet with these people.
Coming back we again have to cross the high mountain pass. We relax when it is behind us but still need to drive inside the tunnel which is quite scary because there are no lights and the tube is filled with fumes to the extent that at times even breathing becomes difficult. Additionally the ground is full of holes and water is running all the time, usually being an ankle deep or sometimes even more.
This time the drive through the tunnel gives us unexpected surprise… In the middle of it we have to stop and change the wheel because of a flat tire. Fortunately there is a spare wheel on the car but we have to spend an additional hour in that unpleasant place. The stress is eventually over when we can continue our journey…
The Baptists of Tajikistan are very grateful for prayers and support of their ministry. They appreciate greatly being part of a large Family of Faith - both the European and Global. As you read this story, please pray for the successful work of indigenous church planters in Tajikistan. Pray also for the spiritual openness of local people as they read the Bible in their own language. Pray too for the formation of leaders who will be able to conduct Christian ministry among the Tajik people.