Some people say that “to be a Kazakh is to be a Muslim”. Most Kazakhs follow a version of Islam strongly influenced by shamans and indigenous practices. Other Muslim countries invest huge amounts of money to send Muslim missionaries to Kazakhstan. They successfully convert even some ethnic Russians to Islam. After the Soviet Union broke up, the number of mosques grew from 46 (1989) to 2300 (2020)! The government works to keep Islam moderate, and Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state where Islam is not accorded special status. Pray for freedom from historic spiritual bondages.
Unreached minorities. Kazakhstan's cultural and religious diversity provides many opportunities for evangelizing Central Asian peoples. A number of Uzbeks and Uyghurs in Kazakhstan are turning to Christ - and beginning to take the gospel back to their own people! Christianity is still largely an urban phenomenon, but the churches and missions (Baptists, Korean groups, some Western agencies) are recruiting for village ministry. Pray that the gospel might be shared, in the listeners' language, in the many towns and villages of this sprawling land.
The Christian population in Kazakhstan is slowly shifting from an ethnic European majority toward an Asian one. Korean churches have grown, as have most charismatic, Pentecostal and some Baptist groups among Central Asian ethnicities. The challenges are manifold:
- Training is vital. There were a healthy number of Bible colleges and seminaries as well as discipleship schools; all have had to shut down due to changes in the law, and none have been allowed to re-register. TEE and distance learning have potential, if churches are willing to invest in the concept. Appropriate models of training that can be implemented on a wider level are essential as budding leaders need mentors and spiritual fathers. Pray for programmes that develop informed, well-trained, godly leaders.
- Culturally helpful forms of following Jesus communally. Spirit-led expressions of Kazakh, as well as multicultural, worship, prayer, discipleship and teaching are necessary for the Church to go to the next level. Only 26% of believers are men; clearly some cultural preconceptions need to be shifted.
- Persecution is increasing. Harassment from authorities, from strident Muslims and from unbelieving family members makes life difficult, especially for converts outside the two main cities. Unconstitutional laws on registering churches are complicated by obstructionism for those who try to register and heavy fines for those who don't.
- The level of unity and partnership is encouraging. The Evangelical Alliance of Kazakhstan is at a growing stage but has great potential to draw the many groups together. Pray that in the face of increasing opposition and growing theological diversity, believers may stay united.
- Kazakhstan is becoming a sending nation, a distant dream only 15 years ago. Several mission-training institutes in Kazakhstan had been supported by a number of indigenous, Russian, Western and Korean groups and agencies until their recent closure. Kazakhs (including ethnic minorities) are a strategic key to reaching Central Asia and the Muslim world. Pray for this very young mission movement to grow and spread.
Christian mercy ministries. There is widespread dysfunction and brokenness in many Kazakh families. Alcoholism and drug addiction are widespread; heroin is as easy to obtain as alcohol. Family breakdown and widespread corruption exacerbate the suffering of many. Pray for Christians to have a powerful transforming effect on society as they demonstrate Christ's love. There are increasing numbers of ministries focusing on these needs. One of the most remarkable is Mission Agape, a live-in programme where addicts are discipled and trained - over 100 have become missionaries and church planters.
Bibles. There is a great demand for Bibles, both among the Kazakhs and the Russians. Thousands of Bibles and portions have been distributed, but only a fraction of them in Kazakh. The whole Bible in Kazakh is now complete (and available in various digital formats). Also recently completed is God's Blessed Way, a Russian-language Bible that is culturally sensitive to Central Asian Muslims. Pray for wide and wise distribution of all biblical materials, and pray for ongoing translation projects.
Radio. Praise God for the establishment of two local Christian radio stations! These will allow the good news to be disseminated much more easily to populations in the largest cities. Only five hours a week are broadcast in Kazakh from abroad. There are also Christian broadcasts in other languages beamed in from abroad, although Russian predominates. Pray for increasing numbers of quality Kazakh programmes and for development of media ministries by the people of Kazakhstan for their own.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.