In one district in Central Asia, there are 12 subdistricts. Those 12 subdistricts contain 125 villages. Those 125 villages host almost 300,000 people.
Those 300,000 people, living in rural villages with little to no gospel engagement, are whom OM workers Abbas* and Maryam* want to reach through community development projects.
From sports ministry to nursing clinics to peace-making iniatives, the couple neither limit the project topics nor the age of participants. However, they do seek to offer holistic development: physical, social, emotional and spiritual.
In many cases, the projects create opportunities for Abbas, Meryam and other believers to introduce Muslims to Jesus.
Sports programme provides access to people with diasabilities
When Abbas and Maryam started a sports programme for youth with disabilities in one village, they met a family with five daughters, two of them with disabilities. According to Abbas, in Central Asian society, boys are often considered more valuable than girls, and disabilities are seen as curses.
“People think we are cursed. People think we sinned,” the family told Abbas and Maryam.
As the couple continued to visit the community, however, they brought different people to share testimonies as part of the sports programme. After listening to the various speakers, Ara*, one of the daughters with a disability, said she was interested in reading the Bible.
“Now she’s reading the Bible and learning. Praise God!” Abbas said.
Although Ara has not made a commitment to following Christ, “she is searching,” he added. “Everyone has a process [in coming to the point in the relationship] that you say, ‘Yes, Lord, you are my saviour.’”
The sports ministry provided access to several families, with whom Abbas and Meryam have developed ongoing relationships. “There’s a lot of brokenness,” Abbas explained. “We speak about inner healing, peace-making sessions and ethics that take them toward the cross. It’s a process that needs time.”
Health classes pave way to talk about forgiveness
Abbas and Meryam visit villages where there are not good medical clinics or hospitals and offer health classes to women. “In our lessons, we were sharing stories from the Bible according to topics,” Meryam said.
One Muslim woman, Marjan*, had gone on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in hopes of receiving forgiveness for sins according to Islamic teaching. She approached Meryam after one of the health classes.
“These are interesting stories. Where did you get them from?” Marjan asked.
“They are from the Holy Book,” Meryam responded.
“Can I have the stories?”
Wanting to mentor a pair of Central Asian believers serving with her, Meryam told Marjan to ask them for a Bible. When she did, they gave her one.
“She started reading and she’s still reading,” Meryam confirmed. “We are praying for God to open her heart and that she will understand [that] to get forgiveness and salvation, she doesn’t need to go far from her country.”
Football club introduces sportsman to Jesus
A few Central Asian believers Abbas mentors recently started a football club. Most of the men who signed up to play were Muslims. In order to be a good witness on the football field, the believers established rules for their team: no cursing, no fighting, no cheating.
During the fourth week of games, Kia*, one of the Muslim players asked one of the believers what was different about their group.
“Nothing,” the believer responded. “We are trying to do what we are reading.”
“What are you reading?” Kia asked.
“We’re reading from the Bible.”
“We’re believers, but if you’re interested, you can also read.”
At the next football gathering, Kia told the believers, “I will try praying. If I score a goal, I will believe in Jesus.”
That day, Kia scored a goal and announced, “I believe Jesus exists and listens to prayer.”
Since then, he has been reading the Bible with the group of believers. “That [story] was very encouraging to us,” Abbas shared.
In terms of transforming society, it’s imperative for men, like Kia, to accept Christ, Abbas noted. Although he said women in Central Asia seem to be more open to accepting Jesus, they have greater restrictions than men and can be more easily persecuted for their faith.
“If women come to faith, praise God they are coming to faith, but then they have more difficulties [in their families]. If men come to faith first, they can lead whole families [to Christ],” Abbas explained.
“One friend accepted Christ through our project five years ago. Now his wife is a believer, his children are believers and he is sharing with his sisters, mother and neighbours,” he said. “That’s why we are praying, ‘God provide us men of peace.’”
Praise God for the work He is doing in Central Asia. Pray for more workers to join Abbas and Meryam’s team. Pray that God will provide finances and visas for workers in their host country.
Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.