A small team in Central Asia rarely introduce themselves at the bazaar anymore. Most of the time, others do it for them.

The team hasn’t lived in this area of Central Asia for a long time, but they’ve made relationships with scores of people. “We cannot take all the invitations we get. We could accept many more invitations to eat with people and talk with people. It’s really an open door,” team member Iva* described.

Shopping at the bazaar is a chance to meet people. So is going anywhere, really. “Just walking on the street, you meet most of the people,” team leader David* said.

Developing relationships, however, requires intentionality – lingering over produce purchases and stopping to say hello whenever you see a familiar face – and flexibility.

“There is a butcher who works along the road home. I always try to stop and have a good word for him,” David shared. “One afternoon, he said, ‘Come with me, and we will have an evening meeting with other friends.’”

Five hours later, after driving out of town and meeting up with other men, David returned home.

Culturally, men in Central Asia can “stop by anywhere,” say hello and invite someone out for tea. David has even talked about Jesus while sitting in the public sauna, a central gathering area for men in the town.

Another team member, Missy*, said the team shares a lot, but she acknowledged they haven’t seen much evidence of truth penetrating people’s lives. “I think there’s a lot of people that have a spiritual blindness. They hear it, but they can’t accept the truth of who Jesus is. They hear it, but there’s still a barrier.”

The team doesn’t know any Central Asian believers in their town, but they have heard rumours of believers in one or two of the villages.

Embracing culture, sharing stories

Apart from encounters out and about, the team has also learnt to embrace the Central Asian in-house visiting culture as a way to share stories. There’s a special word in the local language for the act of visiting people in their homes, sitting on cushions, drinking tea and talking.

“It’s a very defined script. It’s always the same,” Iva explained. The two- to four-hour affair starts outside the door, when the host brings a jug of water for guests to wash their hands. Then everyone moves inside and sits around a tablecloth on the floor, artfully covered with small dishes full of nuts, raisins, biscuits, chocolate, savoury pastries and bread. Once the bread is broken, everything starts.

The host pours tea into a little round bowl–the tea cup–that gets passed around. “Tea drinking and bread are the most important,” Missy said. As a host, “you’re constantly pouring tea because that shows you’re serving a lot.”

On visits, a prescribed order determines the food and beverages served. Likewise, a defined hierarchy governs where to sit and who can speak.

“If you’re higher up (richer, older) you sit at the top of the room. If you’re lower, you sit at the door,” Missy shared.

As foreigners, the team members are often offered a special position. “Sometimes it’s an opportunity to speak, when age-wise and because we are unmarried, we would not have the opportunity to speak,” Iva said.

Still, it can be difficult to steer the conversation, David noted. Among men, subjects range from football to marriage to the price of a cow. “I cannot change the topic,” he explains. “I have to wait and maybe at one point I can jump in with [spiritual] things.”

“Often they are just curious who the foreigners are, what they do and stuff. Occasionally, they invite us to tell stories,” Iva added.

One woman in particular, who was instrumental in bringing the small team into the area, regularly creates opportunities for them to talk about Jesus.

“She really enjoys hearing stories, and various times when we’ve visited her and sat around with her relatives, she’s actually stopped the conversation and asked us to tell a story [about God],” Missy said.

The woman also remembers stories shared in the past. A couple years ago, Missy shared, “we were having a conversation about learning language and why it’s important and why we even have different languages. I just told [the Tower of Babel story] as a random, to-the-side comment. Later, she asked again, ‘Missy, tell the story about the tower.’ And she connected it to God.”

“When we share stories or even when we read, people are so excited about Jesus—they feel that the stories fit in their cultural background. They say, ‘That’s like Central Asia. That’s like our community. That’s like our religious leader,’” Iva said. “They very much can identify with the stories.”

Serving and pioneering

The team is trailblazing in Central Asia both geographically and professionally. David builds therapy devices and teaches language classes in the community. Iva and Missy serve as therapists.

“My heart was always for Muslims, and I wanted to use my professional skills [on the field],” Iva shared. “It’s exciting to be in a pioneering situation.”

The people living in the team’s host city are known throughout the country for their religious conservatism. “They are more strict than other places in the country, but I think it’s an opportunity because they really want to please God,” Iva explained. “Many of the ladies I am meeting want to please God by fasting or praying. I think the Lord sees their desire to please Him.”

Matthew 5:6 comes to mind, Missy added—“those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (NIV). They want to be on the right path with God, that’s why they do the things they do religiously.”

As part of their professional work, Missy and Iva often meet with mothers of children with disabilities. “We give practical advice based on our professional backgrounds, but it’s also an opportunity to counsel the family about the disability,” Missy said. “Very often the conversation leads to sharing that your child isn’t cursed by God… . God doesn’t pick a bad mother and curse her with a disabled child. Actually, God picks a good mother, who will look after the child and care for him. Actually, God loves you.”

“This is a really key ground-breaking work,” Missy stressed. “Often women burst out crying because this is the first time they have heard [that message of love].”

Like others in the town, mothers of children with disabilities want to relate to God and want to love Him, but they believe they have been cursed by Him, the team explained. “We believe this first conversation will already plant seeds for them to see their child differently and see God differently,” Missy emphasised.

Of course, the team members pray their relationships will go deeper. “It’s our profession and our passion to help people with disabilities, but that’s not the main point,” Iva stated.

Pray that the Lord would reveal Himself to people in the town where the team serves. Pray that people will share what they learn about Jesus with family and friends. Pray for vibrant communities of Jesus followers to develop amongst these least-reached people.

*Names changed for security

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.

Share this Resource

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

Leave a Reply

You might also like:

Personal Assistant (M) Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleThis person will assist the Country Director in administrative tasks, and be responsible for the preparation of public relations materials.
Full Details
Capacity Building Catalyst (M) Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleOur organization is in an exciting transition period of building capacity and releasing greater responsibility into the hands of national staff. The person in this position will be responsible for assessing the needs of our staff and facilitating the planning and provision of the necessary development.
Full Details
Anti-trafficking Intervention and Awareness Officers Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleIf you have a heart for women under sexual exploitation this is a fun and varied opportunity to get involved in the fight against human trafficking in Central Asia. You could be working to support and meet the immediate needs of those under exploitation or to spread awareness of human trafficking and God's heart to end it.
Full Details
Engineer / Technical Consultant Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleDo you have a heart for energy, engineering, business, or IT? Do you want to use these skills to reach people and have eternal impact on Central Asians? We are looking for technical professionals who want to use their heads and hands to serve the people, mostly men. Get involved, be part of our international team and make a difference in the lives of the people in our area!
Full Details
Seeker Ministry Facilitator Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleEngage with students seeking a deeper relationship with God through discussions which help them build a biblical worldview and live according to the scriptures. Take part in organizing a new believers' worship service each week.
Full Details
Creative Ministry Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleWhat is art? Most of us know what drawing or painting is, but art is more than just that: it’s thinking outside the box. A lot of people have a talent to be creative and don’t even know it. Our art and woodwork lessons are designed to give young people creative and practical skills, critical thinking, attention to detail, a healthy work ethic and new avenues for income.
Full Details
Homeless Ministry Assistant Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleAs an assistant in this ministry you would come alongside other believers in feeding the poor and engaging in other tasks at a local homeless shelter. Your purpose would be to visit and encourage these souls in the darkest time of their lives.
Full Details
Teacher of English (M) Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possiblePreparing and teaching spoken and written English to national staff who need to upgrade their English skills for their job.
Full Details
BLiSS Director (Public Health) M Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleWe have a need for a female health worker who is looking for a way to pass on knowledge and carry the responsibility of a successful project.
This person will be:
+ Coaching national health teachers
+ Coordinate the project and handle administration
+ Network with other agencies who teach Public Health

Full Details
Business Development Advisor (M) Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleAdvising existing projects on developing various sizes of business relating to women's empowerment and literature production. Training project staff in areas of business development, marketing and sales management. Facilitating development of a project into a sustainable business
Full Details
Short-Term Outreach Coordinator Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleWe are looking for someone with good organizational and communication skills and a passion for reaching unreached peoples to oversee our short-term outreach department.
You would be working with a multicultural team, based in a large city.  As this is not a full-time role you would have plenty of opportunity for your own personal ministry alongside organizing the short-term outreaches.

Full Details
Pastoral Care Worker Central Asia    Go & Live    As soon as possibleAre you a people person? We are looking for a single or a couple who can offer both spiritual and personal encouragement to our team members. Come and be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a cheerleader, or a pastor to our international team.
Full Details