Living among the least reached

Nicole James | Central Asia

“We’ve always known that God was calling us somewhere where the unreached are,” said OM workers Christy* and Eric*.

First, they spent two years at seminary in the USA, preparing for the next step. Then came a vision trip to Turkey, and, as an afterthought, a short visit to a long-time friend leading an OM team in Central Asia.

Those four days in Central Asia changed their lives. “God really started growing our heart for Central Asia and for the Central Asian people,” Christy said. “We’re not go-it-alone pioneers, and the team in Central Asia was strong, and our friend was leading it, and it really seemed like a place we could work.”

Several years after settling into their host country with their children, the couple continues to see God’s confirmation. “Every time you get another visa that seemed impossible to get. Every time it seems absolutely impossible that we would have enough money... this is confirmation,” Christy explained.

As a whole, Central Asia is predominantly Muslim. However, many people practice Islam nominally, if at all, simply equating their religion with their nationality as a result of Soviet-era policies. Thus, “To be Kyrgyz is to be Muslim. To be Tajik is to be Muslim,” explained Dr. John Heathershaw of Exeter University, England, in a roundtable discussion hosted by RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty.** The same is true across the region, OM workers acknowledged.

“It’s an unreached people, but there is an established local church, and it’s quite strategic for reaching the rest of the area,” Eric explained. “We’re living there among the unreached.”

Professional opportunities

Professionally, the couple has found places to plug in and use their skills. “God keeps surprising me with the opportunities He gives,” Christy said. “I didn’t expect to use occupational therapy in Central Asia.”

Christy stopped formal work when her daughter was born, but in Central Asia, “the opportunity to be engaged with OT again has been incredible,” she said. “We don’t go out looking for people with disabilities, but God brings people—someone who heard about this foreigner.”

The line of her work opens doors into homes, for her and other believers. “What’s been so neat is that every now and again, I am the excuse for my local friend to be able to go and visit his neighbour, someone he’s been trying to build a relationship with,” she shared. “Sometimes I’m not the one sharing the gospel, but ...I’m the reason that a friend or a colleague or someone that knows me can go and share. One family came to Christ through that.”

The father of that family had been part of a building project Christy and Eric’s expat friends had commissioned. Another Central Asian family, who were believers, was connected to both. When the local believers found out the other family had a child with cerebral palsy, they asked Christy to come visit.

Christy accompanied her friend to the family’s one-room house. While she worked with the child, the friend chatted with the parents. “I can’t pay you,” the mother told Christy, “but every time you come, I’d like to make you a meal.”

From Christy’s perspective as an occupational therapist, “that was brilliant.” Eating together allowed her to monitor the child’s posture and technique. Meanwhile, her other friend was sharing the gospel with the family.

“First the father came to Christ, and then the whole family,” Christy shared. She celebrated the family’s newfound faith and continued to champion their child, who eventually enrolled in a mainstream school, “which is amazing,” she added.

Dana*, another believing friend from the host country, occasionally accompanies Christy to therapy sessions to translate. “Sometimes they’re asking me why Christy is doing it, why she’s helping. We can’t [say] openly ‘because we’re believers and we love Jesus.’ ... I’m saying, ‘Oh because she has such a big heart and she wants to help,’” Dana explained.

Even in a short time, Dana has seen the impact of Christy’s service. “God can use this. Stories from Christy’s family and the stories from her life, they can help the parents,” she emphasised.

“Most of the time I want to tell them that they don’t have to feel sad about [their child’s disability]; they don’t have to blame themselves,” Dana added. “In our culture, if something happens to your child, this is the mom’s fault.”

Christy uses visits to actively refute that mind-set, “just encouraging the mum that this child is loved and it’s not a mistake.”

‘Shalom’ statements

“We don’t get an opportunity to sit down and tell the whole gospel all at once,” Christy said. Rather, the couple practice wide sowing, making little ‘Shalom’ statements that bring God into conversations. Sometimes the statements lead to friendships; sometimes they spark deeper conversations about God.

Through such introductions, Eric has been able to share with a taxi driver about who God is and His love for people. “If God has a son, and He walked through the earth, He really knows what we’re going through, and He really loves us,” he told the man.

Another time he caught a ride with a young Muslim man who, like Eric, enjoyed playing football. They became friends and, eventually, Christy met the man’s girlfriend, an atheist. One day, the four of them were driving somewhere together. Christy noticed a little bucket hanging from the bottom of the car in front of them—a superstition locals practised to carry their luck with them. “It’s the first time we’ve seen the bucket,” Christy told the other couple.

“Are you superstitious?” the girlfriend asked.

“No, we’re not. We believe in a God who cares for us and loves us, and we believe nothing can happen to us that He doesn’t allow.”

The conversation didn’t continue then, but another evening, the young man visited Christy and Eric’s home. Knowing his interest in graphic design, Eric showed the young man a high-quality comic book about the story of Jesus that had been translated into the local language. “It was the first comic book he’d ever seen in [his language]. The pictures were so well done, he was really able to appreciate it as an artist,” Eric noted. “We were able to explain the gospel.”

“It’s those kind of relationships and opportunities that are so exciting, and it’s nothing we could have planned,” Christy said.

“There’s nothing we do that God couldn’t do another way,” Eric continued. “Our impact is as broken sinners... God is already there. God is already working in people’s lives.”

“It’s actually such a privilege to see what He’s doing in Central Asia and maybe to be part of it,” Christy concluded.

Praise God for the work He is doing among unreached people in Central Asia. Pray that workers would boldly take opportunities to speak about God and trust in His faithfulness and perfect timing.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with believers to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.

** https://www.rferl.org/a/central-asia-islam/26707668.html

Published: Thursday, 24 May 2018
Credit: Nicole James
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