Kazakhstan: Central Asia's Great Awakening

A decade-old ethnic church blooms despite government suspicion.

Christianity is seeing a rebirth among the 10 million ethnic Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, just a decade after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.'s 70-year-old Communist system. The number of ethnic Kazakh Christians has grown from fewer than 10 to more than 6,000 since the fall of communism in 1991, according to Christian workers at a recent gathering in Kazakhstan. The mostly Muslim Kazakhs live within the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that lies between Russia and China. Although Christianity has been in the region for centuries, it has not taken hold among ethnic Kazakhs since the days of the fifth- century Nestorian Church.But now Christianity is on the rise.

Followers of the Messiah

For centuries, most Kazakhs associated Christianity with Russians. When Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, Russians were the ethnic majority within the state. In 1992, 960,000 Russian Lutherans of largely German origin lived in Kazakhstan, according to Lutheran World Information. But by 1997, 600,000 of these Lutherans had emigrated to Germany, Russia, Siberia, and the Ukraine. Christian influence dropped dramatically, and only one Orthodox cathedral remained in the Kazakh capital of Almaty.Then missionaries began using terms identified with Kazakh culture when sharing their faith with Kazakhs. A typical Kazakh evangelical will use the phrase "follower of the Messiah" instead of Christian, which Kazakhs still link with imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.Zhana Khamzina, a Kazakh student in Almaty, rarely refers to herself as a Christian although she has been a follower of Jesus for almost two years. Khamzina is a leader of the True Way Church, a student-led fellowship in Almaty. She found Christ ...

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