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The Experience of Church Planting in Kazakhstan / Central Asia

July 1, 2024 |  By Eric Vess

Pastor Arman leads a church planting network in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan. On a recent visit to ANM, I sat down with him to discuss the challenges and opportunities he faces in this predominantly Muslim country. 

Eric: Arman, what are the opportunities for church planting and evangelism in the context where you live?

Arman: I would say [one of the] challenges is that we still [live with a] kind of Soviet atheistic background. We don’t have an older generation that could give us an example of what churches and Christianity [should be like]. We really depend on outreach evangelism. The church depends on it. That’s why many churches test out society to see what kind of [felt] needs [are there in order] to share the gospel with our society. So this is a kind of challenge and an opportunity at the same time.

Eric: People your age are the first generation of Christian believers in Kazakhstan. How does that challenge you in your own discipleship and the discipleship of those coming behind you?

Arman: It is a big challenge. It makes you study the word of God [so as] not to make a mistake. The church in Kazakhstan doesn’t have traditions because there is no past to the church. So we are making [those traditions now by] being connected to the Word of God, to pay careful attention to the study of the Word.

Eric: How do you go about new church planting in an area where there is no Evangelical church?

Arman:  First, we [look for a] contact. For instance, we have a contact in the northeast part of Kazakhstan. There is a family [there] that decided to start a church. We contacted them and found that we were on the same page theologically, and we started working with that family. One of the challenges for them is they don’t [yet] have a congregation. Their leader’s name is Sergey. He needs to provide for his family but [because] he doesn’t have a congregation, he doesn’t have income. So, for the first two or three years until the church starts growing, he would need some kind of financial support. [Right now] he works at a tire company changing tires on cars, and that takes the majority of his day. We’re raising support for him.

Eric: So, doing new church planting means essentially doing evangelism to get members for that church because they’re not going to come from anywhere else, right?

Arman: That’s so true. That’s how the churches [have been planted] in our church association. We would do some kind of outreach program. For instance, we were showing the Jesus film in the neighborhood, and that’s how people would [come to] know about us. But since that time, many things have changed in Kazakhstan. In 2012, the government adopted a new religious law, which has radically changed the whole situation. It has become more strict. Now, If you want to start the church, you need at least 50 members. How would you start the church with 50 members? That’s a pretty challenging thing. [Now] I cannot share the gospel or conduct any religious activity outside of a religious facility. That means I can only do religious activity in our church [building]. I cannot share the gospel outside on the street, and there are also many other restrictions. Oh, praise God, we have our facility, but there are churches that don’t have facilities. 

Eric: What kind of persecution occurs in Kazakhstan against the church? What does it look like there?

Arman: The level of persecution went down a little bit for the last 10 years. Ten years ago, the persecution level was pretty bad, but we cannot be compared to Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. In our context, the maximum you could get for violating religious law was [being] imprisoned for some short period of time. But persecution still exists because, as I mentioned before, we still have the influence of Soviet paranoia. [There] is this desire to control everything, you know, like to control economic life, to control political life, to control, of course, religious life. So you cannot be really free [to practice] religion. So, there are some people with this mentality that are still in government. But the good thing is that a new generation has come with new people who are also members of the government. They come in with a more open mind.

Eric: Because they didn’t grow up under the Soviet system?

Arman: Yes, and we deal with them. We enjoy talking with them, sharing with them, witnessing to them because they’re accepting us as who we are, which is a great [opportunity]. 

The second engine of persecution in Kazakhstan is radical Islam, especially in the rural [areas]. We live in a big city where we don’t face [much] persecution. We openly share who we are. If we are asked, we can say we are part of the church. But in the rural [areas], young [ethnically] Kazakh Christians might be persecuted by their relatives, by the local Imams, and other radicals.

Eric: Thank you, Pastor Arman.

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