On a recent trip to film and photograph the installation of FEBC’s newest station in Toktogul, Kyrgyzstan, members of our FEBC team met with a small group of Christian locals in a nearby town. Ethan Froelich, the photographer and writer on the trip, shares his thoughts of meeting with the small, First-Generation church:
Crowded into a small living room around a big table heaping with homemade jams, butter, salads, bread and soup, everyone was smiling. The 10 members of the town’s only known Evangelical house church had rushed over, so eager to see us.
The town of Karakol is small, with a population of only 20,000. Once part of the Soviet Union, the town is now quite depleted, as children who are born in the town leave when they reach adulthood to find work elsewhere.
Being a Christian in Karakul
After eating a huge meal—typical Central Asian hospitality—we asked the group of people around the table what it was like to live in Karakol as a Christian.
Vlad, the leader of the small house church, responded first:
“It’s hard, there is a stigma attached to being an Evangelical Christian here. Because the town was a Soviet town for so long, people were taught in schools not to believe in God, and so most people are atheists. The Soviet ideology was most important, and many people were proud communists here, including my father.”
He went on to say that getting new members to attend their house church is quite difficult, as many find it hard to identify with Christianity. Those who are ethnically Kyrgyz are generally Muslim, and ethnic Russians are often atheists or Orthodox. For many Kyrgyz Muslims, to become a Christian means to be disowned by your family.
Irina, Vlad’s wife, and several other people also spoke about the Muslim influence in their town, saying that more and more people are starting to wear the hijab and become much more religious than before. Irina and Vlad both work in the school system and mentioned the increase of students outwardly displaying their Muslim religion.
A young girl named Valentina, 16, then spoke up about what it was like to go to school and talk to her friends about her faith.
“When I go to school and people ask me if I’m a Christian, I say yes, and sometimes people look at me strange, but my friends accept me.”
Valentina had been abused by her father, and abandoned by both of her parents at a young age and was living with her grandmother. Her faith was what anchored her and gave her hope for the future.
The Need for Spiritual Teaching
Vlad is the pastor of the group, but as a First-Generation believer he has very little spiritual training. There are no sermons by pastors in his language, no Christian bookstore around the corner, no pastors in nearby towns that he can ask for guidance, and no Christian radio stations on the air (yet). When we asked the group what they needed most to grow in their faith, they said they needed teaching and Christian material.
But when we told them the new station was just days away from launching, they were overjoyed.
“We are so excited for the new station in Toktogul. When it goes on the air, we’ll have Christian media here for the very first time,” Vlad said.
You could see it in the eyes of each person sitting around the table, sharing their stories: they desperately want to bring others to Christ and minister to others in the best way they can, but they don’t know how.
For the first time, they would have the means to be strengthened in their own faith, while also sharing the radio station with their friends, who aren’t Christians.
To hear more about the journey to establish the Toktogul station, click on the button below.