Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back from Kazakhstan

Many of you know that I just returned last week from a 10-day trip to Central Asia with two other church leaders. The three of us spent one week in Almaty, Kazakhstan working with new church leaders from other Central Asian republics who were there to receive training before heading back to their home countries. We had 10 students and our week with with them was completely enjoyable. We had quite a time getting over there (a story for another day), but after we arrived, we were able to witness how the Spirit of God is moving in Central Asia. It was very encouraging.

After five days in Almaty, we took the overnight train (about a ten-hour ride) to Teraz, a smaller city in Kazakhstan, where HCBC Pflugerville has been partnering with a church for several years. The pastor and the church were very hospitable to us, and we really enjoyed our time with the church. We were able to spend some time on Saturday with their church leaders, and then we spent Sunday morning at their church service, then were able to experience the city of Teraz in the afternoon and evening.

The country of Kazakhstan reminded me a lot of Romania (where I traveled in 2004) in that it has many remnants of Soviet rule. The soviet-style architecture and city design were very similar. After that, however, the people and culture were very different. While Romania felt very European, Kazakhstan felt very Asian. The Russians who live there look European, but the Kazak nationals look Asian (almost Chinese). This led to an interesting blend of cultures, and I really enjoyed my time with the people.

We worked with East-West Ministries, and you can read more about their mission-work here.

As always with international mission trips, you come back with many more observations about your own ministry than you do about the mission work. Being outside your own ministry setting and seeing someone else's church for the first time really helps me refocus on what is important. I brought back a few nuggets that I have been chewing on...

(1) Ecclesiology is very important in the life of the church. Regardless of the model of the church (traditional, cell church, house church), how Jesus leads his congregation is very important. We saw this over and over again as we met with church leaders in Central Asia. In order to lead and handle conflict well, the church needs to be governed well. Great reminder --

(2) Contextualized ministry and mission are absolutely necessary for the proclamation of the gospel and the growth of the church. Looking again at Acts 15 & Acts 17 on the trip home, I was reminded how important contextualization is to our efforts. I saw some very odd forms in Central Asia because western missionaries had taken not only the function of the church with them, but also the forms of the church. This was a good reminder for me at home to make sure that we are not using out-dated forms that will hinder the progress of the gospel in our city.

(3) Boldness with the gospel requires so much less here at home and we do it so much less. I think this is a weird deal, but the Spirit of God seems to really move believers under persecution to boldly share their faith. When I read this article today in the WSP about believers in Iraq, I was again challenged by my own attitude toward evangelism.

Thanks for all the prayers for our trip. It was a truly humbling and challenging time.


Amanda Nolen Sturgeon said...

Hey Keith! Not sure if you remember me from Baylor and Shine Out teams- I found your blog through Lynnette's~ it's so amazing to see how God has been working in the life of you and your family through all these years! Anyway, just wanted to say HI! Tell Barie I said hello, too!

Elizabeth said...

Looking forward to hearing more about your trip. See ya soon!
Love, Mom