My name is Aisha and I’m from Kazakhstan. I grew up in a traditional Muslim family, so I never heard anything about Jesus Christ and did not know who He was. I wasn’t a practicing Muslim–I was a cultural, nominal Muslim, but I believed in Allah, and I prayed every day.
When I was growing up, Kazakhstan was a part of the USSR and was very diverse with a lot of nationalities. The Soviet party viewed religions as a threat, so any religion during this time was suppressed and atheism was encouraged. People still believed in God, however. They just didn’t show it. There were still Russian Orthodox believers, and I saw the cross on the top of the Orthodox churches. Therefore, to me, Jesus was a Russian God. And as an Asian representative, I wasn’t interested in Him. I thought that all Central Asians had to be Muslims.
When the iron curtains (the political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union after World War II to seal off itself and its dependent eastern and central European allies from open contact with the West and other non communist areas) collapsed in 1991, God opened the door for many Christian missionaries to come and spread the Gospel. The 1990’s were very challenging years–Kazakhstan secured its independence, but the economy declined because the whole system was ruined. People lost their jobs, crime increased, and there was not enough food. We were hopeless, lost, and very vulnerable.
But all this was under God’s control and His time. People were hungry for God and open to the good news of the Gospel. This is how my story starts. Some of my former classmates told me that they go to church and they invited me. I went, I was very glad for them, because I saw the joy inside of them, but I was still blind and didn’t understand the Gospel. I thought, “It’s nice that they are religious people. It’s very important to worship God and be a good and honest person.”
When I was 21 years old, I experienced some deep tragedies. My boyfriend, who was my first love, who I had dated all through high school and who I planned to marry, betrayed me. He gave me up, and he wasn’t brave enough to tell me why. He just disappeared, escaping from me when I wanted to talk to him. Later, I also found out that my dad had an affair with another woman for many years and even had a son with this person. This was tragic to me, because I had a very close relationship with him. I loved and adored my father. He was my best friend. My dad is an amazing father, but he wasn’t a perfect husband. My whole world inside of me was collapsing. These people, whom I trusted the most, hurt me. I was completely devastated and lost. I needed God while this was happening, though I wasn’t aware of it.
At my university, there was a secret ministry called “Student Life.” No one knew they were missionaries. I was invited to the Mix Club, a kind of student meeting. This was a good opportunity to practice my English with native speakers. I was interacting with missionaries, but I didn’t know in the beginning they were missionaries. We became very good friends, and they gave me a Bible. I had never read the Bible before. Every night, before I went to bed, I was reading it, particularly the Gospels. I was very surprised to see the chronology; it was so easy for me to understand it. I couldn’t stop reading it. I was amazed by many stories, but what hit me the most was the story of the woman who was caught in adultery in the book of John 8. I saw God’s love in this story, and His desire to forgive. It helped me then to forgive my dad. I realized that all people are more or less like that woman and are sinful. Before, I tried very hard to be a righteous, honest, and nice person, but inside I knew I wasn’t. I always had a fear inside of me that one day when I stood before Allah, he would punish me, because he knew who I really was. Of course, it took some time to understand the Gospel. And my missionary friends explained a lot to me. I learned that Jesus is not a Russian God. He redeemed me—He paid for me and took all my sins and put His righteousness into my account–so I prayed to Jesus and asked Him to forgive me and be my Savior and Lord.
In my country, Kazakhs who receive Jesus will often be persecuted for this. Family and relatives are the first ones who persecute them. As I mentioned, I had a close relationship with my dad. I couldn’t hide this new relationship from him. My dad didn’t take it seriously at first. He thought I was just under someone’s influence, and I would change my mind after some time. My mom and sisters had the same reaction. Time flew, and I was grew in my faith. I remember one day when all my relatives came to our house to celebrate something, and before everyone I told them that I believe in Jesus and even sang a worship song in Kazakh to them. They were shocked, some of them started asking me some provocative questions. But my father, as the head of our tribe–he is the oldest one–protected me, saying that it was my choice and no one can force someone to believe. So, he let them know that they can’t bother me with my decision. My dad is a well-respected person, so no one wants to argue with him. I know it was very hard for him to accept my decision, but his love was above it.
Since that time I started my Christian life, I am not afraid to stand before God, because I know in Jesus Christ we are all forgiven. God has also blessed me with a wonderful man, who loves Jesus and follows Him. He was an intern with the student life ministry! He proposed to me on our first date. I agreed, because I had fallen in love with him, too. We were married and have been serving as missionaries for the last 20+ years.
In contemporary Kazakhstan today, Islam is an important factor in shaping cultural self-identification and spiritual identity. People still believe that if you are Kazakh, you have to be Muslim. Please pray for our people to know Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior.