Farzona* was once a key figure in her church, but although her ministry had seemed to burn brightly, she decided to leave it all behind. Placed on the leadership team of a Christian club at the age of only 18, she was an outgoing individual who was active on social media and constantly invited new people to attend the group. Yet although she was blessed with the rare ability of being able to connect with young people and help them encounter God, this was not enough to sustain her in leadership.
She was passionate about the gospel, but her problem was that she could not see a way of supporting herself financially. As a result, she came to the conclusion that her best option was to travel to Russia, where the job prospects were much better. Relocating was fraught with risk, however, as she was following in the footsteps of her own mother, who had left the children to be brought up by their grandparents, only to then spiral down into a cycle of alcohol and drug addiction.
Stories like that of Farzona are only too common in parts of Central Asia. Many young people simply do not see their long-term futures as being in their own countries, because of the considerable economic difficulties they see around them. This, combined with the danger and pressures faced by Christians in predominantly Muslim nations, creates a major challenge for the survival and growth of the church. As one of Innovista’s National Directors explains, Christianity is still very young in the region, so it is crucial to try to nurture and retain a new generation of leaders who might otherwise be lost to the rest of the world.
The main way the church tries to tackle this perennial problem is by investing in individuals who have a long-term vision for transforming their communities with the love of God. This requires not only the careful identifying of the right people, but also providing the training that helps them develop the necessary skills to serve those around them more effectively.
Innovista’s team helps with both of these processes, as can be seen in the example of Omar*, a pastor living in another country in Central Asia. He had a vision for bringing the gospel to an unreached population in a remote area surrounding the regional capital where he lived, but he did not know how to achieve this, as he lacked the capacity to be able to run additional home groups or youth work. Fortunately, he received coaching from an Innovista trainer who helped him to see that rather than trying to do everything himself, the church could have a much greater impact by raising up and empowering other leaders from within their team. This led him to identify a young man called Dilshod,* to whom he delegated responsibility for running the youth work. Assisted by on-going training and support from Innovista, Dilshod not only developed into a very good leader for his group, but he also successfully helped pioneer a number of new ministries, including a collaborative church initiative serving disabled children, free English classes for the community, and a sports outreach project.
Highly motivated and well-trained individuals are able to catalyse the church for mission and make a significant impact on the communities around them, but what can be done about the overall economic outlook for people in the region? Christian leaders are aware of the challenge and, as well as providing spiritual support, their holistic ministry includes many creative projects to help those in financial need. In one country of Central Asia, Innovista has been involved with training a marginalised Roma population to learn dress-making. The initiative has not only helped a group caricatured as beggars and scavengers gain the practical skills to be able to make a living, but by demonstrating God’s love in action, it has also brought the gospel message to those often dismissed by the wider population.
You don’t always see instant fruit, when you are sowing the seeds for God’s kingdom in challenging contexts over the long term. There are often set-backs along the way, but church leaders continue to trust in God’s bigger plan for their region. When young people leave it is not the end of the story, as some take the gospel message to new areas, while others eventually return to continue their ministry. Farzona (mentioned at the start of this article) was one of the latter. The Innovista team not only kept in touch with her to support her while she was in Russia but, after two years away, they helped her to come back home, find a job, and resume her work with the church. The ground may be hard for Christians, but no generation is lost to God, as the gospel message can reach even the toughest of places. That is why, as one National Director stresses, leaders try not to focus on the difficulties of the region, but on what God is doing every day in the lives and hearts of those around them.
*: The names have been changed for security reasons.
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