A short ride in a local bus from the capital city brings you to a small town where you alight. It is not particularly cold (-10ºC) but you carefully traverse the icy footpath and the frozen rutted road. Your first time here was a bit scary because the streets are not always labelled and the houses look similar but the instructions were helpful at the time. Now that you are familiar with the zigzag route through the maze of streets, you can enjoy the shards of ice in the puddles and the sunshine glinting in the icicles suspended from the roof edges and gutters.
You enter the house yard, pass through the outer door and kick off your shoes – fortunately there are no big guard dogs to worry about! You are a little early and the children are having their after-lunch sleep so you make yourself comfortable in the bare lounge room-cum classroom.
Soon Alica* and Gulzat* join you and the tea and biscuits appear on the table. After the chit-chat, you open up your laptop, pass over the handouts and resources and the tutorial commences. An hour later the first of the children shyly pokes their head around the door and the training time is finished. You confirm times and dates, greet the children, farewell the ladies as they return to their charges and commence your journey home.
Alica and Gulzat are Christians who have set up a small kindergarten in their home. It is not glamorous work but it allows them to earn some money; it is also a ministry of the small church of which they are members. Because the government has been unable to provide kindergarten places, Christians are in a unique position to offer this ministry to their neighbours. Your role has been to provide theoretical and practical knowledge about young children’s development and academic learning to equip people like Alica and Gulzat to provide a quality service and develop a good reputation in the neighbourhood.
Not all the neighbours are in favour. Early on, an old lady up the street had been warning everyone “Watch out! Don’t send your kids there! They are Baptists!” (an old soviet term for nonconformists). Now she recommends the kindergarten to others! The faithful witness of Alica and Gulzat’s caring manner for the children in their little kindergarten has apparently impressed the parents and neighbours and the word is spreading.
The tutorial is for just an hour a week but, in a land where knowledge and experience is a valuable commodity, local people are keen to learn, especially when they have been inspired to become involved in an area that is new to them. In a culture where doing things out of the ordinary is unusual and where there is not much money to invest in new ventures, this can be a brave course of action.
As an Interserve Partner or On Tracker, your contribution may be small but it can provide much encouragement to local Christians as they endeavour to live out their calling in their world.
The authors served as Partners in Central Asia.
*Names have been changed.