When I first arrived in Central Asia 15 years ago, I vividly remember the Principal of the Theological College telling me, “You’ll be a great encouragement to the women pastors!”
“Most unlikely!” I thought to myself.
I knew no one. I couldn’t speak a word of the language and had very little understanding of the culture. I had years of experience of teaching and pastoral ministry, but in a very different context. In this culture, I was a complete novice.
Now that I have learned the language and gained a greater understanding of the culture, I’ve been privileged to work with and encourage many people; both women and men. The theological college is now locally run and though no expats officially work there, I’m still involved in various ways.
I’ve worked with local teachers with varying success and am always delighted when I hear from students how much they enjoyed and learned from the teaching of friends like Venera, Kostya and Gulya.
A very able young woman, Venera worked with me teaching some Old Testament books. At first, she taught only sections of each lecture and developed into teaching the subjects on her own. She married a young man from a neighbouring country and now only comes back once a year to see her parents and to teach. However, God continues to use her knowledge and skills in preaching and teaching as she serves in a large church in her new home city.
Kostya is a fine young man, who came to know Jesus through a student movement here and worked with this group for ten years. When he had leave to pursue theological studies, I was able to advise him about places to study online and guide him to books and links along the way. He is now engaged in work towards a PhD and I’m happy to be a discussion partner and resource.
Gulya, a pastor in a village nearby, is a friend and colleague with whom I’ve taught. For the past ten years she has been leading the only church in her village. It is known and respected by all. Gulya has been involved with me and others in the Langham Preaching Movement. Her continued involvement in a preaching club is helping her and the church to grow in depth of understanding and love. She says, “I used to pray and pray for inspiration about what to preach. But now I find it so much easier. We go through a book of the Bible and work carefully on the text … and find inspiration. God really speaks through his Word — to me as well as to others.”
Ordering books to expand our library has been just as important. Can you imagine trying to do theological study without books? “How do you know which books to order?” someone asked me recently. Experience over many years has taught me which of the books that have been translated would be useful for students and teachers here. Translating suitable books into the local language – or rather, working with translators to check the translations – has become part of my work, as has seeing them through to publication. Suggesting books to be translated by a publisher in other parts of the former Soviet Union has also borne fruit.
So, fifteen years on, I’m pleased to see how God has used the skills and experience He has given me to be an encouragement to people in a very different culture. God has also provided local friends and colleagues to love, teach and encourage me as I serve with them here. I’m very grateful for the privilege.
Gwen is a long-term Interserve Partner who has been working alongside the church in Central Asia for 15 years.
All names have been changed.