TAJIKISTAN! Was there really such a place? There must be, for I had been invited, by Missionary friends, to come for a few weeks of ministry.
I wanted to go, but I also wanted to know where I was going. So, I went online to find this little mountainous, landlocked, poverty-stricken country tucked away in Central Asia—about as far away from home as you can get. This little country with a population of only 8.7 million people is bordered on the East by China and on the south by Afghanistan.
In 1991 the Tajiks who, for seventy years, had been under Russia’s rule, gained their independence when the USSR was dissolved.
Tajikistan is considered to be a secular state with a constitution that provides for religious freedom. However, this freedom comes with many restraints.
Ninety-eight percent of the population is Muslim, though many do not adhere to the strict lifestyle or religious practices of Islam.
My weeks, in Dushanbe, the capital city, were a whirlwind of activity. I spoke for two women’s retreats, substituted at the “Silk Road Academy,” a school for missionary kids, and the children of other expats. I preached at the international church, and so much more.
Though missionaries are not allowed in the country, everywhere I went I found these beautiful people. They came, not just from the U.S. but from other countries and a number of different mission organizations. Each one had an official job—medical doctors, university professors, linguists, engineers, cosmetologists, students, soil experts. But—under the radar—they were all there for one purpose. Quietly they went about their work taking every opportunity to share the gospel.
I met an amazing Korean couple from New Jersey, who were well into their middle years. They had served fifteen years in Afghanistan. Now in Dushanbe, they opened a Beauty School. They were concerned for young people who had no direction, no skills and no way to make a living. So the youngsters came and learned a trade free of charge, and while they learned, this Korean “Mom and Pop” quietly shared Christ with them.
My hosts had worked in Tajikistan for seventeen years. They came as youngsters with a baby girl. There were no other American missionaries there at the time. They found a place to live and hired a language teacher. It is incredible what they had accomplished. They had established a Bible training school for potential Tajik pastors, helped start an international church, launched a peanut butter and coffee grinding company, established a ministry to abused and abandoned women, opened and staffed “The Morning Star” café, personally training every employee, and planted an elementary academy.
Eve baked cakes and pies and cookies and took them to her Muslim neighbors. She just wiggled her way into the hearts of these precious people letting the love of Christ flow.
“How did you do all this in seventeen years, I asked?
“We just loved the people,” Eve replied.
And—the people loved them. People, who were not yet converted to Christ, were converted to this genuine love.
I was enchanted by the Tajik people. I learned that the red haired Tajiks were the gift left behind by Alexander the Great and his army twenty-five hundred years ago.
I visited the mountain site where ancient Persian kings built their castles overlooking the valley where they trained their great armies.
I was a guest at a Muslim wedding celebration, where the women danced with women and the men with men. At the Muslim commemoration of “Abraham’s offering of Ishmael,” I ate fried goat in the home of a Tajik Rock Star, where a goat was sacrificed later in the afternoon. I didn’t hang around for that one.
The next day, still celebrating, I sat on the floor in a farm house, by a beautiful carpet loaded with every kind of delicacy, and ate “Osh,” the national dish. I was given a fork, though the nationals eat it with their hands, from a communal pot.
Each morning I walked across the road, tapped on a window, which magically opened, and for a pittance, I received a fresh, warm loaf of yummy bread—my breakfast.
Not dismissing the awesome snowcapped mountains, one of the most delightful sights I saw was a giant poster, displayed in a shop window, advertising “Snickers” candy bars. To my way of thinking, “Snickers” run a close second to peanut butter as the world’s ultimate comfort food. I knew, then, I would survive my time in Tajikistan.
Sharing, laughing, eating, and worshipping with Tajik believers, who were won to Christ through love and faithful witness, was the most blessed of my experiences.
I think now of these committed converts, who have chosen a steep, uphill climb, and I think of those who are laboring faithfully for the cause of the gospel.
Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation…”
In all of our holiday celebration, let’s not forget our fellow believers in faraway places, and the beautiful people, who sacrifice in order to bring “glad tidings.”
Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!