A Secret Believer in Central Asia
Like so many young people from Central Asia, Ulzhan*, was lost in a world of uncertainty and despair. He thought alcohol and drugs could fill the hole in his soul. When Jesus came into his life, everything changed. He entered a fresh season in his life which was a complete break from his past.
He now serves God in some very stressful circumstances. Open Doors recently spoke to the now underground church leader at a secret location. In this rare interview, Ulzhan reveals how God grabbed a hold of him and why God allows persecution.
Can you share with us how you came to faith?
“My grandmother was an Orthodox Christian. She had a big impact on me. She was so nice and prayed diligently. Despite that, my life slipped away after I came back from serving the army at twenty. I did what many young people do in Central Asia: I drank a lot of alcohol and used drugs to make me feel better. Later I worked as a bodyguard. Some girls came up to my client and told him: ‘We believe in Jesus Christ. He is our Saviour!’ They invited him to go to church. But he replied: ‘I’m a Muslim, but you can invite my bodyguard.’ I agreed to go to church. I got a Bible and went to church. That church showed me there was a different way—life had meaning which was found in Jesus Christ. Within one month I didn’t drink, smoke or used drugs anymore.
Do you feel comfortable sharing about what God is doing in Central Asia?
“Yes. In the last six years, God has really surprised me. People of so many different backgrounds and social conditions have come to faith. I see this movement of God in my life and in the lives of people around me. I’m grateful to be in this ministry and to be a partner of Open Doors. It’s a great comfort to know that people know about our difficulties, and that they are praying for us.”
Could you narrate an incident which impacted you greatly?
“There was an underground small group leader, Nadia*, who was threatened by the police. They wanted her to give away sensitive information, such as the names of other Christians. They threatened to harm her children. They were only 15, 12 and 2 years old. It was a very disturbing and frightening to her.”
“She didn’t give them any names. The police questioned her every day. She had been arrested while on an outreach with her oldest son. He wasn’t as strong as his mother and was tortured intensely. After one day without food, water and not being allowed to go to the washroom, her son broke down. They wanted names and he told the police my name. The police came to search my house. But I don’t keep sensitive materials at my home. The police couldn’t find anything. Yet, they still gave me a huge fine. It was a very hard time for all of us. Especially for Nadia and her family. In the end, the police gave up and released Nadia and her son.”
Why does God allow this kind of persecution to happen?
“God is our Father. As His children, this is a kind of training for us. After going through problems, suffering and persecution, we too wonder sometimes: ‘Why do we still do this ministry? We like comfort, but we have so many problems. But then we also experience His love and all we want is to get to know Him even better. And the truth is that we learn more about Him when we suffer.”
Is that what the Bible teaches?
“Of course. Romans 8:18: ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ We will forget negative emotions, but His love will never pass away. One day we will face Him in heaven and we will not only thank Him for times of prosperity, but especially for how we experienced Him during times of suffering.”
How often do you preach a message like this to other persecuted believers?
“I train others to share messages like this with other Christians. How to stay strong and trust in God when life is difficult is one of the first things believers should learn. It’s human to ask: ‘Why, God? Why did you allow this to happen?’ when we should be asking: ‘What for, Lord?’ Pray that you grow stronger in faith, and remember that comfort comes after suffering.”
How can we best pray for you?
“Pray for strength and for my health. Also pray for more time and opportunities to serve the Lord.”
*Names changed for security reasons