News from Kazakhstan – Day 1

LONG HOURS, LOTS OF EATING AND GREAT OPPORTUNITIES

Shymkent, Kazakhstan, January 21, 2015:

The snow storm had stopped by this morning. I am a little fearful of reactions from the politically correct, but I heard someone say today that Shymkent weather was like feminine moods – always changing. Since I have little scientific research at hand about whether female moods change more often than male, ones I will go to safer ground and just say that the weather here seems to change from one extreme to another. The clouds were gone, the sun was shining and the ground was icey and slippery to walk on, with channels where car wheels had gone forming small valleys and sometime trickling streams along the road. Potholes were filled with water, which makes walking at the side of the road a little bit prone to getting splashed by a passing car.

Today there was a gathering of family leaders here. Some of them had travelled over 400 kilometres – and that along snow covered roads. They were a great bunch of blokes. One of the features of Central Asian countries is the divisions based on nationality or ethnicity. Kazakhs and Uzbeks and Turkmen. All of these groups have their own ethnic languages and are not necessarily similar. Uzbek is derived from the Turkish language group but Kazakh is from a different source. Everyone speaks Russian due to the long rule of the Ruskies from early last century until late. I think it was about seventy years in all. There are many people still here of Russian descent. Sometimes the family groups are ethnically based and speak their native language. Of the pastors in this group there were different backgrounds – and some had Korean background from the time in 1937 when Stalin expelled or relocated all the Korean-origin people here from Russia as a control measure. We sang some family songs and it was so rich and beautiful. At least three different pastors picked up the guitar and lead some songs. One young man began to sing Kazakh songs in that language and it was so sweet and beautiful. There was genuine partnership between them. The main family leader was not dominant and people shared their stories- some of them amazing. At times we were laughing and at others weeping at the contrast. So courageous, persistent and without complaint or resentment. Their fellowship was mutual, desired and simple. Because of the struggles and difficulties and the pressures their collective sense of belonging is raised to another level.

Both Jeremiah and I shared some of our stories and that led to further sharing and talking within the group. As you may appreciate, conversations are slow, especially when it is from Russian to English. It goes from Russian to Korean (Jin Young) and then Korean to English (Daesop) and then back the opposite direction for response. In Tashkent there was a lady who came with us for most of the gatherings who could speak Russian and English. Her name was Svieta (Svetlana is the long form) and she was North Korean by ancestry. Her grandfather was deported from Russian to Uzbekistan in 1937. She teaches English for her livelihood and has good skill as a translator. But in Shymkent there is no one who has good English and good Russian. Jin Young can speak a little English but not too well.

In the afternoon we went down to the centre of Shymkent and hung out for a while at a coffee shop run by American missionaries. It is called a “cultural village” and they teach English there and have really good coffee. They also had wifi but when I connected I was only able to receive emails, not send them, so that was profoundly frustrating.

In the evening we went to another larger family meeting. It was very different from the one we visited last night. Much quieter and more ordered, but it was wonderful. I get to join in the songs by humming the tune and using my own tongues language. Simple and powerful. They thought I should share a story tonight. I did raise an objection simply because of the fact that Jin Young doesn’t really speak all that much English. They prevailed and Jin Young was amazing. It made me speak much more slowly and try to speak simply. There were times when Daesop had to add an explanation, but for the most part it went along as good as gold – given the fact that I couldn’t know whether he was saying what I was saying or not that might be a guess, but I thought he did a great job and the people showed all kinds of signs that they were getting it. I even told a simple joke and they got it. Now there’s the real test. We had a lot of time with individual people afterwards and then, as always we were treated to a feast at the main family leader’s house.

When we arrived back at the accommodation there was a young man waiting to see us. This was after 10:30pm. He had heard that we were here and wanted to receive something to help him in his work. He is a welder by day and helps street people and others outside of that time. I was tired when I got back but soon found energy as he told us of his life as a gang member on the streets of Shymkent until his change in 2007/8. When we went up to our rooms, we sat around and talked for another 45 minutes. Then I suddenly felt tired and fell into bed.

Brian Medway

T5