Moldovan university trains students to face persecution
    October 10 2014 by Nicole Lee, IMB

    CHISINAU, Moldova – As Layla* speaks she cradles her left hand, damaged beyond repair in multiple beatings. Her mother’s violent response to Layla’s conversion from Islam to Christianity sent her to the hospital many times and eventually led her to leave her Central Asian country and seek asylum in Moldova.

    “The last years I was hiding from my acquaintances and friends and relatives,” Layla said. “Then I came here as a refugee, but in a year I have to return home.”

    Layla is fearful but trusting God. “I am a little bit afraid, but if the Most High wants it that way, then that is what I need to do.”

    She came to Moldova as a full-time student at an evangelical university.

    “The vision we received from God was to train former Muslims – to have nationals [in Central Asia] developing Christianity among their own people,” said Caleb,* vice president of the school.

    This connection to the Muslim world is a natural one. Central Asian and European countries were brought together under the Russian language during the Soviet era. This now provides a bridge for the gospel.


    IMB photo
    Moldovan university trains Central Asian students to reach their people in the face of persecution.

    “Russian is our second language, and all of these post-Soviet countries in Central Asia have the Russian language too,” Caleb said. “So we thought, ‘We have a language. We don’t need a visa for travel. We need to go and see.’”

    And so they did. They launched their mission to Central Asia in 1997 and found a thriving underground church that lacked training.

    “Every year we have a group of 30 people here who are studying at three different programs: pastoral theology, mission work with a specific Muslim focus, and social work based on Christian theology,” Caleb said.

    The school not only brings students to Moldova, but it also sends professors to five former Soviet republics – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan – to teach in satellite schools they have established amid the underground church.

    “Fourteen faculty are going every year to teach in four underground schools that we have established,” Caleb said. “We are sending them out two by two for protection.”

    Planning for Persecution

    The strategy of the university and the testimony of students reflect the fact that returning to Central Asia is a dangerous prospect. As converted Muslims, these students not only face the possibility of physical violence and death, but they also face the obstacle of how to survive day by day and provide for their families. But despite the obstacles, these men and women are passionate about taking the gospel to their people.

    “My heart mostly burns for the village where I grew up,” said David,* a young married student. “There are already eight people who have come to Christ, and they need someone to feed them and care for them so they can grow.”

    David said studying abroad focuses more unwanted attention on him and his family.

    “Because we are studying here, if [our home] government finds out that we are here, it’s going to be even more difficult for us. … But if God’s with us, we can do anything,” he said.

    Even though David and his wife will be university graduates, they face a life of low-paying jobs, barely earning enough to support themselves while they do the bigger task of sharing Christ. It is important for these students to be able to support themselves so they are not criticized by the Muslim community and are not a burden to the small existing church.

    Caleb has seen this need and is working to expand the university’s ministry beyond training pastors in community development. “They will face persecution, and it will also be very difficult for them to find jobs, so they need to create jobs,” he said.

    In the past, they have helped students begin businesses in fruit drying, making peanut butter, beekeeping, cattle farming and small agricultural projects. Such good business models help open doors with city officials.

    “We are asking [the students] to think creatively – what they can do, what is working for them,” Caleb said. “In this way we try to build this Christian community in the Muslim context.”

    Carl and Sherri

    With this in mind, Carl* and Sherri,* Christian workers in Moldova, have opened their home and tried to help students plan for their future. They have a weekly home group for fellowship and prayer, and Sherri teaches a baking class once a week, demonstrating kitchen skills and more complicated tasks like making wedding cakes.

    Layla is one of Sherri’s cooking students. Her vision is to return home and work with women. Her newfound skills will give her an open door.

    Elisabeth,* another cooking class student also sees these skills as important.

    “I wanted to know more about baking because that is just natural for a woman in my culture,” she said.
    Elisabeth and two other students are considering opening a café when they return home.

    “The idea would be to [employ] a group of believers and work with them, and then eventually bring in unbelievers to teach them and share the gospel,” she said.

    Carl and Sherri recognize the strategic advantage the students in Moldova have in taking the gospel to the nations.

    “There is tremendous potential for them to go out as missionaries,” Carl said. “Moldova is unique in that people speak Russian and Romanian, giving them a background in Latin and Slavic languages so they can go both East and West.”

    Moldovan church leaders have recognized this unique position and have a thriving vision for missions.
    Alongside them, Carl and Sherri have a deep love for the Central Asian students and have a burden to help them prepare for ministry and life in the Muslim context.

    “The average American can’t even remotely imagine what it’s like to live in that persecution and then try to minister and share the gospel in that type of environment. Knowing that the police could come at any time, knowing that family members are going to be angry, knowing they could lose everything at any moment. It’s amazing to see the calm confidence they have in preparing to go back and serve in those places,” Carl said.

    *Name changed

    (EDITOR’S NOTE - Nicole Lee is a writer for IMB based in Europe.)

    10/10/2014 11:26:12 AM by Nicole Lee, IMB | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Central Asia, missions, persecution

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