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60. The Gospel to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

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Sven speaks: Although Marianne and I felt the lack of cooperation from the Director of Teen Challenge Kazakhstan extremely difficult, we had, after all, the support of The Australian Director of Assemblies of God World Mission, Dr George Forbes. Unfortunately, the Assemblies of God World Mission board did not endorse his suggestion to remove the Teen Challenge Director from the field. After Dr George Forbes had retired in the 1999 General Conference of Assemblies of God Australia, the new leadership decided in the beginning of 2001 to close down the Social Fund Zabota in Kazakhstan and that the Work of Assemblies of God World Mission in Central Asia should be based in Teen Challenge Kazakhstan in Almaty. For me it was, and still is, a mystery how one could come to this decision. In the choice between me, who was appointed by Assemblies of God World Mission Office to be their Central Asian Regional Director, and the Teen Challenge Director in Kazakhstan, they chose him.

At that time, in 2001, there were many both foreign and national workers, who were depending on Zabota for different reasons, such as visas and employment. The Social Fund Zabota was a locally run registered body in Kazakhstan without any controlling link from Assemblies of God World Mission in Australia. The Zabota board did not accept the decision of the Assemblies of God World Mission Office to close it down. To be able to continue working with the Zabota Fund we had to resign our commission as the Central Asian Regional Directors of Assemblies of God World Mission and also as Assemblies of God World Mission workers. We submitted our resignation on the 30th of June 2001 and gave three months notice to finish on the 30th of September that year.


The board of Zabota

What were we supposed to live on now? We realized that our supporters may withhold their money because of this action. We therefore wrote them all and told them what we had done and why. We told them that we would continue working in Central Asia as before and asked whether they would continue supporting us outside of Assemblies of God World Mission. Until this time all of our support was channelled through the Assemblies of God World Mission Office in Melbourne. (The Assemblies of God World Mission was an independent unit within the Assemblies of God in Australia. Our problems were not related to the Assemblies of God in Australia, but only to the Assemblies of God World Mission. We did not resign from Assemblies of God in Australia, but only from The Assemblies of God World Mission in Australia.) This was the organization that paid our salaries, made sure that our taxes were taken care of and that our pension contributions were paid. All our sponsors in both Sweden and Australia, except from a minor contributor in Australia, assured us that they wanted to continue working with Marianne and me. We took this as a sign from God that we had done the right thing.

The Social Fund Zabota was registered in Kazakhstan only. However, now we were in need of a registered body in Australia to do what the AOGWM Office had done for us previous, such as receiving and receipting donations from our supporters, pay us our salaries and so on. We registered Central Asia Relief Enterprises (CARE) in Australia to do this work for us. (The organization Zabota still exists today but CARE is deregistered.)

The chairman of the board of CARE was Vic Stolar, the treasurer was Liz Boey and the secretary was our son David Goransson, all residents of Australia. The pastors Tony Hallo and Bruce Hills, also residents of Australia, were members of the board. The Swedish pastors Tomas Anderson and Gert Ove Liw were also part of the board and so were Marianne and I. Since the board was spread all over the world most communication was carried out via e-mail.

It may be added that during the following years, many of the The Assemblies of God World Mission workers resigned from the The Assemblies of God World Mission in Australia, without leaving the field of their service, and without losing their support from Assemblies of God World churches. At one point, I received a letter from a well-known Assemblies of God World Mission worker, who I did not know personally. She faced a similar problem as Marianne and I had had, and now wanted to resign from this organization. She was wondering how she could resign from Assemblies of God World Mission without losing her support from Assemblies of God churches in Australia. She had consulted with George Forbes who in turn had referred her to me. I only mention this to illustrate that Marianne and I were not the only ones to face difficulties. Thankfully, there has been a change again in the leadership of Assemblies of God World Mission, and some of the problems from that time have been rectified.


South of Almaty

In our new role, we restricted our work to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. This was more than enough. Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world to the area. The country had more than 16.5 million people by the year 2011. In 2005, the country had the fastest growing economy in the world, after China. It is the oil reserves that have speeded up the economy of the country. Kyrgyzstan is a much smaller country, only 7-8 percent of Kazakhstan´s area, but with a population of 5.5 million (2011) people it is a slightly denser populated nation. Kyrgyzstan is a very mountainous country.

A few months later, the ten churches, which I talked about in the previous chapter, decided that they wanted to organize themselves into an organization that could be recognized by The World Assemblies of God Fellowship. In order not to conflict with the Teen Challenge Work, we named the organization “the Association of Kazakh Full Gospel Churches”. They applied and were granted a membership in the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. We helped these churches with Bible study weeks, regular visits, purchase of pastoral residents and church premises. Without this support, these churches probably would not exist today. Admittedly, there has been a very significant economic growth in the country, but the wealth is very unevenly distributed.


Baptism in Almaty

Katarina Klaar visited us quite soon after we had come to Kazakhstan in 1999. She was a worker in Karakol in Kyrgyzstan together with Annika Gustavsson and Åsa Enkvist. They had planted a church there. Katarina was from Hudiksvall and we had stayed in her parents' home when we visited Sweden. Katarina invited us to visit them in Karakol.

Karakol is located in Kyrgyzstan and the road distance from Almaty is around 620 km. The road was not in the best condition, but I have seen worse. This was the beginning of a long association with both foreign and national friends in Karakol. Both Katarina and Annika eventually married men from Kyrgyzstan. Åsa returned to Sweden quite soon to continue her studies to become a Doctor of Medicine. When both Katarina and Annika later returned to Sweden together with their families, we were asked by the Pentecostal Church in Hudiksvall to take on the oversight of the work in Karakol. This meant that there would be many trips between Almaty and Karakol. Even today we have regular contact by email and phone with friends in Karakol as well as with pastors in Kazakhstan.

We also started some projects in Kyrgyzstan. For example, we helped a couple of workers to start a work helping the Kurds in Kant, which is located close to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Unfortunately, there is no church work left there today, but our hope is that we are going to meet people from Kant as well when we reach Heaven one day.

We supported another worker and his family in the capital, Bishkek. They later relocated their work to Tokmok, where they are still active today, Sven says.

I ask Sven: "What was the biggest difference between living and working in Papua New Guinea and Kazakhstan?"

"The big difference was that in Kazakhstan, there were greater restrictions on what we could do and not do than in Papua New Guinea. In Papua New Guinea, we never had to be afraid that the police would come and make a check on what we did, but in Kazakhstan there was a big risk. Quite often, we were called in for questioning and we had to explain what we were doing." Sven says and continues: "Since we had visas as humanitarian aid workers, we needed to highlight our humanitarian work that we were engaged in during these interviews. Everything we said was true, but we did not tell them about everything we did, because they did not ask. The Women's Centre we were running was the visible evidence of our humanitarian aid work. This was what we referred to each time the police called us in for an interview. As I told you earlier, we also helped an orphanage. There were thus several things we managed under the name of Zabota that substantiated that we were doing humanitarian aid. Our official title was 'International aid coordinators for the social Fund Zabota'."


There were more horse-and donkey carriages than cars

"Was there a big difference in the 'basic' religiosity in comparison to what you had faced in Papua New Guinea?" I wonder.

"When it came to the Russians, remaining in Kazakhstan after independence form the Soviet Union in 1991, they were labelled as Christians by the Muslims, even if they were atheists. All Kazakhs were considered to be Muslim and similarly assumed, all Russians were Russian Orthodox Christians. Their culture was similar to the western culture, individualistic and self-centred culture and privacy was important. A little less than 30% of the population was ethnic Russians, and Muslims did not care about us evangelizing among them. However, the Russian Orthodox Church persecuted Russians who wanted to leave the church.

But when it came to the Kazakhs, who were Muslims, there was not much of a difference. There was a fundamental religiosity among them. The difference was that it was harder to reach Muslims with the Gospel than to reach the tribal people of Papua New Guinea with the Gospel message. When it came to family ties and similar questions, the religions did not differ very much. Just as among the Papuans, the family and the tribe are very important among the Kazakhs. Nothing is private; all decisions shall be made by the family and the relatives including who to marry. One might say that this is an Asian trait." Sven says.


Near Karakol


Accident on the winter road between Almaty and Taraz

"In Papua New Guinea, you were part of a great revival, many came to faith, and many churches were planted. If I understand it all correctly, this was not the case in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Why is that?" I ask.

"During all these years in PNG, we never experienced any organized persecution of evangelical believers. It was easy to stand up anywhere in public and in private houses to proclaim the Word of God. In Kazakhstan however there has been religious persecution ever since the Soviet Union invaded Kazakhstan and all the time until Kazakhstan gained independence 1991. Now the atheistic government in Moscow is no longer in charge, but those in charge are now controlled by the religious leaders of Islam and the Orthodox Church. These religious leaders are even more against the work of the evangelical churches, because according to their understanding, all the people in Kazakhstan should be either Muslims or Orthodox believers. Everything else is evil, and must to every cost be eliminated. According to Islamic doctrine anyone leaving Islam must be killed, and many Muslims who convert to Christianity are in fact risking their lives. Also Orthodox Christians leaving the church will be subject to difficult persecution from the church. Under these very difficult circumstances one must rejoice over the progress that has taken place in spite of the persecution." Sven replies.

"Sven, one final question," I say, adding: "Marianne had a vision in which she saw a large wheat field ready for harvest. You interpreted this wheat field to be the Muslim world when you said “yes” to become workers in Central Asia. When one hears or reads about this, it is easy to think that a large wheat field ready for harvest is equal to many people being saved. Was the vision inaccurate?"

"No, I am absolutely convinced that Marianne's vision was true and that we interpreted it correctly by becoming workers in Central Asia. When Marianne had this vision in 1984, it was seven years before it even was made possible for evangelical workers to enter any of these Central Asian countries. When the Soviet Union, to which all these countries belonged, fell apart in 1991, thousands of evangelical workers entered these countries. If we stick to Kazakhstan, which I know best, in 1991 there were only twelve known ethnic Kazakh believers in the whole world. Today I have heard the number of 20 000 Kazakh believers in the world mentioned and it was this development that made the Muslim leaders forcing the authorities to impose restrictions on evangelical activities. Moreover, it must be remembered that God showed Marianne a large wheat field, ready for harvest, but missing reapers. God never told Marianne that we were the ones who would "bring in” the big harvests, but that he wanted us to be two of many reapers and that we should aid and develop other reapers."

"Efforts to spread the gospel in Kazakhstan continue yet today, although it has in some aspects slowed down a bit. When the country was opened to western influence in 1991, quite a few evangelical/charismatic preachers with an extreme faith teaching, sometimes referred to as Success Theology, entered the country as well. Many people were poor and were enduring very difficult times in the free Kazakhstan. Thousands of people were initially attracted to this kind of faith teaching. They believed that if they became Christians, they would get rich, but they did not, of course. When this did not happen, when they did not become rich, many developed indifference to faith. When we in 2008 completed our work in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the overall growth of the evangelical and charismatic churches had slowed down, although we thank God for the 20000 Kazakhs who through the work of various evangelical/charismatic church organizations had come to faith in Christ. But the work continues and there is a good foundation for a number of churches to build on and our prayer to God is that the revival will reach these countries," Sven says and thereby concludes our conversation as we sit by a small family hotel outside the town of Orange in Australia.

I, Leif, just want to add that I do know that the description above does not give you the whole picture of Marianne's and Sven's work in Central Asia. Many people received salvation and were baptized, and churches have been formed as well, but we cannot tell you too much about this in respect to those who were saved and those who continue to spread the Gospel in these countries.

It may be added that Sven and Marianne are still holding Ordained Pastors Credentials with Assemblies of God in Australia, and often participate in their pastor conferences. The Office of Assemblies of God in Australia is re-assessing all of their pastors' credentials every two years. The renewal is automatic if there is no reason not to. In 2002 Sven and Marianne did not receive their renewed credentials. The reason for this turned out to be a letter from the Assemblies of God World Missions current director to the Assemblies of God National Office, saying that Marianne and Sven had left them and joined another church organization. This was obviously a mistake. Through the senior pastor of the Garden City Christian Church in Brisbane, Sven and Marianne appealed against the decision of the National Office and their credentials were renewed.

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