Scripture for Central Asia

Islam is considered part of one’s cultural identity in much of Central Asia. However, many people leave religious practice to the elderly. Often, when people turn 50, they begin searching for forgiveness of sins. For Muslims, that means going to the mosque.

Aslan’s* mother was no exception. An older woman looking for spiritual peace, she had started attending a mosque and reciting Islamic prayers. But she wanted a translation of the Arabic prayers. “I am [Central Asian], and I want to know what I am saying to God,” she told a Muslim religious leader.

During that time, some relatives living in a nearby city approached Aslan’s mother. “We found a group of people who are reading, worshipping and praying in our language. Can we go and see these people?”

The discovery of that Central Asian church transformed Aslan’s family. His mother, touched by prayer and teaching she could understand, became a believer. Over the next seven years, the rest of the family followed.

Eventually, Aslan’s parents started a home church. “Every week somebody was visiting us. We invited our relatives and our neighbours. It’s good news, so we were sharing!” Aslan remembered.

Several Christian workers also visited Aslan’s family, bringing a copy of the Jesus film and some books. Aslan read a children’s Bible in Russian—a common language across Central Asia—and started to understand “what it meant to accept Jesus, to understand that Jesus is Lord.” Later, He read an adult Bible and commentary, deepening his knowledge and confirming his conviction.

Through the late ’90s, different pastors continued to bring box after box of Bibles and Christian literature to Aslan’s family. They, in turn, gave the books away.

“This time was very free,” Aslan described. After 2000, though, the rules started to change.

Today, Aslan heads up a literature printing and distribution project, sponsored, in part, by OM. “Maybe because of my [early] experience with books, I work with the literature project,” he suggested.

The first full Bible in Aslan’s mother tongue was printed in 2010. Aslan remembered pastors excited about the option to finally preach from the Old Testament to Central Asian congregations. Prior to the translation, the Old Testament had only been available in Russian.

Aslan joined the publication efforts in 2011, when preparations were being made to print the second edition of the Bible. He agreed to help with the logistics of transporting the Bibles in the country and distributing them to churches.

“Our goal is to provide Scriptures to local churches. We’re covering two [Central Asian] languages now,” Aslan said.

In some ways, his role isn’t so different than the early days of handing out the boxes of books his parents received. Aslan goes to churches and presents the various resources to pastors: Scriptures in the local language, Christian children’s books and evangelism guides. “We bring several boxes of books and find people from the church … who are responsible for sharing and distributing the books,” he explained.

That process works, but in the future, he’d like to see churches asking for the literature. Aslan has given Bibles as presents to pastors, especially those partnering with literature projects. Generally, though, people are asked to make a donation if they want a book.

Some pastors have caught the vision for literature distribution. One pastor, whose church displayed a book table in the back of the room, told his congregation at Christmas, “I’d like you to buy two books—one for you and the second for your neighbour. Give it to them for New Years.”

In 2015, Aslan’s team printed 22,000 Bibles in the local language. They also printed 14,000 evangelical books. Now, those resources are almost gone. A handful of other organizations help with printing costs and distribution. If fundraising goes well, Aslan expects to print 20,000 Bibles again next year.

Over the years, the team has experimented with different sizes and bindings. A small, easily transportable Bible proved suitable for outreach but less ideal for elderly people straining to read the tiny script. Pastors especially appreciated the large, zip-up Bible, convenient for storing pens and sermon notes.

The most important aspect of the Bibles—the text—has remained constant throughout the editions. “The translation is not word-by-word,” Aslan explained. Rather, it’s an adaptation of the Scripture, with some passages, including the Zaboor (Psalms), written as a poem.

“We’re reading this, and it’s like a real Central Asian book,” people have enthused.

While Russian translations of the Bible remain widely available, the spread of the Central Asian Scripture is closely monitored by the government. “We have so many rules … [about] how we can share these books. Every year, it’s becoming harder and more uncomfortable,” Aslan said.

Pray for wisdom and protection as Aslan and his team seek to distribute the Central Asian Bibles throughout the region. Pray for good relationships with pastors and for churches to accept their responsibility to share God’s Word.

*Name changed for security

Nicole James is a world traveller and writer for OM International. She’s passionate about partnering with fields to communicate the ways God is working across the globe.