Over the past five years, we have witnessed God’s nation-shaking changes in the eastern European bloc and the former Soviet Union. Untold millions of people have come to Christ and many new churches are being established on a daily basis.
Now we are on the verge of one of the most historic ingatherings for Christ’s kingdom in world history – the beginning of the conversion of the Muslim people to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Islam is more than just a religion; it is a political power which has engaged in the holy war, or Jihad, in order to enlarge its borders throughout history. The hub of Islamic military might at this time is Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. In 1991, during the time America led an invasion to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein, a little known civil war was raging in the former Soviet republic of Tadjikistan (a small country north of Afghanistan). To date 50,000 people have been killed in Tadjikistan and thousands of refugees have fled to Russia.
This shake up of the Soviet bloc and some Islamic nations has opened some Muslims in this region to the gospel. The Church has been given one of its most awe-inspiring challenges in history.
In June and October of 1994, I took two 4-week missions trips to the former Soviet Union. The main purpose of visiting Kazan was to investigate the situation among the churches who are ministering to the Tatar people, an ethnic group which is almost 100 percent Muslim. Today, there are seven million Tatars in the former Soviet Union. Kazan is a city on the Volga river and the capital of Tatarstan, an empire established by the Tatar-Mongols after the time of Genghis Khan. Tatarstan has its own president and parliament and has gained autonomy from Russia in recent years.
Two and a half years ago, a friend of ours from Kazan wrote an article for Predvestnik (the Russian language version of The Forerunner) about the situation with the Tatar Muslims in this region. (This article appeared in English in The Champion, Fall 1994.) I then began to realize the importance of printing a special edition of Predvestnik in the Tatar language.
There are many young people coming to Christ from Tatar background. Yet there is little literature available in the Tatar language. During my travels to Kazan, I met over a dozen Tatars who had come to Christ in recent years. They told me of the opposition from their Muslim families and the difficulty in breaking their strong cultural ties to Islam.
I am excited about the prospects of ministering to Muslim people throughout the former USSR. Islam has presented the Church with its most formidable missions challenge. But now we are seeing many ethnic Muslims in Russia beginning to come to Christ. Since we have an open door to reach Muslims, we are pursuing this opportunity.
We have already produced our special “Islam” edition of Predvestnik in Russian. Sometime in the future, we want to do some ethnic language publications. We currently distribute over 25 percent of the copies of Predvestnik in the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kirghistan. We want to produce ethnic language editions for these nations as well.
One linguist in Kazan explained to me that Tatar is part of the Turkic language group which comprises over a dozen languages and dialects in the former USSR, central Asia and western China. It is fairly easy to translate Tatar into other Turkic languages. Tatar is similar in some ways to Kazakh, Uzbek, Kirghiz, Tadjik, Turkmen, Bashkir, Chuvash, Uighur – languages of unreached peoples groups – each nation numbering in the millions.