The Mystifying Transformation Of The Soviet Union
What Does It Mean For Missions To Muslims?
The multifaceted and ongoing transformation of the Soviet Union into the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is startling, challenging, and even mystifying. Viewed from a faith perspective it precipitates waves of awe. What tremendous opportunities for the Gospel!
In an effort at faithful response to God's gracious timing, agencies and churches are flooding the CIS with projects, people and materials. The overwhelming majority of these efforts center on the European areas and people of the old USSR.
Often lost sight of is the diversity of peoples, religions, and orientations within the CIS-- at least 160 different people groups, most of them "unreached" according to even the most generous definitions. At the center of this incredible mosaic, like gleaming gems, are the large Muslim people groups of the Caucasus and the Central Asian republics-- Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Tadjiks, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Tartar, Adygei, Ingush, Chechen, and Azeris. Around them and mixed among them are dozens of smaller groups-- Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, followers of Shamanism, Secularists,--each with its own preciousness to God, each ignored, each needing appropriate exposure to the Good News of Jesus.
Today it is not uncommon to encounter "scare" language about CIS's Muslim areas-- statements that imply the imminent creation of a whole series of Iran-like Islamic republics in Central Asia. Such projections are hardly likely to occur in the immediate future. Central Asia today is significantly different from pre-1979 Iran. CIS's Muslim areas are culturally Islamic, but less so religiously.
At the same time, realism has to note the vigorous efforts of Iran, Turkey, Saudia Arabia, and Egypt to gain influence in the Muslim republics. Money is flowing in to refurbish the mosques and print Qurans. Aid and advisors focusing on a host of economic ventures is being offered. Everyone senses this is a crucial time for Central Asia.
The current climate also affords unique opportunities for Westerners to enter formerly "off limits" areas to assist in creating the infrastructure modern states need for economic development in today's world. The presentation of spiritual values is basic to healthy growth, but needs to be done in culturally sensitive ways. The last thing many former "Soviet" people want is outside domination and a religion that seems to reflect the ways of former "colonial" Russian overlords. Appropriate contextualization is the order of the day. With care, all things are possible.
Presently a host of agencies are gearing up to take advantage of the CIS's openness. Gradually cooperation and coordination are occurring between them. In this area strategies seem to fall into broad categories:
- Those designed to enable existing churches to reach out and grow. "Outside" organizations are concentrating on resource materials, openings for the Gospel in media, schools, hospitals and prisons, the need for family strengthening programs, church leadership development and cross-cultural outreach. Radio and literature ministries are rushing to develop appropriate messages for masses of questioning hearts.
- Those involving expatriate "tentmakers"--people pioneering among largely ignored populations. In this case, education, development, health and business ventures are underway. Western organizations, new and old, are finding ways to cooperate--undreamed of a few years back. Latins and Koreans are mobilizing workers and finding ways to integrate their vision with that of other Christians from abroad.
The next two to five years are critical for the Central Asian republics. Within that time the newness of "independence" will wear thin, the realities of "going it alone" will set in and opposition movements will find grievances with todays's leaders. Whether such will drive people to a greater quest for eternal values remains to be seen. For now, great opportunities exist--and cry for adequate action!