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The Kazakhs A People In Transition Before 1990 there were no Christian workers in Kazakhstan and only a small number of Kazakh believers. Since gaining their independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Kazakh people have been in a state of transition. They have re-established Kazakh as the national language and are reclaiming their cultural heritage. At the same time they are struggling to establish political and financial stability. This decade of transition has created openness and opportunity for sharing the hope of Gospel with the Kazakh people.

Location: Language: Kazakhstan is an enormous country, Kazakh, of Turkic origin, is now the official larger than all of western Europe. About language. Russian is the language of trade. 60% of the population are ethnic Kazakhs, 9.2 million, and the remainder are mainly Religion: Most Kazakh people practice Folk Islam. Russian. Another three million Kazakhs Russian Orthodox is mainly the religion of live in China, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian population. A small, but growing Mongolia, and other countries. number, are Protestant.

Customs: For centuries the Kazakhs were semi-nomadic shepherds who moved their flocks across the vast steppes of Central Asia. Though many have since settled into growing urban areas, their traditions of music, food, poetry, and hospitality are still signatures of a Turkic ancestry.

History: From the time of Christ until the 13th century, Central Asia was the scene of pendulum-like shifts of power between nomadic hordes and sedentary civilizations of Eurasia’s periphery. In 1219, Genghis Khan swept through and established a strict and harsh rule that strangled the region. However, during the end of the 14th century, the Kazakhs, descendants mainly of Mongols and Turks, emerged and went on to form one of the world’s great nomadic empires. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Kazakh were savagely and repeatedly pummeled thus making them susceptible to Russian expansion of the 19th century. Under Soviet rule, nationalistic confusion has become a major legacy for the Central Asian people. The former Soviet State of Kazakhstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union in December 1991.

The Kazakhs In the years since 1991, when Kazakhstan declared independence from Russia, people have been grappling with how to handle the new freedoms and challenges that accompany the transition from a communist system to a free-market economy. For most, the transition has been very hard economically. While progress has been made in reclaiming many of the unique Kazakh cultural traditions and way of life, the economic and social needs weigh heavy on most people. However, cash flow into Kazakhstan from foreign investors has been significant and a small number of people are amassing wealth as a free Kazakhstan enters the global market. Sadly, the discrepancy between the ‘haves and ‘have-nots’ is huge. For hundreds of years the Kazakh people were primarily nomadic shepherds who roamed the steppes of Central Asia. The majority of Kazakhs still live in small rural villages and have retained much of their traditional cultural heritage. Alcoholism and poverty are the norm in many of these villages, especially across the dry, arid steppes of western Kazakhstan. As of 1999, there were more than 1,000 villages in this region largely unreached and without a Gospel witness. During the decades of Soviet domination, some segments of Kazakh society became “Russified”, identifying more with the language and lifestyle of the Russian people. This is especially evident among the younger generation and in some of Kazakhstan’s rapidly growing cities. They are eager to embrace the more modern conveniences and practices that are flowing into Central Asia from around the world. The gulf between the old and the new is felt in all areas of life, including the ideological and spiritual realms. With the relatively recent freedoms come choices the Kazakh people must make for themselves. Old traditions and influences of new cults and religions are clamoring for allegiance. Materialism is creeping into the hearts of many and the influences of communism can still be felt. With so many competing influences, many Kazakhs are confused, but very interested in talking about spiritual things. Will they hear the truth about Jesus Christ and find the peace that only comes when our hope is placed in Him? Or, will they choose one of the other substitutes that will only leave them empty? The need is great for there are so many waiting to hear. Since 1991, workers have been able to enter Kazakhstan. But there is also a strong push by some orthodox and militant Muslims from the Middle East to gain more influence in the Central Asian region, including Kazakhstan. These pressures are causing government leaders to institute new laws that are having negative impacts on the fledgling Christian population. Though religious freedom is ‘guaranteed’ by the 1992 Constitution, new believers likely face pressure from their family and community. We rejoice that since 1991 the Kazakh church has grown from almost nothing to at least 7,200 known believers. And yet, our hearts break for the millions who do not know true freedom in Jesus Christ. The need of a nation can be felt in one woman’s cry, “I want to believe in God, but I don’t know how.”

World Team has a passion and vision to see the Kazakh people reached for Christ. We are committed to praying and preparing workers to take the message of the Gospel to Kazakhstan during this unique time in their history. Please contact us today to explore how we can partner together for the sake of the Gospel in Kazakhstan.

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Kazakh People Profile