She lived in a godless city and sold her body for sex. By all human perspectives, there was really no hope for her to ever come to faith. She was spiritually hard soil, if ever there was such. But she heard about the salvation of the one true God and put her trust in him. And so it came to be that Rahab the harlot’s name is forever inscribed in the book of Hebrews’ “Hall of Faith.”
God isn’t limited by the terms we give to “hard soil” locations. His eyes don’t get big with distress when we say “10/40 window” or “countries of war” or “threat of persecution.” Just like he has since the beginning, God is working in the darkness to shine his light into hearts and build his church among all peoples.
Here are three places in Central Asia where God is working and some specific ways to pray.
Northern Iraq has appeared in a lot of headlines over the past few years. As ISIS inches its way closer and closer to Iraqi Kurdistan, stability in the region deteriorates. Military checkpoints dot the land and make land travel long and stressful.
Although Muslim in name, most men and women in Northern Iraq indirectly prioritize ethnicity first and religion second. They welcome all things in the name of progress and want economic prosperity. Many hope that Western ideas about success and the good life will carry them into a better future. Some Kurds have achieved a level of success only to realize it does not bring lasting hope. Despite empty pursuits and challenges to the country’s stability, many say the region is more open to the gospel than it has been in a thousand years.
Ahmed* is one example. As a college student, Ahmed was curious about Christianity. He visited a local historically Christian church. As is customary, church members checked his identity card to see if he was Christian or Muslim. Because he was Muslim, they refused him entrance. Ahmed then obtained an official letter from his university dean expressing he was not harmful and was there for educational purposes. They still wouldn’t let him in. The Holy Spirit pursued Ahmed for five years until he encountered evangelical believers and finally heard the truth that set him free. He is now studying to be a church leader.
As men and women like Ahmed encounter the gospel and believe, they often struggle. Fear of persecution is a strong obstacle for many formerly Muslim Kurdish believers, even those who have not experienced mistreatment for their faith.
Pray that believing Kurds will grow in their faith and be bold for the gospel as they share with their families and friends.
Iran stands out in the Muslim world because Iranians are part of the minority sect of Islam called Shia Muslim. Iranians are Persians who are proud of a history dating back to Bible times. They still speak Farsi, the Persian language, and hold fast to their identity.
Forty years ago, the Islamic Revolution swept the country. Since then, many Iranians have come to a place of spiritual openness. They are fed up with Islam and eager for other options, including Eastern religion and New Age philosophies. Within this spirit of exploration, an overwhelming number of Iranians are finding the truth of Jesus Christ and putting their trust in him.
Many are discovering the gospel via satellite television which, though illegal, is routinely accessed across the country. An unusually high literacy rate in Iran means many Iranians are finding and reading the Scriptures for the first time. Others who cannot read are listening and responding.
Ali* is a farmer with a reputation as a kind and honest businessman. He is also a faithful evangelist. Through Ali, his seventy-nine-year-old illiterate aunt came to faith. She then asked Ali for five New Testaments. When her grandchildren and extended family visit, she makes them read to her. She has joined Ali in kingdom work.
Ali is also engaged in cross-cultural work by sharing with people from different tribes. One day, Ali felt compelled to pick up a hitchhiker, a beekeeper from another tribe. He shared the gospel with the beekeeper and gave him Scripture. The man went home and shared with his ten family members, all part of a minority people group. The beekeeper asked Ali for more Bibles, and now Ali is discipling the beekeeper and helping him share with his family in the village.
Believers like Ali often feel isolated in Iran. They don’t have a local fellowship. The few believers they know live far away. On top of it all, they know they are under constant surveillance by the government.
Pray they will not feel alone. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide and encourage them when the government calls them in for questioning. Pray they will know how to love their enemies.
War has ravaged the country of Afghanistan for over forty years. The constant change of new regimes and power brokers, who can never secure stability, has worn the people down. They don’t make plans for the future or dream about what next year could hold. They are simply trying to get by.
In this environment, many Afghans are tired of the status quo, even of their religion. Local Islamic leaders often take part in the power play, positioning to get more money or increase their personal power. Meanwhile, fundamentalist Islam as seen on the news wreaks havoc in their land. A spiritual apathy has overtaken many people.
Yet the church in Afghanistan is growing. In today’s global environment, even the poorest of the poor own a mobile phone. People are accessing Scripture on their phones and coming to faith in Jesus.
Hasan* is one of them. He was walking home from high school one day when he felt something come upon him—he felt squeezed from all around. The feeling didn’t leave, and for some reason, it compelled him to find a New Testament. He found one and began to read in secret. As he read, he felt relief from the physical pressure.
One day Hasan’s father walked into the courtyard where Hasan was reading the Scriptures. In a fright that his father would see, Hasan threw the book down the well. Later when the well became clogged, his father discovered the book and beat Hasan for admitting it was his. Hasan promised to not read it again but couldn’t keep himself away. He found the Scriptures online and continued reading. He also discovered testimonies from other Afghans who had put their trust in Christ—he was not alone. Hasan has joined them as a follower of Jesus the Messiah.
Pray for Afghans who feel apathetic about life. Ask that they will understand that their void cannot be filled by the West, a new government, or even being a better Muslim. Pray God will stir many hearts to seek out truth.
We hope this overview gives you new eyes as you see these countries on news headlines. Be encouraged and pray with eyes of faith. Our God is at work.
Madeline Arthington is a writer who serves with IMB in Central Asia.