“If they would only hear…”
The Tatars number about 7 million and live in Tatarstan, Bashkortistan and other regions of Russia. Their language belongs to the Turkic language family. The Tatars are Muslims / Orthodox Christians.
A large number from the Tatar diaspora were assembled at the House of Nationalities in Moscow for the public release of the first New Testament in the Tatar language. Earlier a similar presentation had successfully taken place in the Tatar capital, Kazan, and now we wanted to repeat the event for the Tatars living in Moscow. However, this time several ardent Muslims were in the audience and started to violently question the new book. The atmosphere became tense and hostile, and finally one person said in a loud voice: “It would be my duty to do away with any Tatar who abandoned the Muslim faith!” How would we find a way out of this difficult situation? “Arguing will not bring us anywhere. Please, let us just listen to the Bible text itself!” suggested the moderator of the event, trying to calm down the angry participants. A Tatar woman went to the front and in a clear voice started to recite from the 6th chapter of Luke’s Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied…” Slowly the atmosphere in the room changed. People nodded and smiled as they listened to the beautiful words in Tatar. With the help of the Bible words themselves, the event ended in peace.
“Why do you want to translate the Bible into our language?”
The Nogais number about 75,000 and live in the republic of Dagestan, the Karachay-Cherkess Republic and in the Stavropol territory in Russia. Their language belongs to the Turkic language family. The Nogais are Muslims.
The young Nogai girls looked at us with tense, mistrusting faces. “Why do you want to translate the Bible into our language?” They were students at Karachay University and came from villages in Dagestan where the Karanogai dialect is spoken. We were in Cherkessk in order to do field testing of some parts of the Nogai Bible translation and had given them the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel to read – the story about Zecharaiah and his wife Elizabeth, and about Mary and the birth of Jesus Christ. These girls had never read the Bible and knew nothing about Jesus and his birth. The only thing they knew was that the Bible was foreign to their religion and therefore they were suspicious. They hesitantly started to read the text, but as they read we watched their faces and saw how they changed. They became interested, forgot about the time and wanted to read more and more. “When will this book be published and where can we get hold of it?” they asked. When we left they thanked us for wanting to translate the Bible into the Nogai language.
“Look, here it says that a man should not hate his enemy”
The Kalmyks number about 200,000. They live in the Republic of Kalmykia in southern Russia. The Kalmyk language belongs to the Mongolian language family. The Kalmyks are Buddhists.
Nina gathers elderly Kalmyk women and reads to them from the Kalmyk NT. “Often they say ‘You speak about a Russian God – we are Buddhists, we have our own belief.’ But when I speak to them in Kalmyk and read from the New Testament, they listen with interest. A woman, 99 years old, said ‘If Jesus Christ is a God who forgives sins, then I want to become a Christian!’ The Kalmyks need to hear God’s Word in their mother tongue in order to understand that God is also their God and not only the God of the Russians.”
“When we distribute the Kalymk New Testament in villages we read out the most important passages about the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and also from Revelation where it states that peoples of every country and language shall one day pray to the Lord,” Nina says. “Most of the Kalymyk people know Russian, but they say: ‘When we read in our language we receive God as our own, but when we read in Russian then Jesus Christ is a Russian God.’”
“Twice a month we travel to a man and read the New Testament with him. Once when we arrived he was waiting impatiently for us. He pointed to the Gospel of Luke that lay open on the table. ‘Look, here it says that a man should not hate his enemy but should love him.’ He told us that it had been a shock to discover this. He had thought about it for several days and then finally decided that if it was in the Holy Scriptures then it had to be right. He was to go to a wedding where he knew that he would meet a bitter enemy with whom he had intended to settle an account. He went to the wedding and after some inner struggles he approached his enemy and offered him his hand. It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from the old man’s heart.”
“Now I know every Friday what to read in our mosque”
The Uzbeks (about 20 million) live in Uzbekistan, Central Asia. Uzbek belongs to the Turkic language family. The Uzbeks are Muslims.
A Christian woman from Central Asia regularly travels to her Muslim homeland, where everyone knows that she is a Christian. “Some years ago I came to a village inhabited by Uzbeks. A new mosque had just been built,” she reported. “The mullah proudly showed me the new building and probably expected criticism from me as a Christian. But I praised the mosque and said that I hoped that God’s word would be preached there. He was surprised, and when I gave him a copy of the New Testament in Uzbek he took it, touched it with his lips and forehead and finally held it close to his heart. A group of men had gathered around us and when they saw how the mullah received the New Testament with such honour they also wanted books, but unfortunately I did not have any more with me.”
“Recently I visited my country and travelled back to the same village,” she said. “The mullah had heard about my arrival and came towards me on the road. While still far off, he called out: “My daughter! You’ve returned at last! Do you remember that when you were here last time you gave me the New Testament in Uzbek? I am so grateful to you! Now I know every Friday what to read in our mosque, and I have a holy book which shows the way to God in my language. The other books that I have I could not understand, but this one helps me to prepare my sermons and give hope to those who listen!”
“Never stop your work!”
Stories from prisons
“I've had the opportunity to give many concerts in prisons and penal colonies”, said Vladimir, professional musician who ministers to prison inmates. “It's amazing whom you can meet in such places - Uzbeks, Tatars, Chuvash, Turkmen, basically representatives of the entire former Soviet Union. Until recently I focused mainly on music in my ministry and did not distribute Christian literature, except for a few Russian Bibles. But people kept asking for books. I remember one of the first requests - did I have any literature in Georgian or Armenian? So I started thinking, where can I get such books? After three years I met Ivan (the director of the Evangelical Christian Union's prison ministry), and saw all these books in different languages in his office. They didn't know which of these books should be sent to which prison. At that moment my heart told me, "God really exists." They didn't know where to send the books, and I didn't know where to get them! At that time I had just come from a prison in Tatarstan and was wondering where to get some literature for the inmates. And here it was! I usually take my saxophone and equipment when I visit prisons. This time I also decided to take as many of your books with me as I could. The prison warden there is a Muslim Tatar himself, and he allowed me to bring the books in. After the concert I announced that whoever wanted to receive a Bible or a Gospel in their own language could come and get one. So just imagine, about 70 percent of the people in the huge auditorium came forward! I didn't know which books were in what language, so I picked five men who knew other languages to sort the books into piles. As the inmates received the books, I could see they were in tears.
Your literature is a sign from God. I beg you, whatever problems you might face, financial or otherwise, never stop your work. It is very much needed; each book means a redeemed soul! There are so many inmates sentenced to time in prison for murder, rape, drugs, robbery. But each page can convert these hearts. Continue doing your work. My concerts are a mere drop in the ocean, but your books are more important than all my music, because they contain the Word of God.”
"You have given us spiritual food!"
Letters from prisons
”Praise be to God! You have given us spiritual food—two New Testaments in Azeri and one Children’s Bible! If you could have seen the Azeri brother when he received God’s Word in his language! What a joyful scene! His eyes shone with gratitude.”
This sincere message of thanks came from a prison colony in the remote Amur area of Siberia. The writer was called Sergei, who led the Christian fellowship group within the prison:
”Our fellowship is open to all people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ—we don’t limit membership to certain denominations,” Sergei wrote. ”I am 34 years old and am serving the remaining 3 years and 8 months of my sentence. But I am free in the Lord Jesus since I became a believer a year ago. It is a tremendous feeling, but hard to describe in words. I don’t have any friends or relatives, but the Lord has given me a large family of believing Christians.”
”Earlier in my life, I had no interest in knowing where Bibles and New Testaments are produced. But now that the Lord has brought me in contact with you, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for your work,” he added. ”I am sending a small gift of 50 roubles ($1.5). I would like to give more, but it is not possible. The entire fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ here at Prison Colony No.14/3 greets you. And you can be assured that we are praying for you!”