Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Day with a Muslim

Muslim community called "Tatar Bazar"
My intention coming to Izhevsk, Russia (population 600,000) was to witness what God is doing through the youth ministry at the Philadelphia church.  The youth pastor is a young man named Vladimir.  His passion and leadership for youth ministry and youth leadership training rivals most ministers who I have encountered within the last 16 years of being a youth leader.   To my surprise I gained much more than I thought I would.  My encounter began when a young woman came to meet me at the apartment where I was staying. 
As Dianna* walked into the room I could tell she wasn’t like other young people I had met.  Her apparent seriousness showed through as if she had been carrying a burden for some time.  At the same token she had love in her smile, in her eyes.   
 Dianna was a Muslim.  Dianna is a Christian.  Dianna is a Tartar.  We took a “gulite” or a stroll around the city center.  She showed me the usual things you would see in a Russian city, the statue and eternal flame dedicated to WWII, the house of the regional President or governor, and the statue representing a uniting between the Utmo people group and the Russians who came to live there some 450 years ago.  

Christian Youth in Izhevsk  
We sat down for lunch at the “big burger” cafĂ©, and she told me her story.  Being a Tarter met you were a Muslim.  The culture demanded it and so did her entire family.  Like most Russian Muslims, she wasn’t devoted to her religion.  She drank, smoked and occasionally used drugs.  This was the life she learned from her parents who still have no concept of God’s love.   She turned to the Koran for answers many times but found nothing but frustration.  Not only was this holy book confusing but it angered her the way that it instructed men to behave toward women and it gave them the right to sin without repercussions.  “If I continued to read it I was going to get angry,” she told me as we ate our big burger sandwiches.  So, Dianna was left with no answers and no way out of her depression. 
One day an acquaintance of hers invited her to the church a practice forbidden by the Muslims she knew.  She went to a Sunday service.  No one was there to meet her, no one sat with her, she knew not one soul.  But, there she met God, the Christian God.  When the service was over she felt freedom for the first time.  But, this freedom would have a price. 
Two months went by and she was baptized.  This met that she was never to go back to the Muslim religion and it met that she was at risk of losing her entire family.  She knew she had to tell them.  The day she confessed that Christ was now her Lord, her father had contempt and disbelief that she would turn her back on your family and culture.  But, the peace and love she felt was worth the persecution and the risk of being disowned.  After much prayer for her father to soften his heart and let her stay she was given permission to live with him. 

Russian tradition for the wedding party to be photographed
in front of monuments in the city 

“Within the 6 years I have been a Christian not a week goes by that my father doesn’t ask me where I am going on Sunday.”  Maybe its intimidation or maybe it’s a hope that she has come to her senses and changed her mind that he asks.  Every week she tells him that she is going to church. 
Dianna shared her heart with me on a long bus ride from the “Tarter Bizzar”, a section of the city we were invited to have tea and fellowship with other Tartars.  She shared with me her burden.  It’s the same burden that I saw when she walked into that room that morning.   She couldn’t share her faith with her family.  There was just no open door.  She found that her deep intercession for her family led her to a pray the prayer, “God, if my family cannot repent then let us all go to hell.”  She can’t imagine heaven without her family walking beside her.  Then, she told me that God spoke to her and told her that she didn’t have to go to hell.  Jesus had already gone there for her and her family.  God loved them more than she did and he would speak to their lives.

Muslim family living in Izevhsk, Russia

At the moment she shared these things with me I knew why I came to Izhevsk.  I was there to share her burden and with tears in my eyes I share this burden with you.  Millions of Russian Tartars have the same background as Dianna.  They have no hope and are stuck in Muslim religion that offers them no forgiveness of sin, no mercy.  Please pray for Dianna and that she could be that witness that her family so desperately needs.  Please pray for the Tartar people.  Pray that although their religion and culture are the same that God will send answers they so desperately need.    Heather Chowning           
*Dianna’s name has been changed in this article.

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