The involvement of Glenside Bible Church with the Kyrgyz people began as far back as 1992 when a WEC missionary by the name of Ed Keene came as the speaker for our Missions Conference. He showed slides of a land of snowy mountains and a people who had never heard the Gospel. We had always had an active traditional missions program and supported over two dozen missionaries. But in mid-1995 I was introduced by one of my elders to Mission Frontiers magazine and the U.S. Center For World Mission as well as the AD2000 Movement. That same year we discovered the wonder of electronic mail and soon found the Brigada missions network and were soon not only communicating directly with a number of our missionaries but also receiving continual fresh news of God's working all over the earth. A sidebar in Mission Frontiers impacted me deeply. It was about a missionary who came home from the field and found that his supporters quit caring about the people he had long served because at the bottom line they cared primarily about him and his family. That was true of us too! We loved our missionaries deeply but at the bottom line we did not care deeply about the people they were reaching who were the lost ones!
By the fall of that year I had a growing conviction of the need of the strategy of adopting a people group and began to introduce it to our Missions Committee so that we as a Committee began to pray about the idea of adopting a people. Meanwhile Ed had been back to visit and share fresh news of what God was doing among the Kyrgyz and we began to consider them as a people group. With the Committee's approval I set out on a course of investigation to learn all I could about the Kyrgyz in the winter of 95-96. I put out a cry for help on the Brigada-Peoples forum and it was answered by a young missions intern from Grace Fellowship Church in Baltimore. She was kind enough not only to call me but to personally stop by a few weeks later and introduce me to all the materials she knew of concerning the Kyrgyz. A connection with WEC headquarters also helped me to glean information about their new work among this group in a first-hand way. At that time there were not a dozen fellowships in Kyrgyzstan among 4 million people and less than 300 ethnic Kyrgyz believers in the whole country. There was a significant and growing number of workers there and the work was in its infancy. On this side of the world, I was able to find only 5 churches, including ourselves, who had any interest in the Kyrgyz. There was no doubt they qualified as unreached.
As I shared this information with the Missions Committee, we came rather soon to the conclusion that the Lord was leading us to adopt the Kyrgyz. But we would not do it in the traditional manner of simply sending support to a missionary. Besides the fact that we had no money available in our budget for new support from our small congregation of 200, we wanted to ensure that our hearts as a congregation would be knit to a needy people and not specifically to any one missionary. A few months later we brought the idea to our Board of Elders and sought their approval for our adoption concept. With them solidly behind us, we set out to introduce the notion to our congregation.
But without money to invest, what difference could we make for the Kyrgyz? One of the things I discovered in my initial research was that there was no central place to go to find information about the Kyrgyz and there was virtually no connection between the churches who cared about them. I had read in Caleb Project's Advocate newsletter that one of the most important things one can do for a people is to start a newsletter on their behalf to mobilize prayer and awareness of needs and promote cooperation. That we could do! So in June of 1986 The Kyrgyz Chronicle was born! We gleaned stories and prayer items from emails and missionary newsletters and put together a two-sided monthly newsletter of our own. At the very first we gave it to our own congregation but in approaching others with Kyrgyz interest, we immediately offered it online via email. Today it is in its 34th issue with a circulation of over 115 via email plus the copies we share with our own people!
We began that summer to plan for an actual adoption ceremony in connection with our fall Missions Conference. As it worked out, we focused our entire conference on the Kyrgyz and were able to have a team from Grace Fellowship Church with us, as well as a representative from a short-term agency and from Caleb Project. On Sun., Nov. 3, 1996 we stood together and as a congregation made a public vow to God to do everything within our ability as a congregation to plant the church among the Kyrgyz . At that time our Missions Committee had designed several ways for the congregation to actively participate. First, we made little packets with "K" stickers and refrigerator magnets for people to use to remind them to pray for the Kyrgyz. We also had recently published prayer guides available. Through our email connections with a sister ministry we stumbled across a teacher at the Children's Museum in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan's capital city) who English students and we were able to make penpals available via email for our young people and eventually for young people from another church. We also were able to make a collection of English language Christian books for the newly-opened CLC Bookstore and ask people to give in order to ship good books from their own homes over.
I knew that it would be wonderful if someone from our church could eventually go to Kyrgyzstan and see it firsthand. Only a few weeks later, I received an invitation to join a team from a short-term agency. That trip in May of 1997 was a wonderfully moving week. Our small group saw God work in so many incredible ways and we built so many wonderful relationships that it could not help but send us home deeply committed to this people! I shared a report of that trip with the entire congregation via slides and their participation as a whole in the trip through prayer helped to impact them. As it turned out, my daughter Andrea, a Bible-College student was able to join a Pioneers summer team for 3 weeks also in Kyrgyzstan that same summer.Because we constantly look for ways to involve the entire congregation, that fall we collected much-needed school supplies for a college where our team had taught and sent them over.
Some things we've tried didn't work so well. The penpal program required constant maintenance and encouragement to keep children writing and it fizzled out after a year or so when the teacher at the Museum changed jobs and the new teacher did not respond to us at all. Several are still in place, however, through other means. Another failure was our attempto host a Kyrgyz high-school student in one of our homes in the fall of 1997. Our student was too young at 15 and not adequately prepared to be alone in the US and ended up going home in a sad manner and leaving a bad taste in some of our folks. We started a "K Team" just for projects involving the Kyrgyz but it eventually became indistinguishable from our Missions Committee.
In April 1998 the first Kyrgyz Consultation was held in Atlanta and five of our number were able to go. This was a tremendous time of meeting people from other churches and planning together for the progress of the work. We have continued our involvement in many other ways. Last summer when the CLC Bookstore couldn't get any supply of Russian language books at all, we became the temporary buyers and shippers in the US and raised, purchased and sent several thousand dollars worth of books to keep the store going til the supply lines were open again. This past winter we collected winter coats and warm clothing for the Kyrgyz along with a number of other churches.
We have just compleated our biggest project ever. God has raised up a team of 14 of us who are willing to personally go to Kyrgyzstan for 2 weeks this July for a three-fold project hosted by Ed & Nancy Keene and their church. We are training together, learning Russian and have already raised $28,000 in supportfor this! And God richly blessed us. We constructed a roof on the Keeners
Is it worth it? Today there are over 1500 ethnic Kyrgyz believers and over 36 fellowships throughout the country. On this side there are more than 14 adopting churches and a network of cooperation that is thrilling. We have deep personal relationships with individuals of another culture and have been directly used of God in their lives. And we've had the privilege of working together with some of the greatest brethren I've ever known. Our experience has been tremendously positive and we would certainly recommend the people group adoption stategy!
Pastor John Kless - Glenside Bible Church