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 pen pal 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 attemp to 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. One 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. One winter we collected winter coats and warm clothing for the Kyrgyz along with a number of other churches. We prepared and sent our own team of 14 in 1999 and we’ve been back repeatedly as both individuals and in teams many times since. Eventually after 10 yrs. we sent someone from our own church, Nancy, to Kyrgyzstan full time and she stayed on the field 3 ½ yrs. and still returns annually. Besides trips and teams, we’ve involved our people in a host of ways through the years. We’ve had Kyrgyz pastors in our pulpit and in our homes. We’ve hosted the North American Kyrgyzstan Partnership three times and we send people to it each year. We maintain three email lists to promote prayer for the work in Kyrgyzstan and keep North American partners involved and connected. For the last 4 years I’ve been calling a dozen or so local pastors in Kyrgyzstan by skype on a rotating basis and praying with them.
And what has happened? By the estimate of one field worker in 1995 there were less than 300 believers who were Kyrgyz in the entire country of 4 million people. You could fit them all into our sanctuary! And the only churches were in the capital city, about a dozen of them and mostly with believers who were ethnic Russians, not Kyrgyz. Today the church in Kyrgyzstan has grown to probably 40,000 to 50,000 believers, with maybe 10,000 or more of them being ethnic Kyrgyz. There are several hundreds of churches planted in every region of the country plus numerous house groups that have not yet grown into churches. The Kyrgyz Church has developed Bible Schools, music ministries, youth ministries, summer camps, publications and broadcasting media and are now beginning their own missionaries. It’s been an exciting ride and we - us - little Glenside Bible Church - and me personally, WE have had and continue to have the privilege of being involved in this transformation!
But the Kyrgyz are only one part of our journey. You may wonder, “But what about your existing missionary program? Did you just phase it out?” Absolutely not! The majority of our long term missionary partners were no longer working among unreached peoples, but the were still doing valuable Kingdom work! We did, however, do two important things as a result of our new way of thinking. First, we deliberately changed the way we talked about them. Instead of saying, “GBC supports [Partner Name] in Mexico”, we began to say, “GBC is planting the church in the city of Puebla, Mexico through our partnership with [Partner Name]”, for example. We did that with each of our partnerships. We placed the focus on the people we were reaching and began to formulate our prayer information that way, even if it did not involve a specific people group. We set out to learn to love the people we were already touching through each of our existing missionary partnerships.
The second thing we did was to deliberately ask God to expand our influence among unreached peoples. As opportunities came our way, we made deliberate additions to our program that increased our footprint among unreached peoples. As older partners went home to glory and money became available we reinvested those budgeted funds in the direction of the unreached. For instance, one of our long term families had won almost an entire tribe of 12,000 to Christ in Irian Jaya in their 30+ years (a neighboring tribe to the Sawi of Peace Child fame) but that Sougb tribe now began to send missionaries of their own and we partnered with one of them who is reaching the Irarutu and other unreached peoples in the lowlands of what is now Papua. We help provide gas for his boat to travel on the river to unreached villages. The tribe now has 13 missionary couples. Back in 2000, through our newsletter connection we met a lady from India that God had called to reach the Kyrgyz of China. She is there today and we handle her support funds as they come in and are in email contact multiple times per week as she reaches out to the forgotten Kyrgyz of China. The most exciting partnership that God has led us into in recent years is a partnership with a tiny church of 80 people in south India that has a vision to reach an entire unreached tribe called the Yenadi. Through them since 2007 God has raised up 27 Yenadi evangelists who are reaching their own people. There are some 30 little churches planted and work is going on among Yenadi in some 80 different villages. We give to help supplement the evangelists so that they can afford to live in their villages without going to the city for better work and I talk and pray with Pastor David every other week and circulate an e-prayer letter for him here regularly. We’ve sent two teams there and this past July we hosted the first ever conference for ALL Yenadi believers. 450 showed up! They’re almost all illiterate and we had the privilege of telling them for the first time ever the major stories from the Old Testament. What a joy! We visited in 7 villages, saw a dozen people come to Christ and got to baptize 13 new believers in a river.
Altogether today have 21 western partnerships, 8 partnerships with nationals or national organizations who are serving among their own or reaching out to another people; we continue to pursue the Kyrgyz in the ways I’ve mentioned and send out 2 or 3 short term teams each summer to our various field connections. Our total budget in 2013 is $333,000 and in this year we will have given $101,000 to missions, more than $30,000 of which was ABOVE our budget. Our journey has led us to believe this: “All the nations You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your Name.” - Psalm 86:9 and we want to be part of making that happen through any opportunity God lays before us. We’re still a small church and we can’t do lots of things; we’re even facing a budget cutback next year like many organizations, but we have come to see and believe that if we make ourselves available even a small church CAN have a global impact.
Pastor John Kless - 12/17/2013