|United Methodism Lives in Small Town in Kazakhstan|
Zhetigen, Kazakhstan, January 23, 2009--The 20-member United Methodist congregation in Zhetigen, Kazakhstan, is filled with hope and enthusiasm in the new year.
It dedicated a permanent church facility in December and hosted visitors from a partner congregation in Marietta, Georgia; it is benefited by its capacity to provide worship and education in two languages, Russian and Kazakh.
The church building was bought with part of a large donation from a couple active in mission at Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church, Marietta. Shin Ahe and Woo Baek Choi made the gift of $120,000 to mark their 25th wedding anniversary.
Zhetigen is a small town some 18 miles outside of Almaty, the former political capital and still the main economic center of the Republic of Kazakhstan, one of five central Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
A few years ago, the Zhetigen congregation, established in 2003, looked like it was dying, after the departure of its first pastor.
Then came Pastor Kanat Hozhamuratov, who, along with his wife, rekindled the fire of the Methodist warm heart in the town. They had to build a new base.
Mr. Hozhamuratov, a native of the country, has an unlikely past for a pastor. He spent many of his earlier years in jails across Kazakhstan. Then Jesus found him through a United Methodist prison ministry, and he gave his life to God and the church.
Then came the interest of the Immanuel Korean United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia. Korean American United Methodists are major partners in the Central Asia Mission Initiative, a program of the General Board of Global Ministries. The initiative works in concert with the Eurasia Episcopal Area, led by Bishop Hans Växby of Moscow.
Immanuel Church provided the funds to buy the modest but adequate building now home to the Zhetigen congregation. Its senior pastor, the Rev. Young Chul Shin, was present for the dedication in early December. Bishop Växby presided at the service, also attended by other leaders of the Eurasia Area.
The Marietta congregation and Pastor Shin are deeply committed to mission. Immanuel is a vibrant congregation that worships primarily in Korean but has a strong next-generation ministry. Immanuel's involvement with the Central Asia Mission forms a fascinating story.
The Georgia congregation has a covenant relationship with missionary Hee Jin Park in Central Asia. Its support comes through both prayer and contributions. Two years ago, it heard about the church in Zhetigen from Hee Jin Park, who requested prayer for the people of the town. Pastor Shin and the international mission committee of Immanuel entered into prayer and were moved to offer more material support.
The Georgia church worked with the missionary and the General Board of Global Ministries in its partnership plan, and Shin Ahe Choi, chair of the international mission committee, and her husband, Woo Baek Choi, donated $120,000 to the cause of mission in Kazakhstan. The gift was the way in which the Chois marked their 25th wedding anniversary.
The donation is being used in a variety of locations in Kazakhstan, including Zhetigen. A major project is a youth mission center in Zhezkaghan, a project in which Global Ministries is also involved.
Pastor Hozhamuratov and his wife are both fluent in Russian and Kazakh and have musical talents that enhance the worship. The two were married two years ago by Bishop Växby.
The pastor has done theological study via an extension program through the United Methodist Seminary in Moscow. He hopes to do further study, perhaps at a theological center in Singapore.
Date posted: Jan 23, 2009