Two brothers in Tajikistan heard about Young Life in Central Asia and decided to open their own club. After getting in touch with Ruslan Velilayev, they invited friends and relatives to their first outreach club meeting, and much to their surprise, one of their relatives came who was a devout Muslim. He attended a Madrasa, a strict Muslim training school, and his father was a respected leader who had completed a pilgrimage to Mecca. This young man was quite distressed when he saw that the girls’ heads were not covered at the meeting. However, when he heard the story about Jesus healing the paralytic, he was deeply moved. The club leader was quite surprised when he received a phone call that night around 2 a.m. The young Muslim man explained how he had a terrifying vision that night while he was asleep and was convinced that he would not live until morning. He wanted to know the end of the story about Jesus that he had heard during the club meeting. The leader offered to meet him the next day, but the young man was insistent that he would not live through the night. The young man walked a full hour to meet with this leader, who explained to him the nature of Jesus, his substitutionary death on the cross, and how he could trust his life, death, and eternal life to Christ. The young man prayed to receive Christ as the sun was coming up, and he felt the “grip of death” released from around his throat. While he has been threatened by his father and faced persecution from his relatives, he continues to follow Christ, even bringing others to club meetings and sharing his new faith.
Stories like this can be found throughout Central Asia’s Young Life movement. For twenty years, youth leaders have been given vision, trained, and sent out to engage young people who are far from the gospel. Young Life Central Asia partners closely with local churches and church plants to help befriend young people and introduce them to Jesus Christ. Through contact work, club meetings, and summer and winter camps, believing young people create meaningful environments where healthy relationships can be created and where youth can hear the gospel from their peers. Young Life Central Asia has expanded to multiple cities in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan (despite governmental oppression), and has now once again returned to Tajikistan. Young people from a European, former Soviet Republic have begun praying about using “study abroad” opportunities to help launch Young Life in Turkmenistan, the most tightly controlled country of the five former Republics of Soviet Central Asia.
Typical Young Life is not the only thing spreading in Central Asia. Young Life Capernaum, a ministry to young people with disabilities, has now expanded to more than thirty clubs in the former Soviet Union. When Zhanna Velilayeva founded this ministry 18 years ago, she was simply using her gift of mercy to mobilize care for a few kids in Almaty. Little did she know how much it would grow. Last September, she helped organize the first ever region-wide conference for staff and volunteers of Young Life Capernaum of the Former Soviet Union. They were reminded from Mark 2 that they were all like the friends of the paralytic who carried the man to a place where he could see and meet Jesus. They shared how God was at work in their particular regions and mutually encouraged each other in their ministry. Capernaum ministry initially followed the ministry of typical Young Life, recruiting volunteers from among the kids at club. Today Zhanna’s vision is to start Capernaum ministry in new cities as a way of establishing credibility in new communities, which would then be ready to receive new Young Life ministry for typical kids. Ruslan and Zhanna are training a generation of leaders to help mobilize evangelism and discipleship throughout Central Asia.