God’s plan is that there will be believers in Jesus Christ from every tribe and nation. How has that plan worked out in history for the Kazakh people? Perhaps the mention of Scythians (one of the groups modern Kazakhs are descended from) in Colossians 3:11 means that they were already in the church in the first century. Later, in the records of the Syriac church, there are records of mass conversions of tribes in the 7th and 11th centuries, and further evidence of a Christian history is found in archaeological findings from crosses on grave stones to the remains of monasteries.
But then, there is a silence. There is no evidence, for several centuries, of faith in Jesus the Messiah among the Kazakhs. The 19th century saw Russian Orthodox missions on the steppe, and some outreach by Mennonites and other Protestants. However, the vast majority of Kazakhs came to see themselves as Muslim, or in Soviet times as atheist.
Patrick Johnston, in the 1990 edition of Operation World, estimated that there were twelve Kazakh believers within the borders of modern Kazakhstan amongst a population of about eight million – this is just over one for every million.
After the Soviet Union collapsed Kazakhstan became somewhat more open, more free. People were spiritually hungry. Local churches, that had endured the persecution of Czarist and Soviet times, grew and opened new churches. Other new churches were started by local believers independently of the old Baptist and other denominations. Some of these new churches spawned church planting movements. New translations of the scriptures into Kazakh were started and other evangelistic and discipleship materials were produced. Some Western missionaries encouraged and assisted the local churches in their outreach to all people groups. Many other Westerners and Koreans started churches themselves. The numbers of Kazakh believers grew year to year so that by the early 2000s there were reports of fifteen thousand Kazakh believers in Kazakhstan. Just over one for every thousand. There were churches in all the main cities, and a few of the multitude of villages.
Since then there has been a plateauing of growth. Kazakhs were still coming to faith, but the numbers in churches didn’t seem to grow. Those in the churches often had less time to be in fellowship as the economy grew. The regulatory environment grew somewhat stricter. The hunger of the early ’90s has dissipated in the main, but can still be found in some villages, in some hearts.
To use an analogy, a beachhead has been won, and expanded and held. Now is a time of consolidation and preparation for a further push.