Central Asia: Disciple-Making in the Marketplace

In the world of “Business 4 Transformation” we often seem to be enamoured with outward appearance, even though we know that we should be striving for lasting fruit (which usually does not go hand in hand with glitz and glory!) In Kazakhstan, we are facing a similar challenge as the last 10 years have been a time where people have been tested, somewhat by persecution but more so by the coming of the glitz of wealth that believers were not well equipped to deal with. As a result, many are not walking with the Lord and the need for ordinary business people who live like Jesus (even just a little like Jesus) in the marketplace remains a huge need, in order to see expansion of the Kingdom of God in the nation.

Kazakhstan is a largely bi-vocational country where paid pastors remain a small minority. But how do you make a living and do ministry where there are few good examples of Godly business people to follow? Business people are beginning to be seen as legitimate believers within the national church, which is a big change in recent years.

After many years of working in Central Asia, I believe the greatest need is such a simple one that it is often overlooked.  We have so many methods, but the Scriptures say simply, “Go and make disciples.” This is simple but the results are so stunning. We are called to go deep into a disciple’s life with the truth of Scripture, “Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded”. This may sound simple, but it takes lots of effort. In obeying this command, I will be inconvenienced and there will be setbacks as we encounter life’s problems. But, it is so rewarding to see disciples taking hold of the Scriptures for themselves – and then repeating it with another person!

Choosing whom to disciple may seem like an insignificant task but will prove to be pivotal. When we hire people we make sure that we hire someone who wants to work and learn. Yet, when it comes to discipleship, it seems we take the first person that picks us up from the airport! We need FAT disciples: Faithful, Available and Teachable.  I have found that these three criteria have a proven to be a basis for real growth.

Why should we choose disciples wisely? The fruit we want to leave behind in Central Asia is not “conferenced” people but disciples who can spread the Greatest News through a life that displays Jesus.  Only years of shared relationship will prove whether we have someone who genuinely wants to grow or really only wants to be with us for other reasons. Jesus spent much time in prayer before he chose the twelve and so we should also make this a huge matter of prayer.

When deep disciple-making takes place, the whole landscape changes for the disciple. They become more like Christ and every expect of their lives begin to show it. This is exciting. Many Central Asians come from fatherless homes and have been left on their own to figure things out. This is the opposite of disciple-making, which takes time, effort, planning and prayer. Disciple-making is not just a little classroom time or a few cups of coffee together, but being involved in their lives to some degree so that they have access to me and my family and can see an example of Christ, albeit not a perfect one. When I am involved deeply in the lives of a few disciples, I begin to see specific areas where God needs to work in their lives and mine as well. I have found that building relationships in business as we work together has given me the opportunity to go much deeper and thus can result in changed lives, which is what we are aiming for.

We need more examples of “ordinary” business people here in Kazakhstan that can be used in the lives of national believers in every kind of business. There is a hunger on their part to see genuine, real believers that have God’s agenda written in their hearts. Of course, we want to see the businesses flourish as well, but it needs to be side-by-side with the spiritual growth of the nationals. They need responsibilities that produce growth in their lives on many levels. Giving national believers responsibilities within a business provides an excellent opportunity to come alongside them, and a natural way to interact and encourage. You see so much more of each other and ‘teachable moments’ are multiplied daily.

Our desire is to see a believer in every village in Central Asia, and for that to happen we need more strategies that focus on how to get people into the villages with more than just a fleeting presence. We need more than just a one day outreach to accomplish life change. Currently we are coaching business folks in some cities who are going into villages to minister to others. Although it is not the only strategy, training and coaching believers that are embedded in their communities through business is one way to see a witness go out to places where no one has ever heard the Good News. This is not a new strategy (lest we think we have thought of something great ourselves) but has been implemented by workers since Bible times. However, in the last fifty years this strategy has been sitting on the sidelines, in part due to our separation of ‘Disciple Making’ and ‘Evangelism’ and more of a focus on the latter.

In Kazakhstan and Central Asia as a whole, there has been a recent focus on the helping of nationals to get their businesses performing better and away from them helping with the foreigners’ business. This has encouraged the nationals to do much more themselves and not to wait for foreigners to lead the way. This has meant they take more initiative because it is their business and they have a vested interest to make it work. These national-owned businesses then become a significant learning ground for character and leadership skills development which automatically get used in church planting, disciple making and relationship-building and makes them valuable to the community.

In Central Asia, we cannot stress “bringing value to the community” enough. This is readily noticed by the older, well respected community leaders, who are the ones with the power to push the believers to the sidelines of society. This is a real problem for the Christians here and we have seen that when they bring something positive to the table in the form of a business that is good for the community, it changes the whole landscape for believers.

Lastly I want to mention that it is much easier to get a business going than it is to get a godly business person that has good character operating a healthy business. Therefore, we are focusing on people as much as we focus on the business model and strategy. We want to help business folks in their spiritual lives and invest in the few that show they are serious about their faith in Jesus Christ. Although this seems like a minor point, it is critical. Jesus himself focused on a few disciples and invested heavily in them.

by James Koh

 James Koh is a Canadian who has been working in Central Asia for 18 years.

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BAM is a global phenomenon. God is on the move around the world, calling men and women from all continents to start businesses for His Kingdom purposes. To highlight just some of what He is doing, and emphasise that business as mission is a global movement, we will take a tour around the BAM world for the next six weeks or so. We hope you enjoy the trip!


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