Trade and Islam beat a path through the Silk Roads of the eleven countries of Central Asia, much of which could not be changed by seventy years of Soviet rule. Most of the languages here have been Turkish-based since the early days of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. Most other languages in this region are based on Farsi, the tongue of Persia, Central Asia’s other traditional world power. All but two of the countries in this region are over ninety percent least-reached peoples, with Pakistan by far the largest; there are 150 million people within 468 people groups that are still least-reached in this country alone. Over 850 people groups remain with less than two percent evangelical believers and less than five percent adherents to any form of Christianity. The marginally Muslim peoples of the Turkish World are looking for a new identity. Will they make their identity in Christ?
- Dreams and Visions. Pray for God to speak to individuals through dreams and visions as he has done many times so that their hearts are prepared and receptive to the gospel.
- Gospel Literature. Pray that literature presenting the truth of Jesus in their own heart language and written in a way that can be understood would become available to every one of the 858 least-reached peoples in Central Asia.
- Healing from Physical and Emotional Illnesses. Pray that God would confirm his word with signs and wonders, delivering seekers from addictions, depression and emotional and physical sicknesses as a demonstration that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
- God of All Peoples. Pray for God to change the idea that to become a Christian means I lose my cultural identity and to reveal that he has come to us as Emmanuel, God with us, so that he even speaks our language and answers our hearts’ cries.
- Prayer Evangelism. Pray that God draws every new believer into an intimate relationship with himself and that he teaches them to pray and intercede for the others around them who do not yet know him so that they also come to know Jesus.
- Resources to pray and mobilize prayer and outreach
- Discover Central Asia
- Pray for the peoples of the Central Asia region
- Obtain daily prayer guides for peoples of this region
(Prepared by Keith Carey, managing editor of the Global Prayer Digest)
Central Asia is a land with a past. We think of the Persian Empire and the Turkish-dominated Silk Roads that ran throughout this region. In the twentieth century Russia took control of much of this region, as the Ottoman Empire imploded after World War I. Russia, which became the Soviet Union in 1917, collected many of the countries there as “Soviet Socialist Republics.” With the Soviet Union gone, the countries it once controlled are now independent. What decisions will they make? Will they return to their Islamic roots, which were damaged during the seventy years of communism? Or will they use their freedom to find Christ, the savior who can bring truth and salvation to their lands?
The Silk Roads, the Turkic Peoples and the Spread of Sunni Islam
(Prepared by Daniel Jones for the October 2006 issue of the Global Prayer Digest)
Traders withstood the desert heat, narrow mountainous paths in snowy conditions, deadly bandits and thousands of miles of desert wastelands for silk. For a time, Roman traders gave it the same value as gold. Romans, Egyptians, Indians and Arabs traded their best goods with the Chinese for their silk. In 1877 a German geologist and geographer coined the term “Silk Roads” in describing the silk trade routes that led through what are now the Turkic-speaking nations to China.
This silk trade allowed for the extension of the Turkic peoples into Central Asia, and even Siberia. It also provided a key route for Islam to spread East. The silk trade routes allowed for the exchange of religious ideas. Pious Muslim Arab traders brought their faith with them, as did zealous Arab warriors. Buddhist monks brought their belief system to millions, and Nestorian Christians sent believers eastward from Syria to as far as China. These Nestorian believers established churches in villages along the Silk Road. Nestorian Christianity remains today, but only as a small presence in Syria. Ultimately Sunni Islam prevailed over all the other religions.
The Turkic Peoples Emerge
The Turks stem from nomads in the Altai Mountains, which straddle China and northeastern Kazakhstan. The riches of the Silk Route enticed them out of their mountains. Raiding parties left the Altai Mountains during the Silk Road era. Turkic people groups now line Asia from Urumxi and Kashgar in Sinkiang Province of northwest China to Istanbul in modern Turkey, a remnant of the former Ottoman Empire defeated in World War I. After they settled into the plains, nearly all these Turkic groups encountered Islam and converted.
In the eleventh century, a people known as the Seljuks swept into present-day Iran, Iraq, Syria and Anatolia (the central plain of modern Turkey). The Osmanli Turks displaced them and captured Constantinople around 1480. The Osmanli Turks later began a new dynasty, the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Ottomans captured North Africa, much of the Middle East, the Balkans and even threatened Vienna. The Turks intermarried with the peoples under their vast rule, including those in the earlier raids along the Silk Roads. It is common to see blond-haired, blue-eyed Turks. A contemporary Turk could travel overland from Istanbul to Kashgar in northwestern China and be generally understood!
During the age of European colonialism, the Turkic-speaking world was largely gobbled up by Russia. After Russia became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the following Turkic-speaking nations began Soviet republics: Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
The Turkic World Today
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkey seemed eager to fill the political and economic void along a sizable portion of the Silk Road, from Azerbaijan to the Chinese border. Political analysts speculated that Turkey had grand schemes with these former Soviet republics. With the untimely 1993 death of the visionary Turkish Prime Minister Ozal, speculation about “Pan-Turkism” fizzled. Nevertheless, the ten thousand scholarships granted to students from these nations to study in Turkey will influence the region in Turkey’s favor. Most of these nations have oil reserves, but poverty and unemployment are rampant. Such economic problems leave the region vulnerable to radical elements.
As communist ideology gives way, we are seeing a re-emergence of Islamic fervor, especially in Uzbekistan. For many, this is a way to express their ethnic identity. For others, Islam is a way to political power.
The Lord has promised in his word that there will someday be some from every tribe, worshiping before his throne (see Revelation 5:9; 7:9). Since the demise of the Soviet Union, we have already seen amazing things happen in this region. Who would have dreamed twenty years ago that there would be thousands of Uzbek and Kazakh believers? There are still only a few hundred believers among the Tajiks, the Turkmen and the Azerbaijanis. But the first fruits are sometimes meager, as they once were with the Uzbeks. Will you pray this month for a complete harvest so that there will be many from each Turkic people bowing before the throne?