Earlier this summer I shared this post and spoke about one of my best friends returning to her first home, many years later. Kyrgyzstan. I felt it was really important to have an open conversation with Desiree and post it on my blog so others, where ever you are reading from can learn about her experience in a part of the world that I personally feel we don’t hear or see much about. I also feel this is such an important example to our generation that we can make a difference, and our voice matters wherever we go and speak life into others. I hope you enjoy as Desiree shares her heart with us…
Can you explain what brought you to Kyrgyzstan and why this was such a meaningful trip for you?
This summer I was given the opportunity to intern with a non-profit called Search For Common Ground in Kyrgyzstan. I was assigned to work on a Youth Leadership program funded by the UN for the youth in Kyrgyzstan.
However, this trip was much more than an internship opportunity. I grew up in Kyrgyzstan as a missionary kid for seven years; my entire childhood was rooted in this beautiful country. I went to Russian school and for a long time would tell people I was from Kyrgyzstan. I was heartbroken when my family left the country to move back to the US. For many years I prayed to God that I would be able to return and visit my old friends. This summer God made this dream a reality and opened the doors for me to go back.
This trip was so meaningful to me because it reminded me how God listens to our prayers and everything works out in His timing. I think if I had gone back to visit when I was younger I wouldn’t have appreciated it as much and I wouldn’t be able to understand the issues in the country as much as I do now. It was also amazing to see the families that my parents shared the gospel to and how drastic their lives have been transformed by God’s love in Jesus Christ. I got to see the fruits of many missionaries’ labor. Sometimes when we pour love into communities we don’t always see the results right away, but 12 years later I got to see the impact of the Gospel in Kyrgyzstan.
Can you describe some of the current events going on and how it has changed since you have been there?
I lived in Kyrgyzstan 7 years after the Soviet Union Collapsed in 1991. Kyrgyzstan was in a huge economic crisis and many people were depressed because there was so much instability and lack of jobs. Every person you met In Kyrgyzstan had a very hard life with almost everyone with broken families and living in poverty. When I lived in the capital, Bishkek, there were no malls, grocery stores or many restaurants. My mom had to cook everything from scratch and even pasteurize our milk because nothing was premade. Kyrgyzstan was also very spiritually dry. The Soviet Union had taken away religion and so many Russians were atheist. The Kyrgyz would say they were Muslim out of tradition but were mostly nominal Muslims.
Going back 12 years later, Kyrgyzstan has changed drastically. Bishkek has 5 huge malls, restaurants all over the city, fast food chains and almost anything you would want from the US. Turkey has invested a lot of money in Kyrgyzstan to make it a stronger Muslim country. When I lived in Kyrgyzstan there only a few Mosques, now there are over 2,000 mosques in the country. Kyrgyzstan is still a secular state so religion, law and state are separate but strong religious influence is coming from other countries and local Muslim groups. When I walked around the city I saw so many women covering their heads with the hijab, I rarely saw this as a child.
How was your expectation vs the reality once you got there?
I kind of expected my experience to be a lot harder and difficult then it was. I was so worried to be traveling alone, that my Russian wouldn’t be good enough to interview participants and that Kyrgyz wouldn’t like me because of the tension between Russia and the US. However, God took care of everything! I had such a smooth transition back into the culture and my Russian came back right away after not speaking it fluently in 6 years! Everyone was so hospitable and loving to me; I never once felt in danger or unsafe. I reconnected with my old friends after not hearing from them in 12 years since we didn’t have each other’s email or numbers.
I also expected to be in the background during my internship and to just be interviewing participants but instead my boss threw me into the project right away and allowed me to visit communities and select participants for the program! I was so shocked that they would trust me and give me so much responsibility. It was very humbling and I really connected well with the local team despite being the only foreigner.
God also opened up the door many times for me to share my faith to others and it was usually Muslims that would start asking me questions on what I believed. I did not expect this! But the world is hungry for truth and we should never be ashamed of telling others about Jesus 🙂
What were some experiences throughout the month that really stuck out to you?
A very interesting experience was for the first 3 weeks in Kyrgyzstan I lived with a very devout Muslim family during the Muslim holiday Ramadan. It was cool because I got to learn how they live and what they believe. I got to share the gospel with my family and we had very good discussions. They were never once were hostile towards me, although one girl did ask me to convert to Islam but she did it in a very respectful way.
Something that really stuck out to me was the way women are treated. Out in the country, women have no rights; they are property of their husbands. In Kyrgyz tradition they have something called “bride-napping” this is when a Kyrgyz man can literally just grab any girl off the streets and make her his wife without her consent. She is forced to live with him and ultimately be a servant to him and his family. In the family I lived with, the daughter-in-law had to do everything for the family. She would cook and clean and couldn’t eat in the same room as us; she was to only serve us. It made me so sad to see her treated like that. When girls are only 6 years old they are already told that they must prepare to be wives. Recently, the country has made a law that a girl must be 18 to get married, but before this law girls were getting married at around 13 (this still happens illegally). When I would meet with young girls, many said they couldn’t go to college because their parents wouldn’t let them because they were already arranged to be married.
My whole internship experience was very meaningful. I got to meet with youth (ages 14-28) all over the country. We traveled for hours on dirt roads, traveling through herds of sheep and cows to get to small villages to speak to young people and invite them to our leadership program. When I met these young adults in these rural communities they didn’t know how to even dream or express the things they longed for because it seemed so far from reality to them. We spread hope to young people who thought that they had no opportunities and showed them that they can go after their dreams and they can do more with their life. We invited over 100 young adults to the capital where they got to represent their communities and work together on solving problems. Many that I spoke to began to cry as they shared about how they have found purpose and reason for their life. They are seeing that just because they are young doesn’t mean their voice doesn’t matter or that they can’t do something meaningful with their lives now. Seeing their faces light up with excitement and enthusiasm is something I will never forget. It was beautiful to experience this and hear the voices of the youth.
How did God use this trip for you personally?
The organization that I worked with was not a Christian organization so at times I felt very alone without fellowship or Christian community. But on this trip I really had to rely on God and really be in constant communication with Him. My prayer life definitely strengthened on this trip and God really put burdens on my heart for Muslim women. God has given me an overwhelming sense of love for this part of the world and the people here.
There were many times that I felt so inadequate for the job and didn’t feel I knew enough. I was reminded of these verses from Jeremiah 1:4-10:
v.4 : Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you;
I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said:
“Ah, Lord God!
Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me:
“Do not say ‘I am a youth,’
For you shall go to all to whom I send you,
And whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,” says the Lord.
Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me:
“Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.”
God gives us His words and equips us! When God calls us to something or opens the doors, He will always enable us and give us the right words. God knew that I would return this Summer to Kyrgyzstan, just like He knows where all of you are. God gave me words to share to my host family about Jesus, only by His Power was I able to share it in Russian. I have never shared the gospel in Russian before, I didn’t even know I knew how to say words like “sin”, “grace” and “forgiveness” but God gave me the words as I spoke to them. He gave me words of encouragement to young men and women who felt so hopeless. They were surprised to even have people listen to them because they are so often looked down on. To even have someone sit by their side and listen meant the world to them. Even if we don’t know the language, just our actions can show so much love.
What is one thing you wish to share with other young people seeking purpose or direction for their lives?
Never feel inadequate because of your age. Us young people need to stand up and share our voices! We are the future of this generation. We have the torch to bring our country forward, wherever you are! We all have different backgrounds and different ideas so we can influence different places in this world. And most importantly, we are not alone! God gives us the power and strength and the right words. If you look back in the Bible, every time God has called someone to do His work they have felt so inadequate and said to God, “I can’t do this!” but God said “Yes, you can because you have ME!” The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor; He will always give us all that we need to accomplish what God has called us to. If you feel in your heart a burden for orphans, people in Africa or the girl in your school that always gets picked on, then trust that this can be from the Holy Spirit and He will give you what you need to help that person and make a difference. Trust in God for your life. He loves you so much and will always be there with you through anything.
I hope you were blessed today by her heart and her passion to follow the Lord wherever he may call her, and also to be a light in the States as she heads into her last year of college! Desiree included some photos from her trip below 🙂
If you want to read Desi’s blog posts during this trip click here.
Speaking to youth in Southern Kyrgyzstan
Young Uzbek girl who is 17 and is arranged to be married in the fall. Her parents won’t let her go to college.
My neighbor friend from childhood.
Exploring glacier lakes. Many of these turquoise lakes all over the country.
Slept one night in a yurt!
Visiting Fairytale Canyon!
My host brother 🙂
5 Story Mall in Capital
The Downtown square in Bishkek at night.
I hope you were all blessed by this! If you know anyone with a story to share, or experiences from a trip to share, please feel free to email me or comment down below! I would love to share your story as well.
You are all loved,