Like many orphans raised from an early age in a state-run Kazakhstan orphanage, Alena suffered from mental atrophy from being left in a bed staring at the ceiling for most of her early life. But when Americans asked to adopt her, a large bribe was demanded.
Fortunately, the couple was able to negotiate an affordable price. And after years of loving nurture, Alena not only graduated from high school but from college, was married, has a child of her own and is living happily in America.
What would have happened if Alena had stayed in Kazakhstan? Marianna Gurina, a social activist, journalist, and TV producer in Kazakhstan, thinks at best she might have become a plasterer-painter, and at worst she might have spent the rest of her life in a mental institution.
Gurina has helped more than 400 children find adoptive families. Her nonprofit organization is one of scores of organizations I support as part of my volunteer efforts in Kazakhstan. My paying job is as a professor at KIMEP University, but soon after my arrival seven years ago I co-founded a project to help support such organizations, struggling to build civil society in the former Soviet republics. Since then, we have gained financial support of nearly $4 million to expand the project to include all of Central Asia. We have a 2- to 3-day annual conference, provide online training, offer mini-grants, and produce an annual book of best practices in civil development.
My work as lay leader of a small Christian congregation is also part of my mission. Laws passed by the Muslim-influenced parliament led to 60 percent of the churches being closed down, but ours managed to survive and is actively sharing the Gospel.
And my work at KIMEP University is part of my “mission,” too. Kazakhstan is a developing democracy of about 24 years. Neither politicians nor the country’s citizens fully comprehend the importance of free speech and press, but KIMEP is an English-language university with a high percentage of Western-trained faculty who teach some of the country’s brightest young people how to become effective leaders and why these principles of freedom are essential for a true democracy and for a prosperous free-market economy.
When I was 5, I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to promise God that I would be a missionary for him. While I have tried throughout my life to serve him, I feel that he opened the doors for me to come to Kazakhstan and that I will be here for many more years as the ultimate fulfillment of that promise.
Despite the challenges in this part of the world, I believe that all things are possible for those who serve God (John 14:12-14); that no matter the opposition, we can feel God’s peace and communion as we seek to do his will (John 16:1-3, 33); and that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28, 31-39). We don’t all have to go to Kazakhstan to serve, but we should all prayerfully pursue our own unique mission.