Kazakhstan hangs like a hammock between Russia’s Ural mountains and the Altai range, bordering Mongolia and Western China lays the steppe of Central Asia, the home of ancient nomadic tribes whose fierceness inspired terror. Cyrus the Great perished at their hands and Alexander the Great’s army despaired at their borders. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul called them Scythians. In the 13th century, Marco Polo traveled through their oasis towns on the Silk Road, merchant routes controlled by great Mongol khans.
Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes left behind an indelible imprint on the Kazakh face and their nomadic society. Until the 19th century, khans ruled the nomadic tribes of Eurasia, powerful dynasties within the different Hordes of the Kazakh Khanate. The Russians were drawn to their fertile pasturelands and fought for them against the Mongols, yet their help came at a cost. Russian settlers came gradually to farm the grassy plains so essential for the Kazakh herds. Plagued by civil strife, the Middle and Little Hordes soon acquiesced to Russian rule. Unlike their brother Kazakhs, the tribes of the southern Great Horde united and fought the advancing armies of the Tsar and lost.
The Russians, however, could not effectively govern the Kazakh auls (communities), until the Soviet era when one man emerged who undertook it with zeal and dared to do in three years what no other had accomplished in three millennia: Stalin. Part of the Soviet apparatus, Kazakh “activists” seized the possessions of their own people, imprisoning those with wealth and influence, inducing famine, and effectively abolishing the structure of their society. Kazakhs fled to China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, yet many auls were caught by surprise or were too poor to flee and were forced onto farms. Possibly half of the 4 million Kazakhs died in the upheaval of collectivization. For 60 years the steppe was silent until the ill-fated reforms of Gorbachev in the late 1980s brought down the Soviet empire and opened the borders of Kazakhstan, now a nation determined to rule its own destiny.
Kazakhs are Muslims, but after 70 years of communism, Islam is not a big part of their lives. Most young people know God exists, but know little about Him. There is great spiritual openness, but who will fill it? Islamic countries have constructed thousands of mosques, and send Islamic missionaries. But praise God, since 1990 about 15,000 Kazakhs have become believers in Jesus the Messiah.