A women’s discipleship group in Central Asia, meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Each year, International Women’s Day on March 8th is a day off in the whole of Central Asia. It’s customary to give presents to beloved women, mothers, daughters and colleagues, as well as to cover a table with an abundance of lovely food.
In Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan the holiday is widely celebrated both at the state and domestic level. Organizations, companies and educational institutions give women employees presents and flowers.
A special day for women was created in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century as a symbol of the struggle for gender equality, and respect for women and their work. The tradition to celebrate Women’s Day reached Central Asia around 1927-28.
Christian women gathering together in secret to celebrate Women’s Day in Central Asia.
In Central Asia it is not generally acceptable that men do traditional house work, including preparations for the Women’s Day celebrations. In some families, the men on this day try to surround their mothers and loved ones with care and attention by preparing a festive table, cleaning the house and buying gifts. But mostly women themselves set the table, and serve men who gather there to celebrate Women’s Day.
In modern Central Asian folklore, the essence of International Women’s Day was fully expressed by the phrase “keep quiet, woman, your day is 8th March”. This is, of course, a joke, but it very clearly expresses the attitude towards women in Asian culture.
Anyway, 8 March is a very special day for the women of Central Asia, allowing them, at least once a year, to feel needed and loved, and to hear kind words and good wishes from men.
Recently, Open Doors has been part of a secret Women’s Day meeting.
Singing and worshipping together, giving praise to God.
At a house somewhere in a suburb of a big Central Asian city, women start trickling in one by one. All receive a hug from house group leader, Anastasia*. “Welcome sister,” she says with a warm smile.
As warm as the reception is, it is in contrast to the cold of the reality – the lurking danger is that no one can know they’re here. If they are discovered, they are in trouble. But they come with joy, because they have one goal: to grow in Christ together.
In the kitchen, Maria is preparing cake she made for the fellowship after the study. She comes from a Muslim background but has been a Christian for years. Her first church was closed when her parents found out she was going there and reported the church to the police. She has since found this group online.
“I’m so happy because God gave me Alina* to help me study the Bible on a deep level. And I thank God he gave me this group to study together.”
Maria’s parents are still using threats to convince her to convert back to Islam. Her husband left her because of her faith. But when she’s asked why she still believes, she starts laughing: “Because God saved me! God is with me always, He holds me and goes with me.”
Studying the Bible together and supporting one another
Most of the women gathered here today come from a Muslim background. At home they have to keep their faith a secret and pray in silence. But here, in the security of this isolated home, they can worship the Lord as loud as they like.
After the worship, it’s time for Bible study. The subject of today: women in the Bible. It’s an important subject because the view of women that these ladies grew up with in their Muslim families is very different from what the Bible says.
Mandy* from Open Doors praying with and passing on cards of encouragement to the women.
The young Jamila* has personally experienced the problems for women that come from within a Muslim culture. Being under 20 she is one of the youngest in the group, but the pain she carries is more than others will endure in a lifetime.
She shares that she was married off at 16. Her husband treated her badly, and beat her up regularly so she ran away. Only a few months ago she got to know Jesus and slowly she learnt about the true love He gives.
Mandy* from Open Doors grasps her hand and prays with her.
Sharing a meal together after worship and Bible study
The meeting ends with a meal that is really a Women’s Day party. Everybody wishes each other ‘happy Women’s Day’. The women share their food and their stories of life. And they smile.
Because the love of Jesus shines brighter than the dark places they will have to go back to.
Open Doors’ goal is to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Rev 3:2).
In cooperation with local partners and churches, Open Doors supports the persecuted church in Central Asia through: literature distribution, biblical and vocational training, socio-economic development, women’s ministry, medical ministry.