Happy to Be a Shepherd

As told by Alymbek Bekmanov

At the age of three, I began tending sheep, and I came to love caring for them. By age 17, I was an experienced shepherd. Later, I learned about another kind of shepherd, a spiritual one. Let me explain why serving as such has brought me even greater joy.

I WAS born in 1972. My large Kirghiz family lived in the village of Chyrpykty, on the shores of beautiful Lake Issyk Kul. The area around the lake is a popular tourist attraction for those who visit Kyrgyzstan, which was formerly a republic of the Soviet Union. Now I live with my wife, Gulmira, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital city, located about 125 miles (200 km) from where I grew up.

A Shepherd and Sheep

When I was a child, we would lead the sheep to high mountain pastures in the spring. This involved a climb of more than 9,000 feet (3,000 m), which would take us several days. Some other shepherds chose a shorter route and reached the pastures faster. But the way they went was near gorges and ravines, and sheep that strayed a little were sometimes injured​—or even killed.

On such routes wolves were often known to frighten or attack the sheep, dividing them off from the flock and killing them. So my uncle chose a path that was easier and less dangerous, even though going that way took an extra day or more. Sometimes I wanted to hurry, but my uncle would stop me. “Alymbek,” he would say, “think about the sheep, not about yourself.”

In the beautiful high mountain pastures, temporary corrals, or enclosures, were made for the protection of the sheep during the night. Some shepherds loved to sleep in and would not get the sheep to pasture until long after sunrise. By the time the sheep began to graze, the day was already hot.

The sheep would soon stand together with their heads bowed, breathing with much effort. Unable to eat their fill, they became weak and thin. On the other hand, my uncle was up before daylight​—by four in the morning—​and he would have the sheep under his care out in a good pasture by sunrise. There they had time to graze in the refreshing early morning air. As people often said, “Looking at the sheep, you see the shepherd.”

 A good time for checking and treating sheep is when they are taking a rest after grazing. One of the biggest problems our sheep had was with flies that lay eggs in the sheep’s navel. When this happens, the navel becomes inflamed and swells. If the problem is not found in time, the pain can become so intense that a sheep may wander off and die. We checked our sheep almost daily so that we could treat them. Although this took time and effort, our reward was that the sheep were healthy and content.

Every evening when we returned to the corral from the pasture, we counted the sheep. They entered a pen through a narrow gate​—sometimes up to three or four at a time. Our flock numbered into the hundreds, yet we became so skilled at the procedure that we could count up to 800 sheep within 15 or 20 minutes. That took a lot of practice, but we did it!

If we found that a sheep was missing, my uncle would take a gun and a staff and go out looking for the lost one​—even going out when it was raining and dark to search for just one lamb. He would call loudly. His voice would scare off wild animals. When a sheep heard that voice, you could just see that it felt safe.

We gave a name to every sheep, according to differences in their appearance or character traits. In a flock there always seemed to be stubborn sheep. For some reason they just didn’t want to obey the shepherd. At times, other sheep were inclined to follow a disobedient one. So the shepherd would try to train and discipline the stubborn ones. For example, he would leave such a sheep in the pen alone. In time, some accepted correction and followed the shepherd’s directions. Sheep that remained stubborn ended up on our dinner table.

A Different Kind of Shepherd

In 1989, I studied martial arts and became very skilled in them. The following year, I was drafted into the Soviet army. While serving in Russia, my martial-arts comrades organized their own criminal gang. When I returned home to Kyrgyzstan, they told me that if I joined them, I would have everything. But at that same time, I became acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Witnesses answered questions that had tormented me from childhood, such as Why do people die? I came to understand from our discussions that death is the result of the sin of the first man, Adam. (Romans 5:12) I also learned from the Bible that Jehovah, the true God, sent his Son Jesus as our Redeemer and that by putting faith in Jehovah and his Son, we could have our inherited sin covered. This would then put us in line to live forever in Paradise on earth, in harmony with God’s original purpose for mankind.​—Psalm 37:11, 29; 83:18; John 3:16, 36; 17:1-5; Revelation 21:3, 4.

The Scriptural answers that the Witnesses provided to my questions were so clear and understandable that I was moved to exclaim, “That’s how it should be!” No longer did I wish to be around my former comrades. A number of times they tried to get me to return to their group. But my desire to learn and practice Bible truths was strong enough that it helped me to resist their tempting offers and led to my becoming a spiritual shepherd.

About that time, a faith healer who was famous in our area would come to visit my mother. One day, when I arrived home, the woman conducted a spiritistic séance. She said that I had a special gift and encouraged me to go to the mosque and receive an amulet, claiming that the amulet would help me. She almost convinced me that by doing this, I would receive the gift of healing.

The next day, I went to the Witnesses with whom I studied the Bible and told them about her visit. They showed me in the Bible that Jehovah is opposed to all forms of spiritism, as it is connected with evil spirits. (Deuteronomy  18:9-13) For a few nights, I couldn’t sleep because of the influence of the demons. When the Witnesses taught me how to pray in harmony with Jehovah’s will, I was soon free of nightmares. I became convinced that I had found the true Shepherd, Jehovah.

I learned that David, the writer of many Bible psalms, had also been a shepherd in his youth. He called Jehovah “my Shepherd,” and his feelings about Him became dear to me. (Psalm 23:1-6) I wanted to imitate Jehovah’s Son, Jesus, who is called the “shepherd of the sheep.” (Hebrews 13:20) At an assembly held in Bishkek early in 1993, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism.

An Important Meeting

A large number of my relatives, as well as neighbors, began to meet for Bible study. About 70 from our village met together near Lake Issyk Kul. A relative of mine, who was the head of the village council, was very interested. He said that he would arrange for a large meeting at which we could explain our newfound faith. But local religious leaders began to incite people in the area to oppose our preaching activity. They conspired to use this meeting to turn people against us.

On the appointed day, about a thousand gathered, including people from three nearby villages. A few Witnesses were present, one of whom began to explain our Bible-based beliefs. After less than five minutes, a person stood up and shouted provocative questions. Accusations and threats were hurled, and the crowd was stirred up to the point of wanting to do us violence.

At that moment, one of my older brothers, who had recently started studying the Bible, stood up in our defense. Everyone feared and avoided him because of his fighting abilities. He bravely stood between the attackers and the Witnesses, and we left without any violence occurring. During the following years, many of those who had attended that meeting became Witnesses. Today, more than 50 from our village of about 1,000 are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A Shepherd’s Daughter

A few months before the big convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow, Russia, in July 1993, I met Gulmira, a Witness  from a Kirghiz village. Her family had also been shepherds. In 1988, when the activities of the Witnesses were still banned in the Soviet Union, Gulmira’s mother had begun to study the Bible with a Witness named Aksamy. In the 1970’s, Aksamy became the first Kirghiz Witness of Jehovah in the area.

Soon Gulmira joined her mother in the Bible study with Aksamy. In 1990 they both became baptized Witnesses. Gulmira’s heart soon moved her to take up the full-time ministry as a pioneer.

I saw Gulmira only occasionally during the next two years, since I lived about a hundred miles (160 km) away. In March 1995, I decided to get better acquainted with her, so one morning I went to her home with that in mind. I was shocked to learn that she was leaving the next day to serve at the Russia branch office, over 3,500 miles (5,633 km) away!

By that time I had begun to serve as a full-time minister and had started to learn the Russian language, since we did not as yet have any of our literature in the Kirghiz language. For three years Gulmira and I wrote to each other and arranged to read the same Bible passages so that we could exchange spiritual thoughts. In the meantime, I served in the first Kirghiz-language congregation, in the town of Balikchi.

Serving Jehovah With Gulmira

In 1998, Gulmira came to Kyrgyzstan on vacation, and we were married. I was invited to serve with her at the Russia branch office. How happy I was that I had started to study the Russian language! In time, I was assigned to work with the Kirghiz translation team, which provided Bible literature in Kirghiz. I prayed to Jehovah and asked for wisdom and patience. And, of course, my coworker Gulmira was a big help to me.

In 2004 our translation team was sent to Bishkek, where I was appointed to serve on the committee that provides oversight for the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan. There were then seven Kirghiz-language congregations and over 30 Russian-language congregations in the country. Now there are more than 20 Kirghiz-language congregations and many Kirghiz-speaking groups, which comprise some 40 percent of the 4,800 Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan.

Gulmira and I decided to learn English, since knowledge of it would help us in our ministry. This led to our receiving an invitation to the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States in 2008. There I attended the special school for those who are taking the lead in the preaching work in their respective countries.

Gulmira and I now feel more fully able to serve the spiritual interests of the people in Kyrgyzstan. Our experiences have helped us to see firsthand that Jehovah is truly a loving shepherd. I have personally felt the fulfillment of the Bible psalm that states: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. In grassy pastures he makes me lie down; by well-watered resting-places he conducts me. My soul he refreshes. He leads me in the tracks of righteousness for his name’s sake.”​—Psalm 23:1-3.

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Our sheep at pasture

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We counted the sheep each evening to make sure that none were missing

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With Gulmira today