“DEATH will be no more, and even the dead will be brought back to life.” My wife, Mairambubu, overheard these words while traveling on a bus. She was curious and wanted to learn more. Once the bus stopped and the passengers disembarked, she chased after the woman who had spoken those words. Her name was Apun Mambetsadykova, and she was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Talking to the Witnesses in those days was risky, but what we later learned from Apun transformed our lives.
WORKING FROM DAWN TO DUSK
I was born in 1937 on a kolkhoz, or collective farm, near Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. Our family belong to the Kyrgyz people, and we speak the Kyrgyz language. My parents were farmworkers, and they worked on the kolkhoz from dawn to dusk. Peasants were given regular food supplies, but cash wages were paid only once a year. Mother struggled to care for my younger sister and me. After just five years of schooling, I too began working full-time on the kolkhoz.
In the region where I lived, poverty was widespread, and the work it took to make ends meet was exhausting. As a young man, I gave little thought to the purpose of life or to the future. I never imagined that the wonderful truths about Jehovah God and his purpose would transform my life. How that message reached Kyrgyzstan and spread here is a thrilling story. It all started in my home region of northern Kyrgyzstan.
FORMER EXILES BRING THE TRUTH TO KYRGYZSTAN
The truth about Jehovah God took root in Kyrgyzstan in the 1950’s. To do so, the truth had to overcome a powerful ideology. Why? What is now Kyrgyzstan then belonged to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). All over the USSR, Jehovah’s Witnesses remained neutral in political matters. (John 18:36) Hence, they were persecuted as enemies of the Communist state. But no ideology can stop the Word of God from reaching the hearts of honest people. Indeed, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in all my long life is that with Jehovah, “all things are possible.”—Mark 10:27.
The persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses led to their expansion in Kyrgyzstan. Why is that? The USSR included the region of Siberia, where enemies of the State were exiled. When these exiles were released, many came to Kyrgyzstan, and some of them brought the truth with them. One such former exile was Emil Yantzen, who had been born in Kyrgyzstan in 1919. Emil was sent to a labor camp and met the Witnesses there. He accepted the truth and returned home in 1956. Emil settled near Sokuluk, in my home region. Sokuluk is where the first congregation in Kyrgyzstan was formed in 1958.
About one year later, Victor Vinter moved to Sokuluk. This faithful brother suffered repeated hardships. Twice he served three-year sentences for upholding neutrality; then he spent a further ten years in prison plus five years in exile. Still, persecution did not stop the expansion of true worship.
TRUTH COMES CLOSER TO HOME
By 1963 there were about 160 Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan, many of them originally from Germany, Ukraine, and Russia. They included Eduard Varter, an exile who had been baptized in Germany in 1924. In the 1940’s, the Nazis had sent him to a concentration camp, and a few years later, Communists in the USSR had sent Eduard into exile. In 1961 this faithful brother moved to the town of Kant, which lies very close to my hometown.
Elizabeth Fot, a loyal servant of Jehovah, also lived in Kant. She earned her living as a seamstress. Because she was skilled in her craft, such professionals as doctors and teachers ordered clothes from her. One of her clients was a woman named Aksamai Sultanalieva, who was married to an official of the public prosecutor’s office. Aksamai came to Elizabeth for some clothing but asked many questions about the meaning of life and the condition of the dead. Elizabeth answered her questions straight from the Bible. Aksamai became a zealous preacher of the good news.
At about that time, Nikolai Chimpoesh, from Moldova, was appointed a circuit overseer and served as such for almost 30 years. Not only did Nikolai visit congregations but he also organized the duplication and distribution of our literature. His activities did not go unnoticed by the authorities. Hence, Eduard Varter gave Nikolai some encouraging advice: “When the authorities question you, tell them openly that we get our literature from headquarters in Brooklyn. Look the KGB agent right in the eye. You have nothing to fear.”—Matt. 10:19.
Soon after this conversation, Nikolai was summoned to KGB headquarters in Kant. He related what happened next: “The agent asked where we got our literature. I told him we get it from Brooklyn. He did not know what to say to that. He just let me go and never called me in again.” Such intrepid Witnesses kept on cautiously spreading the good news in my home region of northern Kyrgyzstan. When the precious truth about Jehovah finally reached my own family in the 1980’s, my wife, Mairambubu, heard it first.
MY WIFE QUICKLY RECOGNIZES THE TRUTH
Mairambubu comes from the Naryn Region of Kyrgyzstan. One day in August 1974, she visited my sister’s home, which is where we first met. I liked Mairambubu straight away. We got married that same day.
In January 1981 when Mairambubu was in a bus on her way to a local market, she overheard the conversation mentioned earlier. My wife wanted to hear more, so she asked the woman for her name and address. She gave her name, Apun, but she was cautious because even in the 1980’s, the activities of the Witnesses were banned. Instead of giving my wife her address, Apun took note of our address. My wife arrived home excited.
“I heard wonderful things,” said Mairambubu. “A woman told me that soon people will no longer die. Even wild beasts will be tamed.” To me, it sounded like a fairy tale. “Let’s wait until she visits to tell us the details,” I replied.
Apun visited us three months later. Further visits followed, whereby we met some of the first Witnesses belonging to the Kyrgyz people. These sisters introduced us to the amazing truths about Jehovah and his purpose for mankind. They read to us the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. * And since there was just one copy of this book in Tokmok, we copied it by hand for ourselves.
One of the first things we learned was the prophecy at Genesis 3:15. This prophecy will be fulfilled through Jesus as God’s Messianic King. That is an important message that everyone must hear! All the more reason for us to join in the proclamation. (Matt. 24:14) Soon, Bible truth began to transform our lives.
MEETINGS AND BAPTISM UNDER BAN
A Christian brother in Tokmok invited us to a wedding. My wife and I soon noticed that the Witnesses behaved differently. There was no alcohol at the wedding, and the festivities were orderly. This was a big contrast to other weddings we had attended, where guests often got drunk, behaved badly, and used foul language.
We also attended some Christian meetings of the congregation in Tokmok. These were held in the woods, weather permitting. The brothers and sisters knew that the police kept a close watch on us, so the brothers posted a lookout. In winter, we gathered for meetings in a house. A couple of times, the police came to the house and demanded to know what we were doing. When Mairambubu and I got baptized in July 1982 in the Chüy River, we had to be cautious. (Matt. 10:16) Brothers arrived in small numbers and assembled in the forest. We sang a Kingdom song and listened to the baptism talk.
WE SEIZE THE CHANCE TO EXPAND OUR MINISTRY
In 1987 a brother asked me to visit an interested person living in the town of Balykchy. Getting there from our home involved a four-hour journey by train. After several preaching trips to Balykchy, we discovered widespread interest there. This was clearly an opportunity to expand our ministry.
Mairambubu and I often traveled to Balykchy. We stayed there most weekends, went in the ministry, and held Christian meetings. Demand for our publications rose dramatically. We carried the publications from Tokmok in a mishok, a sack used to transport potatoes. Two sacks full of literature per month barely met the demand. Even on the train to and from Balykchy, we were able to witness to passengers.
In 1995 a congregation was formed in Balykchy—eight years after our first visit to that town. Those years of traveling between Tokmok and Balykchy cost a lot of money. Our personal means were limited, so how did we manage? A Christian brother regularly gave us money to make up for the shortfall. Jehovah saw our desire to expand our ministry, and he opened “the floodgates of the heavens” to us. (Mal. 3:10) Surely all things are possible with Jehovah!
BUSY WITH FAMILY AND MINISTRY
In 1992, I was appointed to serve as an elder, the first Kyrgyz elder in the country. In our home congregation of Tokmok, new avenues of service opened up. We had numerous Bible studies with young Kyrgyz students at educational institutes. One of these young people with whom we studied now serves on the Branch Committee, and two others are special pioneers. We also reached out to help others at our meetings. In the early 1990’s, our publications as well as the meetings were in the Russian language. But an increasing number in the congregation spoke Kyrgyz as their mother tongue. So I interpreted, which helped them grasp the truth more readily.
Mairambubu and I were also kept busy raising our growing family. We took our children in the preaching work and to the congregation meetings. Our daughter Gulsayra—then just 12 years old—enjoyed speaking to passersby on the street and telling them about the Bible. And our children loved memorizing Scripture texts. In this way our children, and later grandchildren, were very much involved in congregation activities. Of the 9 children and 11 grandchildren still living, 16 serve Jehovah or attend the meetings with their parents.
The dear brothers and sisters who started Jehovah’s work in our area in the 1950’s would be astounded to see the changes we have experienced. For one thing, since the 1990’s, we have enjoyed more freedom to preach the good news and to assemble together in large numbers.
In 1991 my wife and I attended our first-ever convention in Alma-Ata, now known as Almaty, in Kazakhstan. And in 1993 the brothers in Kyrgyzstan hosted a convention at Spartak Stadium in Bishkek for the first time. Publishers spent a week cleaning the stadium beforehand. The director was so impressed that he allowed us to use the facilities without cost.
In 1994 we reached another milestone when the first of our publications was printed in the Kyrgyz language. Literature is now regularly translated into Kyrgyz by a translation team at the branch office in Bishkek. Indeed, in 1998 the work of the Witnesses was granted legal recognition in Kyrgyzstan. The organization has grown, and we now number well over 5,000 publishers. Today, we have a total of 83 congregations and 25 groups in Chinese, English, Kyrgyz, Russian, Russian Sign Language, Turkish, Uighur, and Uzbek. All these dear brothers and sisters from different backgrounds serve Jehovah unitedly. Jehovah made all these remarkable changes possible.
Jehovah also transformed my life. I grew up in a lowly peasant family and had just five years of schooling. Yet, Jehovah used me to serve as an elder and to teach precious Bible truths to people who were more educated than I was. Indeed, Jehovah makes the most unusual things happen. My own experience moves me to continue loyally testifying about Jehovah, with whom “all things are possible.”—Matt. 19:26.
^ par. 21 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.