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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Zero Zone

By Omar Beiler
Sept. 4, 2011

A Tragic Past

Shut down about a century ago, a stone monastery sits empty. Its broken-down walls tell an unfortunate story, but beautiful paintings are still visible on the ceilings. People come to observe this piece of history — some out of reverence, some with questions. No longer a place of worship, the building is a haunting reminder of a tragic past.

This area of Central Eurasia used to be home to many similar places of worship. Of the six major people groups living there, most of them were Christian.

“Starting about 300 years ago and even up into the 20th century, the people were forced to convert to Islam,” explains the Central Eurasia area director for Assemblies of God World Missions. “It went from a predominantly Christian area to an entirely Muslim area, at least culturally.”

When Muslim conquerors came, they removed anyone who wasn’t Islamic and destroyed churches or converted them to mosques. Minarets replaced church towers in the sky across Zero Zone. The majority of the inhabitants were Christians, but they were afraid to act. Soldiers vowed to kill children if their parents refused to convert to Islam. Soon no Christians were left.

Today the area has no churches, no believers, no missionaries — and zero access to the gospel.

Window of Time

A scattering of people still remember this tragic time. Only brave people of the older generation share childhood stories about their grandparents who experienced these forced conversions.

“Many of the older folks know that their ancestors were Christian,” shares the area director. “We have maybe a 20-year window left before these people are gone.”

When this older generation passes away, their memories will also die. Without their stories, the younger generation will never know of their Christian ancestry.

I can’t help but compare this area to the farm I grew up on in Pennsylvania. But the “farm” called Zero Zone wasn’t just abandoned or left to ruin; it was ransacked. In essence, it was left without any hope of restoration.

Filled with Beauty, Empty of Hope

Beyond the broken-down church buildings, Zero Zone displays a unique beauty. Though some of the area is rough and rocky, other parts look almost like a storybook land.

Villages are perched at various elevations along the mountain range. Every spring, people from the lower villages take their animals to the high mountains to graze. During this time, women work hard cutting and rolling grass into bundles by hand and carrying them on their backs to the upper villages to dry. As winter approaches they return to the lower villages, taking the dried grass with them so their animals will have food.  Winters are particularly hard in the upper villages, with snow depths reaching as much as 12 feet. 

Because of the rugged terrain and harsh conditions, the four-month window in the summertime provides the best opportunity for building relationships ... and offering hope. This hope is the reason John* and Martha* came to Zero Zone.

Divine Direction

John grew up in an area of the United States that has a similar terrain to Zero Zone. Through a series of unusual circumstances, God called him and Martha to bring the good news to this little-known area. Martha’s initial call came through a vision of people’s faces springing up from a map of Central Eurasia. The faces were all saying, “Come over here.” 

While moving to the area was difficult, the sense of isolation has been even more stressful.

“At first we felt like needles in a haystack because of the remoteness of this place,” shares John.

With no other believers to provide fellowship and encouragement, Martha in particular struggled with loneliness. But in that wilderness, God gave her another vision — this time of a wagon wheel. Its six spokes spread throughout the whole region of Zero Zone where six unreached people groups live. As Martha saw the wheel, God spoke one word: “Push.”

After this second vision, John and Martha felt released to begin sharing the needs in Zero Zone, hoping that others would be willing to come and help them.

Once too afraid to talk about their work or bring people to the area, John sensed God telling him, “Bring young people up to these high mountains.” Through divine leading, John and Martha began developing an internship program to bring young people from the States to live and work alongside villagers as they prepare for the yearly migration.

With no government or religious officials close by, the people of Zero Zone have freedom to talk and ask questions.

“This is one of the safest places in all of Central Eurasia to train people how to work with unreached people groups and Muslims,” John says. “I waited a long time to start an outreach because I’m very cautious. I’m not afraid anymore.”

The children in particular are open-minded, and John and the interns are building solid relationships with them.

“The children ask questions about the old monasteries,” says John. “In school, they’re told the churches were built by Russians and not by their own people. We tell them the truth. After these contacts with us, the children prompt their grandparents to explain that they used to be Christians. The brainwashed ideas they’ve heard at school are removed, and they are more open to receive the gospel.”

Risks Required

A dear friend of John’s who worked in a nearby area retired after 25 years. Before leaving, he looked at John and said, “You know, I’ve been out here 25 years. I’ve built tremendous relationships. But I’m leaving behind not a single believer. I didn’t take the risks I needed to take. If I had it to do over again, I would take more risks.”

As a result of John and Martha’s obedience, God is opening doors to these remote people groups. John has committed himself to learn two languages spoken only in this area. It’s an act that will build trust and eventual receptivity to the gospel. 

But a great task remains. In Central Eurasia alone, more than 440 million people have no access to the gospel. Obeying the Great Commission in this area will take extreme commitment. More workers are needed to push the boundaries, reaching everyone by any possible means.

“At times we’ve probably been too cautious and have not communicated our message as effectively as we should,” shares the Central Eurasia area director.

Taking the gospel to the ends of the earth will require risk and sacrifice. John and Martha’s lives are evidence that God rewards those who walk by faith and follow Him.

What About You?

The high mountain villages of Zero Zone offer a unique environment to learn and be trained as missionaries to unreached people groups. Through a specially designed internship program, John and Martha take young adults into these villages for a life-changing experience.

People in this area want to learn how to read and write in their native language. Alphabets, used only in books from long ago, have been forgotten. The internship program gives young adults opportunities to develop written materials as they connect and share the gospel with these unreached people.

“We have an opportunity now to take in teams of people and start plowing the ground, to really push the frontier and bring the gospel to them,” shares the Central Eurasia area director. “It’s very accessible to bring people in, initially as short-term workers and eventually transitioning into church planting teams.”

Our prayer is that God-called people will come to Zero Zone, start church plants and translate God’s Word into the local languages. Perhaps they will stay for a lifetime, or they may be called to another place that is void of the gospel. But in this unique environment they can receive vital training to go out and be even more effective.

“It’s going to change their entire perspective on what it means to work in an area that has no access to the gospel,” says the Central Eurasia area director. “Having no access to the gospel doesn’t mean inaccessible. It means people have no access because nobody has gone there. Proclaiming the gospel among unreached people is doable.”

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