Chapter 23: Onward to Kazakhstan

Onward to Kazakhstan
Entering Muslim Territory

 We left for the city of Shuchinsk in Kazakhstan, traveling by car. Alexander Friesen accompanied by his brother-in-law, Joseph Bolz, took us the whole way. We stopped at a couple of other cities, one of which was Pavlodar where our parents had to get supplies, back when Slavgorod was too small. We went into a large department store there that had pretty good stock and was well supplied.

This was Moslem territory; these were Asiatic people, although there are many Russian people as well. Kazakhstan is also the republic where large numbers of Mennonites were transplanted from the Ukraine during the war, where they again made a new beginning. Large concentrations of Mennonites can be found in various places throughout the region.

At Shuchinsk there are two Mennonite Brethren churches. We saw Moslem monuments and signs of that prevailing culture. Gasoline was sufficient but Alexander Friesen made use of every place wherever there was gasoline for sale, because they did not know whether the next place would have any. These were not service stations, only a couple of pumps where we could help ourselves and then go in and pay. As on other travels, there were no restaurants along the way. We stopped along the roadside under some shade trees and had a picnic lunch again.

The ladies had provided well for us and had packed a very nice basket of food. Just before dark, we came to the city of Shuchinsk. There we registered at the hotel Barabai. We were able to locate Hans Warkentin, a Mennonite independent businessman of whom we had heard and whom I had met in Winnipeg the year before. We called him from the hotel. He said, "I'll be there in a few minutes."

He came, and after a short conversation, he said,
"Come with me, I will give you a place for night."
We told him we had already checked-in at the hotel.
He said, "Forget it, just give them the key back and follow me."
We followed as he drove out into the country through the hills and finally stopped at a resort, Lake Barabai. There was a two-story building and an old hotel. He said, "We rent this for our guests." We were given a most comfortable room for our stay.

Fellowship in Kazakhstan

This was on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, his brother-in-law, Jakob Fast, came and took us to a Mennonite Brethren church in a neighboring village. I was very pleasantly surprised to meet the pastor again—Willy Jantz, a young man whom I had also met in Winnipeg in 1990. He asked us to give greetings to the congregation and then asked whether I could speak in Low German to bring a message. I told him that I had never done that, but I thought I could. So it was my privilege to bring a message on Ephesians 1: 5 - 9 in Low German, and he translated into Russian for me. Alvin Peters also spoke in Low German and the pastor translated into Russian.

They had a missionary there, an evangelist actually, but they called him a missionary. His name was Evgeniy Gulchenko. Also with him was a Brother from Sweden, a member of a missionary board that supported Brother Gulchenko. He was there to bring the morning message. Both of these Brothers, Kenneth from Sweden, and Gulchenko, stayed in the guesthouse with us.

Gulchenko was a rather quiet man. We ate with him several times; he did not talk much, but he was a deeply spiritual man. He had been in prison for preaching the gospel. Alvin Peters dubbed him "Elijah."

The service included a child dedication. I had already left the platform and was sitting toward the back when Brother Gulchenko came to the child dedication. In Russian, he announced, "I would like the American pastor to come forward and assist me." So I had the privilege of participating in a child dedication in Kazakhstan this time.

For the noon meal we were invited to the pastor's house and later to the home of Hans Warkentin's parents. They shared with us some of the difficulties they experienced in being transplanted from the Ukraine to Kazakhstan.
Encounter with a Seeker of Truth

That Sunday afternoon, we had a lovely tour around the lake and saw something of a failure of communism: a beautiful resort building, about half finished, now left there. The Communist elite of that area had started it. When the changes came under Gorbachev, their funds were cut off, and so the building remained partially finished. Now it sat there, waiting for someone in the private sector to pick it up and finish it.

There was another old resort, though, that they call a sanitarium. Many people were there. It was rather nice inside, with a lovely dining room and comfortable furniture. Their prices were very affordable.

We met one lady who spoke a very fine German. I was sure she had recently come from Germany, but when our Swedish friend asked, she said her name was Lyudmila, which is a Russian name. He said, "Well, then, you are Russian."

She said yes, and I asked how she had come to speak German so well. She said, "I learned it in school."

They have good institutes of foreign language studies where people can learn to express themselves clearly in German, or English, or whatever language they study. She said she was from the capital, Alma Ata [now Almaty]. She was there with her daughter for a vacation—what they call a resting time, a "relaxation."

Alvin Peters and Kenneth, the member of the mission board from Sweden, interacted frequently with several of the guests there, gave them some literature and the "Four Spiritual Laws." Lyudmila prayed to accept Christ. Alvin Peters has received a letter from her saying that she appreciates her Christian life.
New Capitalism Unleashed

We always had an automobile and a driver at our disposal. Hans Warkentin's brother-in-law, Jakob, who works for him, picked us up on Monday, took us to the city, showed us around, and showed us Warkentin's operation. His business was only two years old and he was running a fleet of 70 trucks, had a construction crew, a crew making building materials like cinder blocks, lumber, and various other materials. He has a simple, almost crude office but is running a big business. Only the future will tell where all of this will go.

 Mr. Peters' wanted to meet with Hans, but he was so busy that it was very difficult. Finally, on Tuesday evening, Hans was able to meet with Peters, and they discussed some business plans and compared notes. This may well result in some future relationships. The lake itself where we stayed was very beautiful. The water was crystal clear, and I took the opportunity of going swimming in the Siberian Republic of Kazakhstan, even though the water was cold. Then, on Wednesday, our driver obtained tickets for us to fly back to Moscow. He took us to the airport at Kokchetav, and from there we flew to Moscow where we were to meet up again with our tour guide, Voldya Tetterin.

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