Karaganda: Overcoming a Tragic Past
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                       05 Jan 2009


Karaganda of today is much like other large cities in Kazakhstan.  The new imported cars making their way along the main street, … as well as the large mural on the old apartment building, … point to the present as well as to the future. … Except, the tragic past of this city is hidden from view, … a time that shaped it’s destiny.  

Sheep and goats are now part of this once desolate and hostile land.  Nevertheless, it was much different for the sheepherder’s parents and grand parents. Beginning in 1929 and continuing well into the 1950’s, Moscow hauled people by the trainload to this barren expanse of the steppe, … nearly 2 million in all. It was necessary for the exiles to build their own shelters and shops in order to turn the region into a productive area for farming and mining.  As these industries increased, the indigenous people known as Kazaks were forced to work along side the exiles.   

Coal and iron mining in this area was an important part of supplying material for the Soviet army during World War 2.  Some of the huge machinery was obtained from the United States on the Lend-lease Program. The city of Karaganda grew rapidly during the early 1940’s with log cabins for the workers and gleaming white clubhouses for the executives. The city administration building featured a landscaped courtyard with Lenin in the place of honor. This building remains but with significant modifications and … the grandiose Lenin statue … has been replaced with modern automobiles.  The five smaller statues on the top of the city hall honor the people of today.  Still, a more subdued statue of Lenin continues to haunt the main street of this city.  

Other buildings remain, as relics of this time of rapid growth, but the log cabins are gone. By the 1950’s, the population of Karaganda peaked at over 800,000 … but the heavy industries began to fail.  Leaving the crumbling economy behind, a mass exodus began even before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 with former exiles returning to their ancestral homelands.  Today, with a population of 400,000, … both Russian and Kazakh, … the people enjoy a growing economy, freedom of speech, and a market economy with well-stocked consumer items in the retail outlets. 

The oppression of the time past, … like Lenin’s statue … is greatly subdued.  Yet, it is evident in a monument located in the central part of the city.  Two miners are holding up a large chunk of coal; one, … using both hands, … is depicted with the Asian features of a Kazakh; … while the other, … using only one hand, … clearly represents an ethnic Russian.  This is symbolic of how the Russians viewed their supremacy over the indigenous Kazakh people. Walking by the statue, Russians say, “Look how strong we are, doing the same amount of work as a Kazakh, but with just one hand.”   The Kazakh’s reply, “Russians are so lazy that Kazakhs must work twice as hard.”  In reality, Kazakh’s prefer to honor their heroes of the past such as the great poet and philosopher, Abai. 

Those at this bus stop continue to work in the mines and industrial plants but under a much different leadership.  They have good jobs even though only 8 of the original 26 coalmines are working.  Fortunately, all of the metallurgical processing plants and heavy machinery manufacturing remain active.    

The tragic past is over and the new has covered the old.  People are free of the oppression of the past. Likewise, now the city has many religious organizations that were once banned during Soviet times.  Mosques, Orthodox Churches, as well as a variety of Christian denominations are located throughout the city.  

The Karaganda region could be called the Bible Belt of Kazakhstan where 1/6th of all the Baptist churches in this country are located!  A large part of this is due to the influence of German Baptists and other Evangelicals who were exiled here and met secretly in homes.   

Overlay: Praise God for exiled believers who brought Christianity to this land 

 Today, some Evangelical churches meet in homes while a few have large buildings where they meet. Most are simply called Dom Molitvi, “House of Prayer”.   

Overlay: Praise God that the faith of the exiled believers was not smothered by the circumstances 

The Dom Molitvi located in the Preshocktinsk District in the northern part of the city is the largest.  The present building was constructed in 1999 and has a regular attendance exceeding 400 during the Sunday morning worship service. The congregation is active in outreach in the community and is in the process of developing house churches in the area. 

Overlay: Pray for new church starts in Karaganda  

On this bus full of both Russian and Kazakh people, there may be one or two believers.  Even though Karaganda has several Evangelical churches, Christian influence is low.   

Overlay: Pray for new ways to share the old, old story of Jesus and His love! 

As the bus pulls away, a young lady is waiting for someone.  … She seems alone. 

Overlay:  “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying,


…Perhaps she is a believer or, … more likely, … a person who does not know Jesus. 


 ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?’


…”What would you do if you were here?  … Be her friend? …  Show her kindness? …  Tell her that Jesus loves her? 


Then I said, ‘Here am I, Send me!’

Isaiah 6:8


Abai                                        uh-BYE

Dom Molitvi                          dome ma-LEET-vii

Karaganda                              ka ra GAHN da 

Preshocktinsk                          pre-SHOCK-tensk


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