Saran: Changing Lives, One Heart At A Time
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                       23 Dec 2008


 The 30-mile drive from Karaganda to the small city of Saran is a vista of discouragement and lost dreams.  All along the way surrounded by the scrub vegetation of the steppe are old decaying mines that once supplied coal to fuel the manufacturing and power generation for the Karaganda Oblast.  The low efficiency and poor quality coal of these Soviet era facilities proved to be unsustainable in the free market economy of the newly independent Republic of Kazakhstan.  The large open pit mines located in the Eastern part of the Republic have rendered these mines obsolete.  

With their silent hoists, the tall elevator shafts no longer lift huge buckets of coal from deep within the ground.  Discouragingly, most of the people who once worked here are now gone.  Only occasionally does the small train make its way between the once busy mining operations.  The few mines that remain active have been downscaled to supplying coal for home heating in the nearby cities and towns. However, the entrance check station to the city of Saran is still in business. 

 In this city of about 40,000 people, the buildings are old and only a few new automobiles drive past the Soviet era apartment buildings. A few years ago, expansion was underway but the large uncompleted apartment complex is idle now.  Still, this is the home of many.   

Within the city, residential areas are in poor repair; … broken pavement, accumulating trash and, of course, piles of coal for the long cold winter.  Children find things to do along the road to their homes even though it appears dangerous.  People, … in general, … continue to go about their daily routines; … activities that appear to have little hope for the future … little hope for a good paying job. Their lives are no longer the same. 

Along this street in Saran … and next to a large apartment building … is a place of hope.

Overlay:  First Baptist Church of Saran

The Baptist Church stands out with its well cared for building and grounds … an example for all.  In 2007, the church celebrated its 60th year in Saran.  This is a place where hearts and lives continue to be changed.   Many have proclaimed this publicly as they are baptized in the baptismal pool in front. 

Not far from the church and down a narrow clutter-strewn street is another unexpected building.  It is clean and bright and a dramatic contrast to its surroundings. 

Overlay: Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches of Kazakhstan 

This building is the headquarters of all the Baptist Union churches in Kazakhstan, of which one-sixth are located in the Karaganda district.  Across the street from the office building is a garage and repair shop where volunteers fix cars and household appliances for humanitarian distribution throughout the area.  A warehouse nearby is used to store supplies for later use.  The house next to the garage provides a nice place to stay for volunteers from other areas and other countries. 

Overlay:  Baptist Children’s Home of Kazakhstan

The Baptist Children’s Home of Kazakhstan is another place that is also changing lives one heart at a time. …  It is a special place, … a place where God’s love is ever present.  This is a place where several of the 60 or so children in residence have spent most of their childhood.  A short visit with the kids living here shows why this is making a difference in their lives. Their rooms are clean and comfortable … an important part of enabling the children to mature into caring and respectful adults. … In the year 2000, the home was started by Olga Tissen, wife of the President of the Baptist Union.  The playground is fun with splendid equipment provided and set up by American volunteers.  In the cafeteria, tasty and nutritious food is served in a happy atmosphere. … The children are also taught personal responsibility along with God’s Word.  Each child is assigned chores such as washing dishes or working in the garden.  It is work that is important to all.  Still, the yurt set up in the hallway provides a reminder of what life was like in the past. 

The well-equipped bakery is a source of income for the orphanage as well as providing delicious bread for the residents.  Workers start before dawn to prepare the supply of bread that is distributed to local retail outlets.  It is also sold through the small window in the back of the bakery.  What's more, Christian literature is supplied for their customers … a way of letting them know about God. 

·        Will you praise God for those who have set each of these kids on a new path?

·        Will you praise God for those who are providing encouragement in the midst of economic discouragement and hardship? 

These girls from the orphanage are on their way to school just a few blocks down the road. Soon they may be the leaders in this small city, … leaders who have a changed life and know Jesus as their Savior and the hope that lives within.

Scripture narrated:

Whether you turn to the right or to the left,

your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,

“This is the way; walk in it.”

Overlay:  Isaiah 30:21 


Karaganda                  car-a-GAHN-dah

Olga Tissen

Saran                          sa-RAHN

Yurt                             just like its spelled


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