The Path of Sorrows : The Narrow Path - Part 3
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                       25 Jan 2009


Loads of coal, minerals and produce are common on these tracks that stretch across the Republic of Kazakhstan. This train is on its way to Astana and Karaganda in the central part of the country.  In contrast, there were many trainloads of people following the same pathway during the reign of terror begun by Lenin and continued with an even greater vengeance by Stalin. 

Prison labor camps known as Gulags were set up to purge the Soviet Union of political decent.  Many of these were in Kazakhstan.  The largest … known as “KarLAG” … was started in the late 1920’s and covered some 10,000 square miles of the central steppe region.  

Trainloads of so-called “enemies of the State” were dumped in the desolate, inhospitable land.  It was hundreds of miles to the nearest civilization and, … out of necessity, … the prisoners build their own shelters and searched for food.  In some cases, the wives and children were sent along with the “offender”.  There was no place to go for those who wanted to escape.  

The growing population of the Gulags included Red Army generals, political leaders, intellectuals, wealthy landowners, criminals, religious followers, ethnic minorities and peasants.  This was the place for those who dared to disagree with the Soviet Government and included Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  In 1945, he was sent to prison near Karaganda.  After his release in 1953, he wrote his first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which is about the reality of his Gulag experience. It was published in 1956.   Later he completed The Gulag Archipelago, a detailed account of the Russian Gulag system.  The manuscript was completed in 1968, … smuggled out of Russia, … and finally published in 1973.  It was not published in Russia until 1989.  

Many other books about the Gulags and life in Kazakhstan during the Soviet era have been published in recent years.  Some are detailed first-hand accounts that reveal the suffering, … starvation … and death caused by the brutality of the Soviet dictators. 

Overlay:  Pray for the leaders of Kazakhstan to be diligent in protecting their people  

Kooat is now a businessman in Almaty, but his older siblings and grandparents died of malnourishment and disease in the late 1930’s.   

(On-camera interview) 

It was a very difficult time.  I know it from my mother’s stories about her life.  She grew up in an orphanage.  She would tell me the stories of how she would go there was nothing to eat … no oil … no bread … and they would go early at 3 o’clock in the morning.  They would go and collect some beetroots in the fields.  Those fields were not theirs.  They were collective farm beetroots and they would go to the city to sell them to buy some oil and probably that was why my elder brothers and sisters died because there was actually nothing to eat.  They died of hunger at the end of the ‘30’s and my sister … she was born – who know lives – my elder sister -- she was born in 1947.  She was the first one to survive.  

Over 2 million people were sent to these camps in Kazakhstan where most died and were buried in mass, … unmarked graves.  The memorial south of Karaganda illustrates the magnitude of this loss of life.  Little mounds with an occasional cross or Muslim crescent mark a few of the symbolic graves; … other mounds represent unmarked mass graves.  The countries of origin of the exiles have erected markers at the entrance of this memorial, often with the number of victims who died during the reign of terror. 

Overlay:  Pray that the people of Kazakhstan guard their freedom 

In Astana, the Gulag memorial sitting atop a hill lists the names of the major prison camps in Kazakhstan.  This and other monuments simplify a very complex time and fail to capture the emotional trauma to the individuals who were forced to travel this pathway of sorrows. 

One of these pathways led to Dolinka, the central hub and administrative center of KarLAG. The city remains but with many families of the prisoners as well as the prison guards living side by side.  Beginning in the mid 1930’s improvements were made in KarLAG including a hospital, a post office, factories, numerous collective farms and the infamous coalmines.  Separate villages were set up for the women and … other villages for the children of prisoners. … The administration office in Dolinka, …  built in 1933-35 by a force of a thousand prisoners, … is now sealed up. This was once a show place for Soviet propagandists to entice people to immigrate here and work on the farms. 

In the small city of Dolinka, relics of the past remain for those who dare to seek a better understanding of what happened behind the guard towers, … the barbed wire fences … and … in the now empty rooms. Some are in the small seldom-visited museum called … the "Museum of Memory of Political Repression”.  Although information on the KarLAG system is available to the people of Kazakhstan, most want to forget this part of their past … of the time when the KarLAG rule book, … the guards …  and … the barbed wire controlled their lives … where the prisoners were not even allowed to check out books in the “Dolinka Library”. 

The faces of famous artists, … intellectuals, … high-ranking Communist Party officials, … common criminals, … farmers, … mechanics, … mothers and fathers are just a few of the 2 million people branded as "enemies of the State" and sent to KarLAG.  Most died before receiving the document certifying rehabilitation into the Soviet society. 

Overlay:  Oh, God, may the families of those who died find PEACE in Jesus 

On the edge of the city is another memorial. … a special graveyard … one of several "Mother's Infants Cemeteries" throughout the KarLAG Region.  This is a very sad place where untold numbers of infants and children were buried after being born in the camp and later died from the terrible surroundings. Medical care was inadequate, … disease rampant … and hunger all around.  There is no way of knowing how many infants and children are interred here. The heartbreaking truth is that countless mothers had no idea where their children were buried. …Thus, hardly any markers have actual names and many of the original markers have been lost over the decades while others are falling apart.   

Overlay:  Oh, God, help those living in this troubled village to find HOPE in Jesus. 

Tamer and his two sisters had a difficult life growing up without a father. Tamer is an ethnic Kazakh and worked hard in the mines and factories and was eventually promoted to the factory administrator in 1980. 

(On-camera interview – translated from Kazakh) 

Kazakhstan went through many shocks.  1930, 1931, 1932 were the years of starvation. There was lack of bread.  The Kazakhs ranched so they had some milk and meat but it was not enough without bread.  People died of starvation.  I was born in 1936.  One evening my father was seized and given 10 years.  They called him a public enemy.  He died in prison in 1943.  It was such a time.

            There were many nationalities at the factory … Russian, German, Tartar, Korean, but only a few Kazakh since they lived in the countryside raising cattle.

            There were all kinds of religious denominations … Muslim, Orthodox, Baptists, but I don’t remember any Catholics.  There were several small Baptist house churches in Saran.  The Baptists were better workers than others.  They were honest and hardworking and always in a good mood.


Trainloads of people were exiled from the Baltic States, Poland, Germany and Ukraine. Among these unfortunate ones were Evangelical Believers, … some of whom brought Bibles with them to the labor camps. At first, they met together secretly to pray and to study God’s Word.  Fortunately, after Stalin’s death in 1953, they were able to form small house churches. 

Overlay:  Praise God for the courage of Believers 

Evangelical churches in the Karaganda area are blessed by the strong foundation that they received from these beginnings so many years ago.  The Baptist church in Astana was begun in the same way.  In 1995, German Baptists helped the congregation build the existing church that stands tall as a beacon for the Gospel. 

Overlay:  Pray that many will come to faith and new churches planted 

Gulags are no more.  … Instead, freedom has provided many pathways to prosperity, riches, notoriety and power.  The pathway to faith in Jesus Christ is open.  Will you pray that the people of this vast land will follow this path and truly be set free? 

Scripture Overlay: 

For the Lord is the Spirit

And wherever the Spirit of the Lord is,

There is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17 NLT


Almaty                                    all-MAH-tee

Archipelago                            ark-eh-PEL-ah-go

Astana                                    ahs-tan-AH

Dolinka                                   DOUGH-lean-ka

Gulags                                    GOO-logs

Ivan Denisovich                  ee-VAHN

Karaganda                              kar-a-GAHN-da 

KarLAG                                 CAR-log

Kooat                                      KOO-aht

Kulaks                                    KOO-locks

Saran                                      sa-RAHN

Solzhenitsyn                           soul-zhe-NEET-sin

Tartar                                     TAR-tar

Tamer                                     tah-MEER


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