Winter … The Familiar Path
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                       08 Feb 2009


Winter in the northern part of Kazakhstan is a time of unparalleled beauty as the snow and ice hangs on the trees and lakes and rivers freeze over.  It is also a time of danger as the relentless winds and below zero temperatures threatens the exposed skin of those who venture out. 

Astana, at 51 degrees North Latitude, is further north than the continental United States but the temperatures are more like the Arctic.  35 degrees BELOW zero, … along with winds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, … creates a place where the harsh life has built a people strong and able to endure the environment they call home.  In anticipation of improving one’s health, the body is conditioned by taking a swim in the icy waters of the Ishim River in September but winter is only a month away. 

Preparation is important and … even before the first flakes of snow … out come the coats, boots, hats, gloves and mittens.  As the temperatures and snow begin to fall, skis, skates and sleds are made ready for the days ahead.  Children, … at an early age, … learn about the cold weather and how to keep warm. This is the life of those living in Kazakhstan in the winter.  

In the mountains about three hours north of Astana, the beauty of Borovoye Lake takes on a new dimension with a blanket of snow.   The Lake freezes over in November and the “Sphinx” Rock seems to be lonelier as it is locked in the grip of winter. 

Overlay:  Oh, God … may the beauty of Jesus cover this land. 

During the winter, Astana sets up two different ice cities.  Ice is cut, chiseled and sculpted into buildings and statues for all to enjoy.  These wonderful works of art and perseverance last for the winter months. Even as the temperatures fall and there is more snow, all ages continue to gather for good times.  Favorite places are the ice slides and skating rinks.   

Overlay:  Oh, God … give Believers boldness as they share the story of Jesus with those who follow this familiar path. 

Some construction projects are stopped during winter but … all across Kazakhstan … God’s hand is at work.  

Overlay:  The Ural River, Atyrau 

The Gospel Message is for all people and all of the time.  

Overlay:  Oh, God … may hearts be sensitive and tender to Your leading. 

Near Astana, the feather grass provides some food for cattle and horses as they venture out.  Water and fodder is provided for the livestock in their shelters where they can escape the cold winds. 

Many people, on the other hand, must leave their shelters and take a bus to the bazaar.  Here, like during the summer, they purchase groceries, clothing and other items for their daily needs.  There is even a place to have keys made. For several years, large shops have been opened in the cities but lifestyles are difficult to change, as the open-air bazaar is often the shopping place of choice. 

Others save on their grocery expenses with fish caught in the Ishim River. They drill a small hole in the ice, bait their hooks with bread and wait. Their reward is usually several small fish for the evening meal. The ice is three feet thick on the river and some keep warm in small tents.  At times the snow piles up around their tiny shelters. These fishermen are barely visible but the handle of the ice auger helps hold up the tent. 

People in Astana continue on the familiar path as they shop at the bazaar, care for livestock * and fish in the river; … for generations, this has been their way of life. Even in their old age they enjoy the wintertime. 


* Overlay:  Oh, God … may the people of Kazakhstan step off the ancient path onto the path filled with Your presence and love. 


January 19th, … the Russian Orthodox Epiphany, … a priest leads a procession of people from the church to the river where an area of ice had been cut into the form of a cross.  This is part of the recognition of the baptism of Jesus Christ.  The water is blessed by the priest and made “holy”.  Some believe this temporarily transforms it into the River Jordan where Jesus Christ was baptized.  People fill bottles with the water and drink it throughout the year to help them have good health.  In a nearby spot, this “holy” water is said to wash away sins and those who “baptize” themselves in the water believe that they are made “holy” by the process. Some claim this holiness lasts one day … others, the whole year. While the Soviets were in control, the ritual was all but stamped out except in the villages.  It is now quickly growing in popularity throughout the country.  For some, this is a spiritual experience; … for others, … it is a spectacle. 

Will you pray that the devout followers of an empty … but familiar path will soon choose to walk on a different path through faith in Jesus?  … Following Him on this new path, they will have the Light to guide them and experience a peace in life as never before.


Scripture Overlay:

When Jesus spoke again to the people,
 he said, "I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life."  
John 8:12



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