Dominating central Asia and many of the historical east-west trade routes connecting Europe and Asia, the diverse nation of Kazakhstan is home to over seventy different people groups. Stretching out between Russia and China, this ninth-largest nation in the world is also the largest without an ocean port. Absent of much national unity throughout history, Kazakhstan began to take political shape as a republic of the Soviet Union before gaining its independence in 1991. The source of much Soviet agriculture and mineral wealth, Kazakhstan also hosted much of the defense industry, including the USSR’s nuclear test sites.
Kazakhstan boasts one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and the nation’s bountiful natural resources include enormous oil, gas, and mineral reserves. Most of the population is bypassed by this wealth however, while a small, privileged minority reaps the benefits. The majority, especially in rural areas, continues to suffer from poverty and ecological disasters, including toxic waste, radiation, and industrial pollution. Alcoholism and drug addiction are widespread, with heroin as easy to obtain as alcohol. Corruption and materialism continue to rise as well.
While all religion was suppressed under communism, both Islam and Christianity have grown tremendously since independence. It is said that “to be Kazakh is to be Muslim,” and most of this people group follow a folk Islam influenced by shamanistic practices. Kazakh believers, almost nonexistent in 1990, grew to over 15,000 by 2010, and there are now over 100 Kazakh-speaking congregations. Still, only 12% of the population are Christians, mostly Orthodox. Only traditionally recognized religious groups are allowed to operate freely, and evangelicals are regarded as a dangerous sect. Increasingly strict religion laws designed to oppose radical Islam are also used to limit and restrict Christians, with seminaries, Bible colleges, and discipleship schools remaining closed. Persecution is increasing, with harassment coming from authorities, Muslims, and non-believing family members. Despite this, Kazakhstan is becoming a missionary sending nation, with Kazakh believers reaching out to central Asia and the Muslim world at large.