The Uyghurs are a Turkic people who originally lived in Siberia as nomads. For centuries, the Uyghurs were an important link between China and the rest of the world. They lived along the Silk Road and worked as caravan drivers transporting Chinese goods.
Today, it is estimated that around 8.6 million Uyghurs are located in Xinjiang, northwestern China, and in Central Asia significant Uyghur minority communities are found in Kazakhstan (250,000), Kyrgyzstan (150,000) and Uzbekistan (50,000). Islam has been the dominant religion of the Uyghurs since the tenth century.
Twenty-five years ago there were virtually no Uyghur Christians; today there are over 1,500 Uyghur believers in Central Asia alone. This first-generation Uyghur church is in great need of solid Bible teaching, training of leaders, and the resources to disciple and equip young believers.
The TEE work in Kazakhstan began in the late 1990s but grew rapidly after 2007. The national TEE team is a good model for unity across denominations and ethnic groups; it is composed of key leaders from Russian-, Kazakh- and Uyghur-speaking local churches along with expat workers. The team has been working on printing Russian TEE materials and translating TEE materials into Kazakh, Uyghur and Central Asian Russian, as well as providing tutor training for local churches across denominations and different people groups.
The first translation of the Abundant Life student workbook into the Uyghur language was done in 1996, and a couple of hundred draft copies were printed and distributed amongst Uyghur believers. One of those copies was given to secret Uyghur believers who had recently come to the Lord in a village near the Chinese border. A mother studied the book first, using a pencil. Then she erased all her answers, passed the book on to her daughter to study, and then the daughter passed it on to another lady in the village. The mother ended up going through the book again, as it was so precious to learn about the new life in Christ!
The flexibility of TEE methodology is especially appreciated in remote villages where believers face strong anti-Christian pressure from their communities. Aygul* was one of the first Uyghurs to come to Christ back in the early 1990s. She is a mother/grandmother figure amongst a small group of believers in her own village and in nearby areas. These believing ladies take turns to prepare chai (tea) in their own homes so that they can meet to read the word and worship without raising any suspicions.
In late 2012, in response to the need for more TEE courses in the Uyghur language, a trusted Uyghur leader, who had been a key translator of the Uyghur Bible, was invited to join the TEE team in Kazakhstan. Amazingly, this leader turned out to be the very same person who had translated the first Uyghur version of Abundant Life 17 years before! The revision of the Uyghur-language Abundant Life student workbook and the first translation of the tutor’s manual have now been completed, and will go to print soon.
“Every believer a disciple, every disciple a worker for Christ” was a motto of the first Uyghur believers’ group in the 1990s, and the TEE team in Kazakhstan today endorses that motto wholeheartedly as God leads them into the future.
*Name has been changed