THE LOST SHEEPS
An interview of Pastor Serguey living in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan by Fred Daudon
« – How did you become a presbyterian pastor?
– I was born in Kyrgyzstan, in Bishkek. About 18 years ago, I was 19 years old. I came to this Church for a service and became a believer. I have taken Christ in my heart and have started believing in him. There were missionaries from South Korea at that time. There was a theology institute named Institut d’Emmanuel.They gave secular education, science of religions. There were specialists of Islam and Buddhism… different religions. There was also spiritual education for pastors. I took both courses. I graduated from the Institute. Our government at this time gave us a certificate from this Institute. The Institute was linked by an agreement with the State, so they could deliver official diplomas.
– And now it is no longer the case?
– Now it is finished. It was more and more difficult every year to get an agreement with the State. In the 90’s it was easier. Now it is not so easy. So I finished the Institute and went to countryside near Bishkek to create a Church. I spent 13 years there and I was enlighten by the Pastor of this Church and I became Pastor of Emmanuel Institute. Emmanuel is my home where I started to believe in Christ, so it was natural to become a Pastor in this Church.
– So it is called Church of Emmanuel?
– Presbyterian Church of Emmanuel. This one in particular.
– And the name of the « global » Church?
– Presbyterian Church, because you have an union of all the Presbyterian churches. We have discussion between the different Presbyterian churches.
– Do you have some kind of government or a Senior Pastor heading the structure?
– In our Church, we have priests, pastors and presbyters. Presbyters is like the president of pastors. The Parliament of the Churches sometimes asks questions to the president and he has to answer them. Presbyters and Churches are working as a parliament. It is very democratic. In Presbyterian church, each member can ask a question.
– How many churches are part of the Presbyterian Church in Kyrgyzstan?
– Our churches? Or different churches?
– Your churches?
– About 12 churches are disciples of the first missionary pastor. They are located in Kyrgyzstan, but you have also some in Russia.
– In South-Korea as well?
– No. All churches are independent, they do not gather often, but we do have union. Pastors can unite, not presbyters. We work together, help each other, advise…
– In terms of funding?
– No, no, no, maybe make something together, such as teachings, theology, events. We have very close theology, but some churches can have differences.
– In terms of theology?
– Not many differences, not strong differences, but some. For example, different music, different liturgy and maybe some churches are baptizing children. Classical Presbyterian Churches baptize children, but maybe some of them do not.
– Like Pentecotist Church?
– Like Baptist yes.
– They only baptize adults who confess their will to be baptized. And you, you baptize children?
– Compared to these other churches, what do you do here? What is the programmation of your Sunday service for example?
– We believe that all members of Church make sacrifies, not only Pastors, not only Presbyters. First, we salute each other, then pray and we sing the glory of God, then Apostles’ creed, after we have presbyters who read the Bible, a part of which I will refer to during my preaching. The presbyter reads it but then I go and preach. Then we have blessing time. Before blessing time, we inform the community about the news regarding the Church, we say « Our Father ». That’s all. You have to visit our service. This Sunday is the Christmas’ service.
– What are the different nationalities, ethnies you have in this church?
– Most of them are Korean and Russian, and Kyrgyz, and Dungans, and Gypsies. More than half of the Church is composed of Koreans.
– It is crowded? How many people?
– 130-150 people are coming. And kids.
– As pastor, can you marry someone?
– Yes, I am married. I have three daughters.
– What are the main differences with other Churches?
– We are Christians, we believe in Christ, in Trinity. We have close history, especially the first 500 years, we share the same history. We differentiated. For example, protestants do not use icons or visual. Just words, just praying, the Bible. We use bread and wine, only when you are baptized.
– But bread and wine, when do you use it?
– During the ministry. Presbyterian and reformist Church are together, we can baptize children. We believe that God is sovereign, king; he decides, his will is the most important for us, because we think that our will is full of sins. We don’t give the choice until they are 18, you are Christian, you are born Christian. In Kyrgyzstan, you don’t choose. Do you know the creed of confession?
– It is a creed of Presbyterian and Reformist Church.
– Please explain.
– It means « I belong to this Church. »
– So you are follower of Calvin.
– Yes. Do you know prima scriptura? We can teach Fathers of Church or a very important person in the Christian history, we respect them but the Bible is our rule of life. We just consider the Bible as holy.
– For example, you don’t have saints?
– We respect teachers but we do not pray for them. It is very good to read their books and try to understand, because they are humans and they do mistakes. In the Bible, there is no mistake. We don’t pray saints, but we think that most of them are very good for Church history, their works are very important. Augustine for example, Luther, Calvin, Georgy, Vladimir. They are good persons but they are human as we are. We can speak with them, not pray them, what they did, we could think about their poems. It is better for us.
– You are afraid or cautious about people outside the Church. What is the climate here in Kyrgyzstan with the authorities? With other Churches? With other religions?
– Now our Church has good relationship with the State, because we had the Institute. We could not continue the Institute but I think that the government is good to us. We do not have a problem. I think that President Atambaiev is not bad for Christians and much better than Bakiev for example. Bakiev closed our Institute for example, not directly him but government during his time as President. We have this problem in Kyrgyzstan with laws. We have a lot of laws which are not applied in Kyrgyzstan. If you drive the car, you understand it. We have special view on the laws, ancient views.
We have one problem between Muslims and Christians here, not our Church, because our Church is in Bishkek. In Bishkek you will not find any problem between religions. I mean when a person dies, a Kyrgyz person, it is a big problem to bury the person. The same person was buried three times. It is not a decision of the government, but from the local imam. They opened the grave, then they went to the Orthodox cemetery and they buried the corpse there. They opened it again. The Orthodox priest was against so they buried the corpse a third time on another place. It was not easy for family, not easy for Kyrgyz people who wants to become Christians. People are scared. Our government was trying to find a solution and they were supporting Christians. The problem happened this winter in Issykul. It is the second time it happened. Now the grave is located in a place which is not easy to find. The first case, the president tackled the issue. Our society is now talking about it because it is not humanity. If you talk about spirituality, it is not spiritual to behave like that. Now people speaks, now government says « do not do this ». I watched TV and the imam was scared. The situation is better. Kyrgyz wants to be Kyrgyz, they do not want to be like Arabic muslims.
– The Islam here is moderate?
– Many years ago, Kyrgyz were closer to Christians. They became Muslims because of Uzbekistan. They became Muslims just to be alive.
In the past times, I never heard « I don’t like Jewish people. » Nowadays, sometimes I hear bad words on Jewish. I think it is because of Middle-East Islamic influence.
– Could a woman become pastor in your church?
– I don’t think. Not now but we have one presbyter. They can be deacon, they can be presbyter but pastor, no.
– Because the Bible says it. I think women are very good in some things but I do not think that women are very good without men, because sometimes they are more emotional and take decisions with their emotions. Scriptures are our most important rules. Words of God say it is better for women, she can be second pastor but not main or senior pastor.
– What do you think about new technologies? Everybody can post their own opinion, etc.?
– I think that’s good, if we can use it. Sometimes we read Bible directly on the phone screen because you have always your phone with you. There are a lot of opportunities to understand. For example, greek texts. New technologies help you to understand grammar and greek words and see the differences between versions of the text. Our Church is very keen with sciences because we believe that God made this World. In creation he made his decision. We have to study creation, it is good. Between Bible and sciences, there are no problem. Sometimes there are because the Bible does not teach sciences, but only God. Sciences teach about the World. They can not have problems to each other. Sciences do not give religious or spiritual answers, because God is not in the world, he is upper. He is not in our cosmos, he created it. He said « study this. » New technologies are part of sciences and it is about how God created this world. It is like a mirror, we are also creators. A lot of people are working on that. That is good. What is destroying us, is not good.
(…) I think that religions, to draw circles, will embrace all other circles « sciences », « arts »…
But sciences can not embrace religions. Sometimes people find problems saying for example « In six days, God created the World but it is impossible ». I think that Bible was written for people who were not scientists and the Bible is saying all about God. We know that God made this world, he can create this world by 6 days, but if we want to do it by millions of years, he does what he wants.
– Do you think that the different prophets (Muhammad, Moise…) understood something about God?
– Yes. Each person has a feeling about religion and atheists too, because it is a kind of religion. I always ask atheists: « why do you want to speak about religions if you are not interested in religion? » « Why are you so agressive? » « Why you don’t like Christmas? » Because you want to fight against this, so it is one kind of religion. But I think there is one truth. Christ is perfect truth. I think people needs God to relieve them of their sickness. So we need the Church. I think everybody and Muhammad, especially, tried to understand Christianity. He said Jesus/Issa is the messiah but he did not understand what a messiah means. He said Jewish understood what a messiah is but they did not understand that Jesus Christ was the messiah. He believed in Jesus Christ was a messiah but he did not understand what a messiah is. He says that Jesus Christ was born without a man, just the Spirit of God and Word of God. It means in that case that God became a person. Muhammad was better than idolatrous people who was living before him in Arabic Peninsula. He tried to understand God because he has connections with Christians, but he did not understand all about Christ. There is no other person like Christ. One day, a Muslim woman came to me to compare the Christ and Muhammad. She said « Muhammad was a sinner, he had a lot of wives, he killed a lot of people by himself, he is saying a lot about killing people but Jesus-Christ is perfect. » He is special.
Now about Christians, I agree with Pope Francis. He said « we cannot accept other’s truth without God’s help, but we need to help them, connect with them, to be very soft, speaking. Between Christians, we have to be together, not very soon. We can be together by respecting each other traditions and churches as we do now.
Do not change the traditions but speak together. Not to be the same. I really respect Orthodox, I do not agree with some things, but I think that many Orthodox people, they know Christ, they live with Christ, together with God. I think a lot of Catholics as well. I respect this pope a lot. Jean-Paul II was good but Pope Francis is more interesting. Now with Orthodox, we have a big gap in our liturgy and symbols. If they come to our Church, there is no icon, they cannot pray. Until the 6th century, we were together. The Second Council of Nicea, one of the points of dispute was the iconography. It was not a theological dispute, it was not about Christ nature, nor Christ image. 6th was about the nature of the Christ and the 7th was about the iconoclasm. Before this council, some churches had icons and some churches did not. There were no problem about this. It was not a big problem. The main dispute was about praying icons or praying God looking at icons. It is not a big difference between us and we can be together because we have Christ and we have the Bible, we have the Holy Spirit, we have our history. It was not always good. The way Pope Francis is using is clever and can work. He says « Do not all become Catholic! There are good traditions from the Bible, we can gather for Christian celebrations but keep your own creeds! » When Holy Spirit is here, people speaks different languages but everybody understands each other. To the contrary, in Babylon tower, everybody speaks different languages but no one could understand each other. It was a time when Christianity was trying to influence the World but I think it is no longer the case. We need to speak between each other, Buddhism, Muslim but we have to respect them. We have to say « Evangile » to them, we respect them and we love them. «