Kazakh Pastor Experiences God’s University in Prison

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Articles

Pastor Bahytzhan Karimovich Kashkumbaev (67) from Kazakhstan spent nine long months in a prison cell. A mother of a church member had claimed that Kashkumbaev had caused psychological harm to her daughter. Robbed of his freedom and his Bible, the pastor entered ‘God’s university’ in prison. He was recently released. Open Doors went to Kazakhstan to interview  the pastor about his experiences.

Open Doors: Can you describe your life before you went to prison?

Kashkumbaev: “I came to the Lord through the witness of my family, but when I became a believer I never imagined God would call me to serve as a minister. I was totally fine to just visit a church and leave it at that. To my surprise, He did speak to me: ‘Bakhytzhan, follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men.’ I made a decision to dedicate my life to Jesus and the next day after this I resigned from my job at the University. In 1994, my wife Alfia and I went to Moscow and applied to a seminary there. After graduating from seminary, God directed me to lead a Church in Karaganda in Central Kazakhstan. After two years there, He called me and Alfia to go to the new Kazakhh capital, Astana, to plant a church.

For the first service we rented a concert hall with 5,000 seats and gave away about 3,500 invitations. We invited the worship group from the Karaganda Church to lead the worship and invited the pastor from Karaganda to preach. That first service, less than hundred people showed! I was upset and cried. I asked God if He really wanted me to start the new Church. But then the preacher came to me after the service and shared the story of how the Church in Karaganda city had started with only five elderly women meeting together. Since then, I never doubted if God was calling me to do something. I’ve led the church until just shortly before my arrest last year. I am a retired pastor now.”

In those years, until your arrest, was there any pressure from the government?

“In 2012 the authorities tried to take the church building away from us. For some reason, they stopped that procedure, but shortly after the police informed me that a mother of a church member had filed a complaint against me. The police searched our church a couple of times and in May 2013 I was charged.”

Can you describe your arrest?

“First of all, when I was arrested they lied to me. Two officers of the National Security Agency (the former KGB, OD) came to get me. Only for questioning, they said. They would release me within half an hour if I would answer their questions. But at the police station I was arrested. I called Alfia and she came to the police station immediately. She started to cry, of course. Fifteen minutes later they took me to a temporary detention facility. Two days later, I made my first appearance before the court and it was decided that my temporary detention was extended. During the first ten days I suffered from an ear inflammation because it was extremely cold in the cell. The cold made me depressed and I started to pray: ‘Dear Lord, would you please take me to You or warm me up in this cold place?’ Only ten minutes later, the cell door opened and a guard threw an extra blanket to me. I realized God had answered my prayer.”

How would you describe life in a Kazakh prison? What did you see, hear, smell, taste and feel?

Kashkumbaev laughs. “None of my five senses work really well! There were nine people in our cell and it smelled really damp. We resented our prison cell and complained to the guards. Eventually they transferred us to a better cell. You have to realize that you really live in that ‘cage’. You eat there, you sleep there and you go to the toilet there. But what I hated the most about the prison cell was that almost all prisoners, except myself and one other guy, smoked. Somehow God protected me from having negative feelings. What is really surprising is that despite the smoke, I did not have to cough. I realized God’s protection and His favor towards me. Almost every prisoner had a positive attitude towards me, whether they were prisoners serving long sentences or newcomers. The guards also showed their respect towards me.”

Did all days look the same to you?

“Our daily schedule did not change, but I wouldn’t say that every day was like the other. For example, even though most prisoners were eventually nice towards me, I had to stand guard. The prisoners would try to provoke me and each other to say bad things or to do bad things, but I decided not to do anything like this. I did not swear and I did not think poorly about anyone. When I could, I helped others, but I never made promises because you are never sure if you can keep them. Despite these circumstances, I was never afraid. You should never be afraid in prison.

Did you have a Bible?

“In the beginning I did not have a Bible. I only prayed. At some point I was able to get secret access to a Bible, but only for a few weeks. I wrote like I had never written in my life. I copied my favorite passages from the Old Testament and almost the entire New Testament into my personal notebook. After a while, I was transferred to the psychiatric ward in Almaty. Someone gave me a Bible there. The Bible was very big. I assumed it would be taken away from me as soon as I got back to jail, but for the rest of my time in prison, the guards and police did not seem to notice my giant Bible! God must have closed the eyes of the guards during the systematic searches of our cell.”

What have you learned from your prison experience?

“I had known God for many years before I arrived in prison, but I can say that while you are in captivity you experience the closest and most intimate relations with the Lord. During those nine months, God taught me to know Him better and to understand Him better. Especially His love and His mercy. For example, He taught me how to love my enemy. I discovered that I never actually loved my enemies before, but being in jail – surrounded by ‘enemies’ – I realized what it means to love your enemy. When I started sharing the Gospel, I noticed the thirst of my fellow inmates and their desire to listen to stories about God. I realized their great need to hear the truth. They had lived in a lie for so long that they were interested to hear every word I said, especially the young prisoners. The prison guards helped me in my efforts. For some reason, they moved me from one cell to another, which left a trail of the Gospel in this prison facility. I learned why God had sent me to this prison: to show Christ to the prisoners. They were not convinced to surrender to Him by my words. They needed to see the Lord in action.”

How did they respond?

“I was His instrument. Dozens of prisoners came to faith because of my example and my personal attitude. They asked me questions such as ‘Why are you doing this for us?’ I answered them: ‘I am doing this for you because God is doing it for me’.”

Despite these wonderful events, what were you hoping would happen? To be released soon?

“Yes, I hoped and expected to be released soon. I was very concerned about my wife and children and knew they suffered while I was here. But at some point I was able to hand over all my worries to the Lord. I experienced a peace in my heart which I am unable to describe in words.”

Did you know many people were praying for you?

“A prisoner secretly owned a cell phone and I was able to talk to my son. He mentioned a couple of times that many were praying for me. Knowing that really humbled my heart. I had to cry when I thought about those who brought me before the Lord in their prayers. I will be forever grateful to them.”

At some point you were told you would be released. Instead, you were immediately arrested on new charges. What did you feel?

“When I saw two National Security agents waiting outside the detention facility, I was ready for anything. They can do pretty much anything, you know. So they took me to their office and came with the new allegations. I don’t know why this theatrical act was necessary. They could have told me in prison. Before I left my prison cell, I had given all my belongings to the inmates and they were very surprised to see me return in only a couple of hours. ‘Why did you come back?’, they asked. I replied: ‘The prison cannot exist without me!’”

But you don’t know why you were arrested this second time?

“Of course, I know why they first told me I would be released. They were trying to break my will. However, during my entire time in prison I was able to trust in the Lord. I returned to prison with much peace in my heart.”

Then, after nine long months, the ordeal was finally over. You were really released.

“Yes. I can hardly describe my feelings. Joy and light filled my heart when I left. I was so happy to see my family, especially my grandchildren. I felt so grateful and joyful. It was really the joy of freedom!”

Are you still in danger?

“Of course I am still being watched. The court also decided I have to live in our church complex. I am not allowed to live somewhere else. It is a strange decision and I suspect that maybe something has been fabricated against me again. I have many reasons to think I am still in danger. I will not talk about them now, but I do not rule out the possibility of the government trying again to break me.”

What do you have to say to all those people who prayed for you?

The pastor pauses a long time, then resumes speaking: “Every cell of my body, every part of my soul, and every piece of who I am is so grateful to the Lord for each of you. You are my dear family, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ! I know that here on earth we live a short moment, and I praise the Lord, that in this short moment we call life, we’ve found Jesus Christ! I know that eternity is ahead of us, and I will look forward to meet each of you and give you a hug! I love you with the love that Jesus poured out into my heart!”ImageImage

What is God’s call for you? Are you acting upon it now? If not, what is hindering you?

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Comments
  1. Pamela Pang says:

    Praise God for this testimony! Really touched my heart! Thank you Jesus! 🙂

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