Equipped to reach the unreached in Central Asia
Lauren Pratt | September 21, 2017
*Doug Coleman dreams of a day when a large Central Asian minority will have an established church in its heart language.
“Unless the gospel gets to them in [their language], I don’t think that most of them are going to hear the gospel,” said Coleman.
It’s something he hopes and believes he will see in his lifetime.
Coleman and his ministry partner, *Emir, share this common desire for churches to be established among this people group. Their desire is something akin to the story found in Luke 2:25-32, where Simeon was promised by God that he would not die until he saw Jesus, the Savior of the world.
“For me, the equivalent of seeing Jesus as a baby in the temple is seeing a [minority] church before I die, said Emir upon first meeting Coleman. “That’s my heart’s desire. And if I can see that before I die, then I can go to my fathers in peace.”
Coleman has been working among the Central Asian affinity since 1998 and has been in cross-cultural ministry since 1994.
In 1996, Coleman began taking classes at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After taking a missions class with Dr. Keith Eitel, Coleman decided to pursue a Master of Divinity with an international church planting emphasis. After his two initial years of classes on the Wake Forest campus, Coleman and his wife were ready to go overseas for two more years in Russia.
God began stirring in the couple a desire to live among unreached people groups. The couple has now served with the International Mission Board (IMB) in Central Asia from 1998 to the present.
Coleman’s work among the Central Asian affinity has been diverse. He has had one-on-one gospel sharing and discipleship opportunities. He has overseen IMB personnel working among a Central Asia minority group. He now works to one day see that people group have a church in their heart language and also teaches theological education to Central Asian believers.
Ministry in Central Asia requires patient and consistent relationship building. Seeing nationals come to faith in Jesus is a decision that can take years.
Coleman had one such experience with his language teacher, *Berat. He was a bit of an internal processor and while not initially interested in Christianity on a personal level, would ask questions of Coleman and his faith. They continued to meet for language learning, sometimes using the Bible as a tool and would even share meals and holidays together with each other’s families.
Coleman remembers one night in particular texting his friend as they joked back and forth. Somewhat abruptly in the conversation, Berat texted him and said, “Oh by the way, bring me a Bible tomorrow.”
He wasn’t sure if Berat was still joking, but soon realized he was very serious. The two continued to meet and talk through what Berat was reading in the Bible.
Then the conversation came that Coleman remembers clearly.
He told Berat, “Look, I’ve wanted this for you for a long time. I’ve never hidden that. But this is something you have to believe. Christianity is not like Islam. It’s not like other things and you have to make the decision that you believe this is really true.”
Berat response was short, simple and very typical of his personality: “I’ve pretty well accepted it.”
“I think that illustrates that sometimes it can take a long time and multiple, multiple touches and sometimes multiple, multiple people and multiple, multiple things,” said Coleman, who met Berat back in 2009 and heard of his coming to faith in 2016.
“I think the key for him was when he finally engaged with God’s Word, and that is frequently one of the most significant factors for Muslims,” said Coleman.
After Coleman had finished his master’s degree, his time at Southeastern was all but over. He remembers well a conversation with Dr. Keith Eitel in which the professor encouraged Coleman of the importance of pursuing a Ph.D.
“Ph.D. work is not just obtaining information,” Eitel told him. “It’s not just knowing theological positions. It’s not just hermeneutics and how to interpret the Bible. It’s really how to think well.”
Through their conversation, Coleman decided to start pursuing his Ph.D. in missions once he and his family returned for one year on stateside assignment in 2005.
“Any issue, any challenge that I come across now, I feel much more equipped,” said Coleman. “…At a very foundational level, I think Southeastern prepared me for that.”
Workers like Coleman encounter many barriers when Christianity meets Islam. Some of those hindrances include the many misconceptions that Muslims often have about Christianity as well as the societal resistance to anything but Islam.
“In the Muslim world, anybody coming to faith is really a miracle of God, but God is still doing miracles, he said.
*Names changed for security reasons
From our local community to the outermost parts of the world, Southeastern students and alumni are reaching people with the gospel by fulfilling the Great Commission. Using the model of Acts 1:8, we want to highlight these stories of how our Southeastern family is serving in North Carolina, North America and around the world. Acts 1:8 Stories create a collective and consistent way to tell the story of Southeastern, one person at a time. From local pastors to missionaries among the unreached, God is doing a great work among students and alumni. Where are they now and where are they going? We can’t wait for you to find out!