At the corner of two dusty streets in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, sits a brand new building. This building is not only unusual because of its new, clean exterior, but because it is the first Lutheran church in Bishkek and the headquarters of the emerging Lutheran church body in Kyrgyzstan, which is called Concordia Lutheran Church. Construction was completed this fall. On Oct. 11, 2009, it was dedicated as a worship space and gathering place for parishioners and community members.
Rev. Bob and Sue Pfeil recently retired from serving alongside the people of Concordia Lutheran Church in Bishkek for 11 years. They made the journey from northern Wisconsin for the special occasion. Greeting old friends with tears in her eyes, Sue said, “I can’t believe the difference in this building between when we left and how it looks now. It’s incredible and beautiful.”
Kyrgyz Pastor Mansur and Bishop Kenjibek led the congregation, including missionaries, Concordia Mission Society representatives, and national workers, through a worship service and communion. Afterward, the ladies of the church used their new kitchen facility, built with help from the Iowa District East Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML), to prepare food and sweets for everyone in attendance, including delicious plov, a Central Asian rice dish made with beef.
Walking through the building, Pastor Mansur pointed out the spaces that can be used as classrooms for children and for adults, with classes both on Sunday morning and during the week. Classes in the weekday program are for men who want to explore theology in greater depth, with the hope that they might one day become pastors in area congregations. Their studies combine a theoretical foundation laid in the classroom, with opportunities for practical application in field education experiences in some of those neighboring congregations, where biblical theology is put into practice in some very interesting and challenging contexts. The weekday program continues the work started by Rev. Bob Pfeil, who served in Bishkek as a theological educator for more than a decade. He set up the original course of studies and taught most of the classes himself in rented facilities for a number of years until his retirement last summer. The church’s classes continue now with Pastor Mansur doing the bulk of the teaching.
The construction of this multi-purpose building was made possible by funding and support from Concordia Mission Society-a long-time and key partner for the work in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan-with some additional funding provided through Fan into Flame as part of the “ends of the earth” segment of the campaign.
Plans are in place to offer programs in the new building for youth and young families, as well as continuing the weekly eyeglass clinic that uses the multi-purpose sanctuary space. “Now we have this big, beautiful building, it itself shows people that there is a church here,” Pastor Mansur said.
But a new church wasn’t the only buzz in Bishkek that weekend. The night before, on October 10, a celebration was held for the 10th anniversary of “Compassion,” the mobile medical van that has been such a crucial part of the Kyrgyz church’s growth, ministry, and outreach to surrounding communities. The van is a joint ministry between Concordia Mission Society, Orphan Grain Train, and LCMS World Mission.
Volunteers, workers, and officials gathered to feast and dance the night away in celebration of the nearly 250,000 children and adults treated by the mobile medical van over the past 10 years. The van travels to villages around Kyrgyzstan to provide pediatric, dental, and OB/GYN care to those who would not otherwise receive it. A group of schoolchildren visited the van that day to get their teeth checked and learned how to properly brush twice a day. One woman received an ultrasound from a machine donated by the North Wisconsin LWML and found out that her first child would be a boy!
The celebration featured speeches from representatives from LCMS World Mission, Concordia Mission Society, the Kyrgyzstan Health Department, and those who work directly on the medical mobile van. Children from local orphanages performed a variety of dances and songs, from traditional Kyrgyz dance to pop music to break dancing.
In traditional Kyrgyz fashion, a toast, each going towards God with thankfulness for the opportunities over the past 10 years, punctuated each course of the meal. Sue Pfeil, an instrumental worker with the medical mobile van, raised her glass to all the doctors, nurses, and administrators in attendance. “My hope is that in another 10 years we can get together again and have another party like this one. And praise be to God for getting the people of this country the help that they need!”