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Plight of Central Asian diaspora drives IMB alumnus to press on

A family shares a meal in a tent at a temporary migrant camp in Europe. The refugee journey begins in places such as this before they sometimes land in the U.S. IMB Photo

Before former International Mission Board worker Allison moved back to the United States, she’d already developed a deep love for and passion to reach the Central Asian diaspora. Working with Central Asian refugees and asylum seekers in Europe opened her eyes to the felt needs of the people, as well as their spiritual condition. Her friend Aziza’s story often comes to mind.

Once Central Asian refugees flee their home country, they are typically housed in temporary camps like this one in Europe. From there, they sometimes go on into Europe or are sent to the U.S. IMB Photo

Trapped in an abusive marriage in her home country, Aziza, a Central Asian woman, saw no other option but to flee. So, she began the dangerous journey to Europe. Eventually she needed to cross the waters from Turkey to Greece so she could enter the European Union and request asylum.

As she and 20 others boarded a boat, they realized they were way over capacity. The boat wouldn’t withstand the rough seas. Some passengers shouted at the captain to go back, but he pressed on. Heavy and off balance, the boat flipped upside down in the choppy waters, dumping its passengers out. It looked like there would be no survivors.

As Aziza was losing her battle to stay afloat, she said she felt a hand pull her to safety, and she says she heard a voice telling her that her story wasn’t over. Aziza has no idea how long she was under the water or when her rescuers came. They revived her, and she regained consciousness, coughing up large amounts of saltwater. Instantly she understood that God had saved her for a purpose.

Of the 20 who boarded that day, there were only three survivors. On shore, she was met by Grecian authorities who suspected her and the other survivors of murdering the others on the boat. She spent the next three months in prison. When she was finally released, she had no money and no papers. All was lost in the boat wreck, and she was left with only the dirty clothes on her back.

Eventually, someone told her about a small church in the city. Though she was a Muslim, church members cared for her and gave her a Bible in her language. They also connected her with a local house church in her language. Over the next few months, she heard and read about a loving God and a Savior who had died to provide for her salvation. In time, she understood her purpose and gave her life to Christ. To this day, she passionately tells other Muslims about Him.

Allison said, “Aziza’s life changed because she met Christians who loved her and offered her Jesus.”

A child runs at a temporary migrant camp in Europe where migrants from Central Asia receive housing and food while their status is determined. Former IMB missionary Allison takes what she learned on the field, working with refugees like those pictured, to equip the church in the U.S. to serve the nations now in their backyards. IMB Photo

She continued, “She didn’t belong in that country; in fact, she had no legal right to be there. It would have been easy to see her as a burden or even an intruder. But God’s ways are much higher than our own, and He accomplishes His purposes in unexpected ways. He took her on that journey so she could meet Jesus, and He used local churches in the process.”

Allison said she notices that Christians often discuss refugees and immigrants in political terms and not how believers can serve those already living close by. “What if God took them on a journey, just so they can meet the Savior through His Church? What if He wants us to be a part of it? We never know what God is doing in a person’s life until we engage them in meaningful ways,” Allison said.

She has seen the difference genuine compassion and God’s truth can make in the lives of those far from their homelands. She poured nearly 15 years into her Central Asian friends so they’d come to know Jesus.

When she made the decision to return to the United States to care for her aging parents, she wondered how she would serve the nations while living in the U.S.

God was working behind the scenes, opening doors before she even returned. After she left the field, the IMB formed the diaspora mobilization team. Leadership recognized that Allison’s years of experience could be used to serve diaspora peoples — those from around the world who have resettled in other places — in the U.S., just like she’d prayed.

With a renewed commitment to assist churches in connecting with internationals close by, the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Send Relief and Woman’s Missionary Union are uniting to better serve churches focusing on the missionary task in every community. Allison is an integral part of the ministry, as one of the senior diaspora mobilization strategists on the newly formed diaspora mobilization team with the IMB. This team is a part of a bigger partnership between Southern Baptist entities, seminaries, state conventions and associations.

“Leaving the field, I somewhat felt like I was leaving the nations behind,” Allison said. “But I was reminded that God’s vision is much bigger than ours. He weaves our lives into the expansion of His kingdom effortlessly, no matter where we find ourselves.

“The nations are here. God has placed them in communities across North America, many on the doorsteps of our churches. The question is how believers in these churches will respond.”

She shared gratitude that her team is tasked with assisting Southern Baptists, as they recognize and serve diaspora communities around them. She’s been encouraged by the churches she encounters seeking to reach their international neighbors. And as a field alumnus, she recognizes that her role in reaching the nations is far from over. 

To learn more about the diaspora mobilization team, please visit dmcollective.org. Or email [email protected].

*Aziza’s name has been changed for security reasons.