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The Relationship She Longed For

The Relationship She Longed For

Mila’s* family was different. While the overwhelming majority of people in her community were Muslim, she grew up in a household where faith wasn’t practiced at all. Her father, who’d become an orphan at age 9, was against any kind of religion. After his mother passed away while he was just a boy, his father remarried and then asked him to leave due to clashes with his stepmother. When he was forced on the street, he decided there was no God.

But, Mila says, “I always wanted to have a relationship with God.” As a girl, she’d ask who made the trees and the flowers, and her dad’s responses didn’t satisfy her.

By age 12 Mila decided she wanted to become a Muslim so she could have the relationship that she sought. For six months, a mentor guided her in memorizing the required prayers and learning how to practice the religion. “I wasn’t very thrilled with the rules, but because I wanted to have a relationship with God, I went for it,” she recalls.

For six months, Mila faithfully observed daily prayer times, despite lacking support at home. But she shares, “I realized it wasn’t giving me the type of connection I wanted with God. It makes you feel like you’re being a good person, but there was no depth in any of it. You can’t use any of your own words. … It wasn’t what I was looking for.”

“I was very disappointed,” Mila reveals. “The only religion I knew of was Islam. I tried it and it didn’t work.” Convinced there was no God and that she couldn’t have a relationship with Him, she stopped practicing altogether.

Around that time, the Soviet Union fell apart. For two years, Mila’s family faced extreme poverty and hardship. Mila recalls, “It was almost like the end of the world.”

At 15, seeking to be on her own, Mila opted to move out of her parents’ home and in with her sister, Sara, in the capital four hours away. When she enrolled in college, she started enjoying life, reasoning that if there was no God, then no one could judge her. “I did anything I wanted to. It was fun in the moment.”

The following year, Mila and Sara met Frank and Rose, Christar workers who were among some of the first foreign Christians to enter the country following the collapse of the USSR. Sara began serving as Rose’s language helper and before long both she and Mila were invited to an event at the couple’s home. Knowing Frank and Rose were Westerners, Mila attended as she wanted to start learning English.

As they talked, Rose offered Mila a small book, written in English. Excited to practice this new language, Mila took it home and began translating this simple children’s Bible using her small English dictionary. She began to understand what she was reading, and suddenly started learning not only English but the stories in the Bible as well. And, as she was able to comprehend the stories, she realized, “This book is talking about a God I’ve never heard of.”

When Rose invited Mila and Sara to a Bible study at her home, Mila accepted, seeing the study as a great opportunity to practice English—and, she was curious about the new religion she’d read about.  

After about seven months, Frank and Rose invited the sisters to church, and Mila started attending the Sunday morning services. “I completely fell in love with it the first time I went there,” she shares. “There was something so authentic about it. I didn’t know what it was, but there was something so special—something so serene and incredible, and I loved it.”

Frank sensed that Mila was drawn to what she was experiencing at the church and encouraged her, “This is not just our religion. If you want a relationship with God, you can have the same thing.” Mila, however, wasn’t ready—yet. To this point, religion had always left her deeply disappointed.

One morning not long after, Mila found herself trapped in the bathroom of her apartment after Sara accidently locked her in before heading out for the day. After several failed attempts to break out, she consoled herself with the assurance that her landlord’s husband, who used a room in the apartment as an art studio during the day, would soon arrive. But that day he didn’t show up.

Anxiety crept up as Mila realized she’d likely be confined to the bathroom until her sister returned. Spying the medicine cabinet her landlord, a doctor, kept in the room, she opened it and spotted a tiny bottle of poison. A deadly idea entered her mind: “I would take it and just be done with this life I was so fed up with,” Mila recalls. “I still didn’t have the kind of connection with God I was looking for. I’d done all I thought I could have done.”

Mila began considering how much of the poison to take and sat on the floor, trying to get comfortable in the steam-filled room. But then, all the things Frank had been telling her flooded into her mind: that his God could be her God, that she could have the relationship with God that she was looking for through Jesus and that she could tell God about her problems and He would help her.

She got on her knees and determined that if God indeed helped her, she’d follow Him. As she began to pray, “the whole room was filled with the coziest atmosphere I ever felt. I just melted onto the floor.” Through her tears, Mila asked God to forgive her for not believing and told Him that she wanted to have a relationship with Him. “It was completely out of this world. It’s something I will never forget.” When she finally got off the floor, Mila sensed a lightness in her soul like she’d never experienced before. “I felt like a feather, like the whole weight of the world was lifted off of me. Everything was so different. I felt like a brand-new person.”

After several more attempts, Mila finally got the bathroom door open. By then it was late afternoon, and as she stepped onto the balcony of the ninth-floor apartment, she was struck by the beauty she saw. “I used to go out there and get mad because the mountains block the view,” she says. But suddenly she couldn’t get enough of the landscape before her. “I’d never seen the sky and the mountains so beautiful. It was there the whole time, but I’d never seen it that way.”

When Sara got home, Mila explained what had happened and beckoned her sister to the balcony to witness the majesty of the mountains and sky. “At first she thought I’d lost my mind,” Mila recalls. Sara didn’t believe she’d been locked in the bathroom for hours but wasn’t mad. But, instead of anger, Mila was filled with joy. “Everything had flipped the other way around. Everything had changed.”

By God’s grace, Mila was the first in her family to place her faith in Christ. Later, after Frank and Rose moved to her parents’ hometown, her mother and father became believers as well.

In time, Mila moved to the United States to attend a Christian university, which helped her grow in faith and learn more about the God with whom she so desperately wanted a relationship. After she graduated, she stayed in the country, married and had children. However, while she had opportunities to be in ministry in her homeland, she hesitated as she thought she was too far away to make a difference.

As COVID-19 hit, Mila continued to hear about many back in Central Asia who were struggling, including her former neighbors and a close childhood friend. “Food is really an issue if things are shut down,” she explains. “People go into starvation mode.”

Though she tried to come up with excuses not to get involved, she sensed God pushing her: “Take the first step. You don’t have to do it all. I’ll do the rest.”

Mila sent a newsletter to her contacts asking for donations to help those in need in her homeland. “I’ve been so independent from an early age, and it was hard to go out on a limb and ask for help,” she shares. God worked through her willingness, as those on her mailing list responded by providing funds that she sent to Central Asia, allowing local churches to purchase food for struggling families.

Frank was among those who responded to that first newsletter. Mila and her husband had been supporting his ministry for several years, and Mila has kept in touch with him and Rose. When Frank gave her a call, Mila saw how she could not only support his work but be personally involved in it. He invited her to be part of the Persian Outreach Project, which would enable her to partner with churches in Central Asia on a larger scale.

“This is the result of your work,” Mila told Frank, recounting how much he and Rose had impacted her life and the lives of her parents. And, she shared with him how God has used the current pandemic to prompt her to action. “This virus has made me realize I have this freedom and relationship with God; but my friends and extended family don’t have that.”

In the months since becoming part of the Persian Outreach Project, Mila has been able to give two churches in her homeland the financial resources they need to reach out to numerous needy families in their communities. “Its’s been really good to help the local church make connections,” Mila shares. “Many churches [in my home country] don’t get much outside help. Local pastors are getting somewhat discouraged.” She explains that that when believers were asked to leave several years ago, the vast majority of Christians vacated the country. “Small churches ended up on their own. For them to grow, to continue to build the Church, they need outside help and encouragement.”

Through the Persian Outreach Project, Mila is helping to provide what these churches need to minister. “We’re bringing hope and helping them realize they’re not alone. … We want to build something long-term—a support system for them.”

Participate by Praying:

  • Praise God for His work in Mila’s life and the lives of other Persians who’ve heard the gospel through Christar workers.
  • Ask the Lord to provide abundantly for the Persian Outreach Project. A gift of $50 feeds a family of five to six for a month.
  • Pray that Central Asian churches will be encouraged and equipped to minister in their communities as they receive funds through this project.
  • Ask God to give wisdom to Mila as she juggles involvement in this project with a full-time job and raising two small children, and to guide her regarding how He wants her to serve Him in the future.

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