Stories From Ukraine | Meet Guljahan
Stories aren’t just found in a good book, they’re hidden behind the eyes of the person right in front of you. They have flesh, they have feelings, and they have a name.
But are we willing to listen?
When we hear a story that moves us, we are inspired to do the same. Stories give to us the gift of understanding someone’s beginnings and struggles. They have within them the power to move us from being overcome to overcomers. And they remind us that we’re not alone.
Over the next several days I plan to share a few stories from friends that opened up their lives to me while I offered a listening ear and willing heart. My hope is that you’ll take the time to read, share, and consider slowing down the pace of your life to listen to the stories of the people around you today.
When I first met Guljahan she kindly helped me pronounce her name (gull-ja-HAN) and explained to me that the meaning of her name in English is “flower of the world”. I found this name to be fitting for her as she described her story to me while sitting around a campfire.
Guljahan was born in Turkmenistan, a country formerly part of the Soviet Union. During the year of her birth, Turkmenistan declared its independence from the Soviet Union just a few months before its total dissolve. Turkmenistan is the world’s 52nd-largest country and is slightly smaller than Spain and somewhat larger than the state of California. Guljahan told me that she grew up in a non-religious home and had not been familiar with Christianity as a child. She stated that Turkmenistan is a Muslim country with roughly 90% of the population following the practice of Islam. In school there were religious classes held with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur’an and the hadith, and the history of Islam. Although she was surrounded by Muslim teachings and practices Guljahan’s family never professed the faith. Guljahan did remember her parents observing Ramadan, but she said that her mother participated because the fasting helped her lose weight!
Around 2013 Guljahan’s sister and brother moved to Kiev to study and gain an education. Her sister needed money to make ends meet and was able to find employment after searching for some time. Unbeknownst to her the man that hired her sister was a Christian and began sharing his faith with Guljahan’s sister. It wasn’t long before Guljahan’s sister accepted Jesus Christ and later married the man that introduced her to the faith. This concerned the family, especially Guljahan and her brother, because they feared it was a sect and that her sister might be harmed. Eventually Guljahan let her anger go and even remembered praying, just not to a God of any specific name.
While visiting her sister in Kiev, Guljahan’s sister bought her a book called, “New Life”. After reading it she felt an overwhelming peace. She and her father began reading and investigating the bible to find out what it was all about. It was shortly after this that Guljahan and her father accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and began proclaiming their faith with others. While in Turkmenistan they had to find a home church because they were unable to publicly worship without the risk of persecution and the possibility of losing their jobs. On one occasion, while Guljahan’s father was coming home from visiting Guljahan’s sister in Kiev, he was arrested while in customs for carrying his bible. He was released after paying a $300 bribe and because of the favor he had with some influential friends.
Guljahan now lives in Kiev to avoid the unrest and potential persecution that she would encounter while living in Turkmenistan as a Christian. She doesn’t see her father and mother often, but speaks to them almost daily. She is currently helping minister to orphans and practicing her Christian faith openly at New Life Church in Kiev.
November 16, 2017
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