Anam Cara – Quiet Day – Living as a Christian across Cultures.
The Anam Cara Quiet day of the 16th June was held at St James Traralgon. People attended from many parishes across the western part of the Diocese. It was a joy to have Elmira and Thomas Arndt and their daughter of 22 months, Umuttai, with us for the day.
As well as worship and time for quiet meditation and prayer Elmira spoke to us about her own journey from living and growing up in a Moslem home to becoming a Christian and now living out her faith in Australia. Elmira was born in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. (We all needed to look at a map to see exactly where Kyrgyzstan really was!) She was born and raised in a village in Kyrgyzstan and went to University in a nearby city. She spent much time telling us of her country and its history and culture. In her country most people are Krygis, but there are also Uzbeks and Russians. In the city are people from Europe and America. Elmira spoke of the main religion which is Islam. She felt that Islam is mainly a cultural faith and many people do not pray 5 times a day or attend the mosque regularly. She has 5 siblings, three of her sisters have become Christians. Her parents and brothers are still Moslem. Elmira became a Christian through meeting other Christians at University. She said she was amazed at the change in her closest friend when she became a Christian. She had been a person who had been very fearful of life and of the future. Once she became a Christian she lost all fear and lived her life in trust. She spoke of being told of Jesus and of her growing relationship with him. She is aware of how different this is for many Moslems. They do not know God in the sense of having a relationship with him.
Elmira shared with us her parent’s deep concern that when she became a Christian she would be shut out of her community and becoming a Christian would dishonour her family. She told us of the overwhelming importance of community in Kyrgyzstan. She said some Christian girls had been married off to Moslem men to “cure” them of their Christianity. In Kyrgyzstan people speak openly of their faith and they would ask her, “Are you a Christian?” “What do you believe?’ They would also ask if Christians have orgies and eat children. (These were some of the questions faced by the Early Christians) There is much misunderstanding and distrust between the Moslem and Christian communities in Kyrgyzstan.
Elmira herself worked for many years for an NGO working to increase understanding and break down barriers between the Christian Church and the general community. Islam is becoming stronger in Kyrgyzstan. She is aware of increasing danger of persecution for Christians in her country. She has now married a German who works in Melbourne. We talked about expressing faith in language. Thomas and Elmira speak Russian together. Elmira speaks Kyrgys to Umuttai. Thomas speaks German to Umuttai. Elmira reads her Bible in Russian and Kyrgys. Living in Australia they are surrounded by English and both Thomas and Elmira speak perfect English!
We asked Elmira how she finds the church in Australia. For her living out her faith, is living in caring community. She said she finds that the church she and Thomas attend, has many young families. She appreciates the Bible Study groups and the playgroup she attends. However the parents are so involved in work and immediate family activities that the building up of a truly supportive community of believers is not possible.
Elmira’s openness in sharing her life as a Christian with us was both inspiring and challenging. During lunch Elmira shared some photos from her country. Her country is still largely an agricultural country. The irregularity of power supply, the corrupt medical services and the lack of Internet access were just a few things which told us of how different her life in Kyrgyzstan had been to our lives in Australia. During our quiet times we had much to think about and pray about.