Natalia's story: Faith in Central Asia

Gina Grate Pottenger
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Natalia* held her 6-year-old, Sergey*, in her arms as he was dying. Suffering from severe asthma, he had seen many doctors who had been unable to help. The medicines they prescribed did not work. During this most severe attack, the family called an ambulance, but in their city in Central Asia it takes several hours for paramedics to arrive.
 
The boy struggled for each breath until he could breathe no more. He went still. Natalia’s mother cried out, “He’s already dead! He’s already dead!”  Natalia held the boy close and prayed for God to save him while they waited in agony for medical help to come.
 
“I said to God, ‘You promised my children would be good! You promised me my legacy would be good! You promised that!’”
 
Image After 15 to 20 minutes, the boy suddenly took a breath. Then another. He began breathing again. The two women were astonished.
 
The paramedics arrived and took them to the hospital. Sergey was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The family knew this spelled the end for Sergey. She called her aunt Anna*, who had been the first to tell her family about Jesus.
 
“[Anna] said, ‘Don’t give up, just pray, and we will pray, too.’”
 
So the family prayed for a miracle.
 
The doctors at the hospital took blood and ran tests. The next day, they gathered Natalia and her mother, Elena*, and told them the news: the tuberculosis was gone. The boy was healed.
 
Although Natalia and her mother had been attending a Nazarene gathering for a number of years, it was at this moment she had the revelation: “I understood God is life and He is working in my life. I understood that no one could help me, not doctors, not parents, only God.”
 
She decided then to fully commit her life to Jesus, despite the fact that her family came from another faith background.
 
Natalia did not have a happy marriage. Her husband, who was still a nominal believer in the culture’s dominant faith, was furious with Natalia for believing Jesus was God. One day when he was drunk, he threatened to kill her and their two children. Natalia and the missionaries and Christian family members prayed and fasted for God’s miracle in her family. Her husband then divorced her.
 
Soon, her mother made the decision to be baptized. Natalia didn’t really understand what this meant, so she was not interested in the sacrament for herself. But her mother didn’t want to be baptized alone, so Natalia agreed to be baptized, too, in support of her mother. From the age of 13, Natalia had been a smoker. She had tried many times to quit, yet had been unable. But when she was baptized, now 34 years old, God set her free from addiction to tobacco.
 
Image“For me that was a miracle because I couldn’t do that by my own power.”
 
When the missionaries who had planted the group of believers left the country, Natalia’s mother was asked to be the pastor. Her mother delegated many roles in the group to Natalia, such as teaching Sunday school, leading the youth group and a house group. The two women struggled to lead because there was no one locally to mentor or train them. Natalia felt it was her duty to fulfill this leadership role, but it was a bewildering responsibility.
 
In 2007, the group sent her to the city where she had grown up to plant a new group of believers. She had many extended relatives and classmates there. God allowed a small group of faithful believers to form there, which is still meeting today.
 
Because of health problems, Natalia moved back to the city and group that her mother pastors. Natalia was also named pastor. Her son, Sergey, is now 20 and studying in the university. He is the youth group leader, preaches, and also shares about Jesus with friends from other faiths.
 
As one of the few Nazarene pastors in her country, Natalia still struggles with the responsibility.
 
“We are weak and sometimes we need just some help,” she said. “To share our feelings with someone, this is very difficult. I feel alone. I have to help other people, I have to show them the right way, I have to do a lot of work, but sometimes I think, ‘Who can help me? Who can show me the right way?’”Image
 
Today, Natalia’s dream is for the Nazarenes in her country to receive further leadership development, discipleship training, and to learn how to share their faith and preach effectively – because she knows it’s very difficult to be God’s people and to lead without knowledge and training.
 
For now, she sees God as her teacher.
 
*Names changed for security reasons.