Introduction / History
The Kirgiz are a nomadic people who live on the western edge of China near the borders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They travel virtually all year round, herding their sheep and cattle through this mountainous territory. Only recently have the Kirgiz begun settling in communes for the winter seasons.
The Kirgiz became a distinct nationality in the 14th century. They settled in their present highland dwellings of northwestern China during the 15th century. Sandwiched between world super powers, Russia and China, the Kirgiz are a people striving to maintain their own, distinct ethnic identity.
Although the vast majority of the Kirgiz profess to be Muslim, much of their behavior is considered to be quite unorthodox.
The Kirgizian language belongs to the Turkic group, and is divided into two main dialects: northern and southern. The Kirgiz had their own script, Yensei, as early as the 8th century. Unfortunately, this script was later lost. Shortly after their conversion to the Islamic faith, however, the Kirgiz adopted a new script that was based on the Arabo-Persian alphabet.
What are their lives like?
Most of the Kirgiz are herdsmen who raise cattle, horses, sheep, camels, and goats. They live in white felt tents that are easily moved from place to place.
While the men take care of duties such as chopping wood or cutting grass, the women are responsible for milking, shearing, and grazing the animals. Women also take care of the household duties.
The Kirgiz eat mainly potatoes, onions and cabbage, since these are the only vegetables that can grow in this mountainous area. Goats supply them with their favorite drink: goat's milk. Their diet also includes imported products such as wheat, flour, rice, tea, salt and sugar.
Alcoholism is a serious problem that dominates the lives of many of the Kirgiz. It is not uncommon for some of them to go on drinking binges that last several days at a time.
Kirgizian marriages are arranged by the parents. A special gift, such as a roasted sheep, is presented to the bride-to-be from the groom as part of the courting process. One interesting tradition is that the engaged couple is tied to posts near the bride's family. They are released only after the groom's family begs for mercy and presents gifts to the bride's family. The couple is then married in a Muslim wedding ceremony.
What are their beliefs?
The Kirgiz claim to be a Muslim people; however, their roots in the Islamic faith do not run very deep. In fact, Islam was not accepted among the Kirgiz until about 100 years ago. This explains why Islamic tradition is not an integral part of Kirgizian culture. For example, they do not have their own mosques and are unfamiliar with most Muslim holidays. There is speculation that only a few of the Kirgiz even know the basic doctrines of Islam.
Although the majority of the Kirgiz are professing Muslims, they have continued their centuries-old practices of ancestor worship (praying to the spirits of their deceased ancestors). This is probably the best explanation as to why the Kirgiz people are not rigid Muslims.
What are their needs?
Communist domination and poor living conditions have made life very difficult for this nomadic people group. The Kirgiz are in desperate need of laborers who will teach them about Jesus.
Many of the Kirgizian people are trying to escape from their problems by turning to alcohol. They need to know that only Jesus can fill their lives with joy, peace, and hope.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle keeping us from reaching Kirgiz of China is the government's unwillingness to open its doors to missionaries. Furthermore, the nomadic lifestyle of the Kirgiz would make it extremely difficult for missionaries to locate the various clans and reach out to them.
Generations of spirit worship, coupled with their Islamic beliefs, have given the Kirgizian people a hopeless form of religion. God loves each of the precious Kirgiz living in China. He desires that they will be set free from the delusions of spirit worship and from the false hope of Islam, and come to know abundant life through His son, Jesus Christ. The tragic reality, however, is that the Kirgiz are unaware of the redeeming blood of Christ and that eternal life is theirs through Him.
* Pray that the doors to China will soon be opened to missionaries so that the Gospel can be preached freely to the Kirgiz.
* Pray that God will raise up laborers who are willing to reach the Kirgiz for Christ, no matter what the cost.
* Ask the Lord to deliver the many Kirgizians who wrestle with alcoholism.
* Pray for Christian literature to be made available in the language of the Kirgiz.
* Pray that strong local churches will be planted among the Kirgiz people.