In a plain single-story house in a northeastern suburb of Almaty, Pastor Vasiliy Shegay brings his flock of about 50 followers to their feet in song and prayer on a late Sunday morning. An ethnic Korean from Uzbekistan, Shegay says he left his birthplace for Shymkent, Kazakhstan, seven years ago and later moved to Almaty, where he is pastor of the Sun Bok Ym Pentecostal Church.
The church has a congregation of around 80. Members are mostly ethnic Koreans, but include about a dozen ethnic Russians and a few ethnic Kazakhs. The church belongs to one of the 17 recognized faiths in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan adopted a controversial new religion law in October 2011 that gave all religious groups a year to re-register under stringent new criteria. The deadline passed last month; one-third of religious associations in Kazakhstan did not manage to meet the strict standards. They now face closure, but pastor Shegay and his congregation are relieved that their church managed to register and will remain open for worship.
Between prayers and stories in Russian delivered by several evangelical members, Shegay’s sermon elicits shouts of Amen and Hallelujah from the faithful in the simple single-room church. Touching the heads of the children and teens, the pastor delivers a special blessing and then finishes his passionate, eyes-closed oration by talking in tongues.
Following the two-hour service, sacks filled with eight large heads of cabbage are handed out to the poor and elderly in front of the church, while others gather inside a dining room for cups of steaming black tea, cuts of bread topped with sliced sausage, and Kazakh sweets.
Dean C.K. Cox is the photo editor for EurasiaNet.