Faith connects US, Kyrgyz pastors

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore
  • 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The simple thought, "What can I do at my level," led the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing chaplain to a Bishkek church to start a religious exchange program.

One of the four mission pillars of the Transit Center is to build relationships, and after contemplating how he could do this, Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Steven Thompson decided to reach out to his Kyrgyz Republic brethren.

He asked a few of the translators at the Transit Center if there was a Baptist church in town. They did some research and found one. So one Sunday, Thompson, Master Sgt. James Iaun, the superintendent of chapel operations, and a translator showed up for a service.

"We were greeted very well," Thompson said. "They asked where we were from, and then they asked me to address everyone and say hello, so I did. It was really nice."

The church pastor, Anton Berdnikov, asked Thompson if he would come back to give a sermon. Thompson agreed and offered the same opportunity to Berdnikov.

"When I preached at their church I shared a kind of bold message," Thompson said. "I told them I needed to begin by apologizing to them and their eyes got big."

Thompson shared a story from his youth with the congregation. As a child he grew up near Norfolk, Va., where the Navy docked its East Coast fleet. When he was in elementary school, every two weeks his class would practice nuclear bomb drills.

"We were sure the Soviet Union was going to blow up that whole place," he said. "We would turn our little desks over and put them next to the window and get ready for nuclear bombs. I never met an American who really wanted to blow up anybody in the Soviet Union and in talking to people my age here, I have not met anyone who wanted to blow up someone in America."

After Thompson shared this story he found out people here were doing the same thing.

"In my sermon I stressed that we grew up believing lies about each other," he said. "The truth is we were brothers and sisters in Christ, we were really never enemies. I had many people come up to me afterward and say 'I always thought the same thing'. It was really a neat exchange, and I think it brought down a lot of barriers."

When Berdnikov came to the Transit Center to preach, he brought his family and some of their close friends.

"He preached a message on love and the importance of loving one another," Thompson said. "Anybody could have taken his message and preached it in an American church."

After the service, Thompson took Berdnikov and his family on a tour of the Transit Center. The family received a tour of a KC-135 Stratotanker, visited a few offices around the installation and talked with Kyrgyz employees.

"I think they were surprised by the openness," Thompson said. "They were very excited about that. I think they were overwhelmed by the transparency -- I don't think it was anything like it he thought it would be."

The exchange will continue when the Transit Center Gospel Choir performs at the Bishkek church. Tech. Sgt. Shuana Flowers, the choir director and an 376th Expeditionary Medical Group emergency medical technician, is coordinating the upcoming performance.

"I'm excited about this experience; it is different than anything I have done here," Flowers said. "I'm looking forward to meeting people at the service and seeing how they worship."

Thompson said he received an email from Berdnikov thanking him for the opportunity to preach at the Transit Center.

"Many thanks for the invitation; it was a surprising experience," Berdnikov said in the letter. "Thank you for your big heart, you have set an example of hospitality and fraternal love. We impatiently wait for your chorus (to visit our church)."