Kyle Wood’s first response when asked about his experience serving on a long-term Young Life Expedition in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over the summer of 2017…
“It was phenomenal! It was so sweet to be around the people I met—they were so much more welcoming than anything I’ve experienced, including in the States. It is such a family culture, and as soon as I stepped off the plane, they made me feel like one of the family.”
Arriving in June to a country he had only heard of when he heard about the internship, while speaking none of the languages of the area, was a big leap for Kyle. Expecting a lonely internship spent working for the Lord, all expectations were totally shattered within about thirty minutes of arriving. He was met by a joyful couple carrying balloons and enormous smiles. From there, Kyle was thrown headfirst into the action, growing close with the local team in the process. Throughout the summer he helped with a bicycle scavenger hunt, volunteer training at camp and served at Capernaum camps, sports camps, an English camp, hiking camp, and tent camp.
“So many kids met Jesus, and they are now in a position where their leaders can pour into them” – Kyle
Kyle’s experience with people with special needs was highly valued among the leader teams. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the Capernaum ministry is powerful and deeply needed—in these countries, kids and young adults with disabilities are isolated, marginalized, and have no other social support than that provided through Young Life.
“Kyle knew most everything about Capernaum camp,” said Sasha* (Capernaum director). “He had great Biblical foundations. Leaders would ask him questions and he had good ideas about teaching the Bible to special kids and volunteers. His experience was useful and very helpful. He talked a lot and was very good at doing everything that was asked of him.”
In Kyrgyzstan, Kyle spent most of his time with the Talas team and helped lead a hiking camp outside Bishkek. Talas is a very small, poor town in western Kyrgyzstan.
“Bishkek does amazing outreach to difficult areas, like to the remote regions of Kyrgyzstan and small towns with no outside communication, and some very poor Muslim areas,” Kyle said. “Many of the small towns and villages have a desire to do the work of Young Life and have a great desire to learn. I’d love to be a part of providing leader training with the Bishkek team in Talas next year would help the villages and small towns set up locals for success.
One of the most important ways Kyle served was through sharing knowledge and ministry experience, providing encouragement to the leader teams. “The leaders talked with me at length about spending time with Jesus and being poured into as they, in turn, pour into kids. In return, I learned more about community and family in my seven weeks there than I have in years in the States.” he said.
Sasha said, “Kyle was a great example of encouragement, and an example to the volunteers. He shared with them about techniques in the States for reaching kids. The volunteers were eager to hear about different ways to do contact work.”
With a predominately Muslim population in Kazakhstan, there has been an increase in Christian persecution, but our Young Life leaders are determined to grow the ministry to kids, especially the poor, orphans, and those with special needs. They offer mentoring, Christian fellowship, scholarships, and spiritual care where it’s most needed. The Young Life Training Center provides a place for leaders from all over Central Asia to meet, encourage, and support one another.
In Kyrgyzstan, ethnic conflicts, civil revolts, economic troubles, and transitional governments contribute to political instability, and human trafficking is a heavy concern. Young Life has been a stabilizing presence during these times of unrest, providing support and care at the Young Life Center in Bishkek. Young Life also has a presence in the schools providing mentoring, scholarships, and transitional housing for the many orphans in this region.
Despite all of this, Kyle felt safe and secure throughout his summer in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. “I felt very safe—there were no problems with customs and I had a leader with me at all times,” he said.
Kyle’s experience in Central Asia was much more than a summer mission trip. The things that were seen, the people that were met, and the cultures that were shared have led to lives changed around the world and kids reached for Jesus. These experiences will not only stay with Kyle but impact the lives of those around him, from the remote villages in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to his home in Tennessee.
“The ministry is awesome,” Kyle said. “YL Almaty [Kazakhstan] does team relationships better than any American area I’ve ever seen. There was a real sense of blessing and teaching one another and I returned home feeling truly changed by the experience – used by God through my service.”
The relationships between Kyle and the leader teams in Central Asia won’t soon be forgotten. “The kids loved him and called him Uncle Kyle,” said Sasha. “They considered him a family member. He was not a burden, but a blessing.”
*Name is changed to protect identity