Astana (©Ansa/Igor Kovalenko)

Kazakhstan: "But who are you?"

A work trip to Astana and Almaty, meeting the CL community there. And the surprise of Bettina’s colleagues at her way of being and her friendships.

When I am abroad for work, I try to visit local communities. In Doha, Qatar, I met Sara and Chiara. When I told them that I was going to Kazakhstan, I asked if they knew anyone there and immediately got Silvia's contact details. She wrote to me, "I am sending you Ramziya's number in Astana. Write to her!" So I did. She immediately wrote back, "Let’s meet at the English Mass on Sunday at the cathedral." I went there, crossing the cold, windswept city in a taxi. The church was small and there are many worshippers from different backgrounds. After the mass was over, I heard, "That is where you've been! Hi, I'm Ramziya, get in the car we are going to dinner." We were an incredible table, so many people including Ramziya's friends and Fr. Edo Canetta, who had come from Milan for the Pope’s visit. I realized that Kazakhs have a heart full of questions and desires, which they are not afraid to show. After dinner, I was going to call a taxi but they want to walk with me.

Monday came and I went out to dinner with three people from our partner company. We talked about work, then about kurt (a traditional Kazakh cheese) and so I asked them if they know its history, like that of the Kazakhs and the deported women in the Karaganda women's gulags. Their spirits immediately awakened. We talked about life, war; I told them about the Ukrainian refugees whom I had helped and taken in along with my colleagues and friends in the movement, but also about my dear friends in Moscow. Then came the question, "But who are you? We have been together all day, you listen to everyone, you look at everyone, you take an interest, you know things, you come here and you meet people you have never seen that you call friends." I told them about the adventure of Christianity that makes my heart vibrate, and I told them that I was sorry that I could not go to see the Pope in Astana as I was moving to Almaty. They looked at me and two of them said, "I am Muslim from tradition and I do not know anything, but I want to go to the Pope's mass." I replied that the registration had closed, but I put them in direct contact with Ramziya and I left.

Read also - The Pope in Kazakhstan: the story of Aset

In Almaty I met a young colleague who is very active on social media for the first time. While I worked, I could see her taking videos and photos. We had lunch together and out of the blue she asked me, "But who are you?" I looked at her strangely and she showed me her Instagram profile where she had posted videos and photos of me at work and a very close friend of hers in Astana had written to her, "How do you know Bettina? She is my friend." He was one of the people who had been at the dinner in Astana. She then said to me: "I know Ramziya's friends, we used to work together, they always told me about this group, about Silvia from Almaty, about camping together... Who are you? Why are you like this? Can you have tattoos and be Christians? I want to contact them, can you give me their numbers?"

I believe that the Lord takes great pleasure in turning the tables and transforming a tiny encounter into something immensely big. The clear presence of One that makes everything new.

Bettina, Milan, Italy