At the recent 2023 Year-End Meeting of the Southern Asia-Pacific Division (SSD) in the Philippines, Felixian Felicitas, regional Mission Refocus director, presented the Abonales family as missionaries to Tajikistan. Joel Abonales and his family responded to the call to be missionaries and plant a new church in Tajikistan with help from the Euro-Asia Division (ESD). The Adventist Church’s Mission Refocus project supports the effort to plant churches to spread the gospel in this region.
Pavel Zubkov, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies (AIIAS) professor and representative of the ESD’s Southern Union Mission, offered a special prayer of dedication for the Abonales family and other Mission Refocus missionaries who accepted the call to be missionaries to various countries around the world.
The Development of Adventism in Tajikistan
A landlocked country in Central Asia, Tajikistan (officially the Republic of Tajikistan) is home to almost 10 million people. Islam is the state religion, and 96.4 percent of the population considered themselves to be Muslim in 2020. Only 1.8 percent identified as Christian.
In 1929, the first Seventh-day Adventists, Ivan and Vasiliy Kozminin, embarked on a mission to Tajikistan, where they introduced the Adventist faith to the local people. The 1930s saw the arrival of exiled German Adventists, who played a pivotal role in organizing the first Adventist congregation in the region. Subsequently, Russian Adventists, such as Pavel Zhukov and Vasiliy Borisov, who had been exiled from Transcaucasia, joined the community. Their collective efforts, resilience, and commitment laid the foundation for a thriving Adventist presence in Tajikistan, fostering a lasting legacy of faith and community in Central Asia.
Seventh-day Adventists in Tajikistan are recognized as a legal religious community. They own four churches in the cities of Hisor, Khujand, Tursunzade, and in the capital city of Dushanbe. About 4,000 religious organizations, including 67 that are not Islamic, are officially recognized by the Committee on Religion in Tajikistan.
The Abonales Family: Missionaries with a Cause
Joel Abonales Jr., 35, has been a pastor in the Central Luzon Conference since 2013. His wife, Zhienna Abonales, 31, works as an operating room nurse at the Adventist Medical Center Manila. The couple’s daughter, Sky, is 7. Joel Abonales is currently the pastor of a local church in Pasay City and hosts an evangelism-focused web show.
This year at the Central Luzon Conference, Abonales attended one of the professional growth meetings where the Mission Refocus program was first discussed. He returned home and shared his dream of participating with Zhienna and she wholeheartedly accepted the vision. “We don’t know what the future holds, but there is currently a call to engage in missionary work abroad, and my family is prepared to embrace this responsibility,” Abonales said.
Zhienna Abonales explained, “When I was younger, I wanted to become a missionary, but my parents weren’t supportive of the idea. As a pastor’s wife, upon learning about my husband’s decision, that dream sparked inside me, and I joyfully embraced the mission, supporting my husband in this quest.”
In the early stages of Joel’s pastorship, he established a new Adventist congregation in the Central Luzon region. He has an appreciation for the difficulty of starting a church from scratch without any help from the local community and described the experience as one of “complete surrender and prayer.” The church grew steadily over several months, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer to spread the gospel in their community.
“It was a challenging journey, but witnessing a church grow from its inception is truly inspiring,” Abonales said. “I intend to take this knowledge with me to Tajikistan. Our goal has not changed, even if we are moving to a new community with a new language and platform. We’re thrilled to have this opportunity.”
The Adventist mission within the 10/40 Window — the most populated region of the world but where Christians are a minority — aims to establish self-sustaining Seventh-day Adventist groups in every country with no prior Adventist presence. This strategic effort focuses on reaching unreached regions by building local communities of faith, empowering local leadership, and emphasizing evangelism and discipleship. The goal is to introduce people to the Adventist faith, nurture their spiritual growth, and equip them to share their beliefs with others, ensuring a lasting and culturally relevant presence in the 10/40 Window, leaders said.
The Abonales family is just one of many missionary families who responded to the call of mission to other places. This is in line with the worldwide church’s Total Member Involvement initiative, which encourages every Adventist member to take part in some type of mission or service.