Marlen Zharmenov grew up in the former Soviet Unionin the region now known as Kazakhstan. His name is a combination of two esteemed communist leaders, Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, so he was raised in a very secular culture, yet his father’s ancestors were devout Muslims who brought Islam to central Asia many centuries earlier. Marlen was an atheist but had decided if he did believe in God it would be Allah, the god his father and grandfather secretly worshipped.
When the Soviet Unioncrumbled in 1991, doors opened for Christian influence and Campus Crusade missionaries began visiting Soviet college campuses. Marlen wanted to meet them to learn what Americans are like and practice his English. The believers he met shared the gospel with him, explaining that Jesus Christ is God, lived a perfect life as a man, then died and rose again to offer complete forgiveness for sins—a message Marlen had never heard before. “I’m a Muslim. I believe in Allah. I believe in God. I pray to him sometimes, and this whole idea of Jesus Christ is really foreign to me,” he responded. They continued to befriend him as he contemplated what they had to say.
In the end, it was the gospel message itself that won him over: “Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, who was buried according to the scripture, but who was raised on the third day. … For someone like me, who never heard it, it was a powerful message. It was a message that gave a hope that my sins could be forgiven, and I could have eternal life if I put my faith in the Savior Jesus. I couldn’t resist that message. I just secretly prayed even though I had many questions. I had fears—what my relatives would think—but I trusted the Lord Jesus.”
“What happened after I put my faith in Christ was a lot more convincing to me because I’ve seen how my life began to change: I could, for the first time, read and understand the Bible … Jesus became such a great hero—great character … Lenin, Karl Marx, they can’t compare with the person of Jesus.”
Marlen’s prayers changed as well. “Praying to Allah was like praying to a distant God,” he explains, but praying to his Heavenly Father was quite a different experience. His understanding of what Christ had done for him made such an impact on Marlen that he couldn’t keep silent; he continued sharing the gospel message with others, and rather than pursuing his career track in college, he pursued full-time ministry.
After serving with Campus Crusade for over ten years, then as a leader in the Kazakhstanchurch, Marlen realized he needed to grow stronger and deeper in his faith in Christ so he applied to several seminaries. When Dallas Seminary responded with a generous scholarship, Marlen, His wife Assel, and their four children moved to Dallas so he could begin his studies at DTS. He graduated with both the M.A./CM (Cross Cultural Ministries) and the M.A.[BS] (Biblical Studies) degrees.
Marlen and Assel benefited richly from their time at DTS. During their time as students, he shared, “We’ve been replenished in our walk with the Lord. We learned so many things. We feel we have a great zeal now, have been strengthened, and desire to come back and serve the people of our country.”
The mission of Dallas Theological Seminary is to
glorify God by equipping godly servant-leaders
for the proclamation of His Word and the
building up of the body of Christ worldwide.