Three Weeks in Siberia: Fulfilling the Great Commission
April 24, 2014
The temperature is a bit warmer on this February day—just 60 degrees below zero—as the convoy of three vehicles slogs over Yakutia’s icy expanse in search of the tribal worship center.
The snail’s pace progress is a lesson in patience. Creeping along at speeds varying from six to nine miles per hour, the group follows the twisting path of tire tracks that form at least the semblance of a road.
The drivers must keep a watchful eye out for potholes and cracks in the ice. The lead vehicle charts their course—veering occasionally to avoid ice dams jutting out of the patch of gray water.
But ice is their friend. While their expedition may be difficult now, this winter road will be impossible to cross in a few months when the thick floes start to melt and the river underneath returns.
That’s why time is of the essence for this mission expedition. During summer months many native villages and towns will be inaccessible except by boat or helicopter.
The contingent of 13 Russian and Ukrainian missionaries has come to the Irkutsk region to meet with and encourage their Siberian brothers and sisters who have opened several churches. These native ministers of the gospel, whose lives are characterized by isolation and a multitude of hardships, crave fellowship.
The gatherings also present opportunities to conduct planning sessions, as they seek God’s guidance in how best to spread His good news to the most remotely inhabited settlements of the Arctic.
‘God is showing His love for this land’
During their three week trip the group visited the communities of Vitim, Olekminsk, Lenski, Yakutsk, Mirny, Verkhnevilyuisk and Erbogachen. They attended evangelism events, music concerts, and a three-day conference that brought together ministers from all over the territory.
This group of Ukrainian and Russian ministry leaders and pastors made an expedition to Yakutia in February.
“We experienced the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit and saw how God is at work in this harsh land,” said one missionary leader. “Among the frost, ice, and snow, we were greeted by welcoming, sincere people who serve the Lord in local churches. And during these ministry meetings, we ourselves were spiritually renewed with a fresh sense of His infinite love and care.”
In the village of Verkhnevilyuisk, 40 people prayed to receive Christ after hearing a minister share the gospel at one of the evangelistic services. Most of these new converts are members of indigenous tribal groups that until recently have had little exposure to God’s Word.
Much unreached territory remains, however, and even among those groups that have interacted on a limited basis with Christians, there is a lack of understanding of who Jesus is and how to be saved.
Shamanism and the accompanying superstitions and occult practices associated with it still dominate many of these cultures.
One Russian ministry seeks to train and equip believers from each of the native groups so they can serve as missionaries to inhabitants of the northern region. Since they know the culture and can speak the language, these gospel workers are typically well received in the field and can quickly earn the trust of the people.
“Because of this great need, it is all the more gratifying to know that even now there are people willing to serve in these areas despite the difficult living conditions,” said the ministry leader.
One of these willing servants is Andrei, a pastor in a Siberian town of about 4,400 people. He welcomes guests and conducts worship services in his cozy, one-room house. A stove provides warmth in one corner of the 323 square feet living space; furniture fills up the rest.
The family uses imported water, paying 50 rubles for one barrel. Some villages don’t even have that luxury. They just haul in ice blocks cut from a nearby frozen river, store it in their yards, and melt it as needed.
A beacon for the gospel in a remote Siberia village
Prices are more than double what they cost outside of Yakutia, and some materials simply are unavailable for purchase anytime of the year.
There’s also the brutal, relentless cold, a lack of Internet service, and the scarcity of churches that can make for a very lonely existence.
“The list of challenges is long, but upon meeting us, Andrei happily talked about how he is doing, and what should be done to spread the gospel,” the leader said.
Plans were discussed to build another church in Andrei’s town later this year, as well as in other Yakutia communities.
The Ukrainian and Russian group returned home the end of February, after an eventful and ultimately very positive adventure. “Although there were breakdowns and tire punctures, our cars got stuck in snowdrifts on winter roads and in ice water at river crossings, but the goals that were set before the trip were achieved,” stated the Russian ministry leader.
“The churches are growing, people are learning more about God, and ministers are being raised up from among the local residents,” he said. “God is showing His love for this land. God bless Yakutia!”
From the two churches planted in Irkutsk in 1994, there are now dozens—at least one in every major town in the region. Christian Aid Mission also provides assistance for traveling evangelistic music teams, a missionary training school, and a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that has helped hundreds of people overcome their addictions and enjoy new freedom in Christ.