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For many, Siberia brings to mind pictures of frozen waste lands and concentration camps for political and religious dissidents, but there is much more to Siberia than this. More than the frozen tundra, Siberia is covered with vast coniferous forest, and certainly more than the concentration camps, Siberia is dotted with dozens of different ethnic and linguistic groups; some very small and others numbering in the millions. Some are Muslim, others Buddhist, Shamanist or Christian, but in most, the evangelical Christian witness is very small.
The team is made up of one GRN family from the West, another western family (non-GRN), a local couple and a local man who will be getting married next month. Its members are scattered over a wide area but one in heart and mind.
Recordings have been made in several languages including: Yakut, Buryat, Tuvan and Nanai. Plans are being developed to record in several more languages in the year ahead. These may include, Altai, Khakass, Evenki and others.
A, one of the recordists, was surprised to find a handful of Nanai believers in a small village on the Amure River in the far east. He wrote this:
Elena told me that 11 years ago she had tuberculosis and was in the hospital in Khabarovsk (300km away from her village). There she heard about Jesus, and with joy gave God her life. After that God completely healed her. She returned to her village and told people about Christ. After a little while a small church was formed. Today there are believers from every generation in that village. I recorded 20 testimonies. There are other villages around them that do not have a church. I believe that these recordings will pave the way for God to move in their midst. I thank God for your prayers for the Nanais. I thank God for the opportunity I have had to witness first hand the work of God in such a far away place. It is a privilege to serve God.
Getting the recordings out is a challenge in this vast and sometimes inhospitable land. This is an account of some intrepid local believers, determined to make the Good News known to Yakuts and Russians in the frozen north west of Siberia - inside the Arctic Circle! They are not a GRN team but took some of our recordings to distribute and use along the way.
L and four other pastors headed off in a double cab truck loaded with petrol, food, water and Christian literature. There would be nowhere along the way to replenish supplies. One of the pastors was a mechanic - just as well in view of the doubtful reliability of the truck!
They travelled more than 7,000 kms on frozen rivers, icy roads and snowy tracks and visited 18 villages. In 12 of these there were no believers. All together about 236 adults and 130 children heard the Gospel for the first time in their lives. About 50 believers were encouraged by the visit of the group.
330 New Testaments and GRN recordings in the Yakutian language were distributed to people who came to the meetings, and also to local government leaders. In most of the places people were really welcoming and listened to the gospel with much interest.
The truck did break down a few times but they were able to fix it!
GRN personnel in Siberia are part of a network of local and expatriate people who share a common goal - to make the truth of Jesus Christ known in every Siberian nation in its heart language. That's about 32 language groups. They aim to do this by
- Recording messages of salvation in the heart languages of the people;
- Distributing the recordings to as many as possible through partnerships with Russian churches, missionaries, and others; and
- Training national missionaries and church planters to continue this ministry among the unreached of Siberia, and beyond to other unreached peoples of the former Soviet Union.
Recordings in Russian can be useful, but the heart language is so important for evangelism as this testimony of a former Muslim believer makes clear.
I went to study at the University in Tomsk, Russia. I became friends with a missionary in the student Christian movement. I still had never heard the story of Isa in my own heart language of Tatar. One day this missionary gave me a tape with stories of Allah and Isa Masih in the Tatar language. The content of the stories were very well done, culturally sensitive and accurate.
Again I experienced a moment that is hard to explain. I could not stop the tears as I wondered how much easier it would have been to know that Isa Masih was my God if I had heard the gospel in my own language from the beginning.
Recordings still need to be made in many Siberian languages, so that everyone can hear the good news of Jesus Christ in their heart language.
Pray for people and resources to do this work. Most importantly pray that God's spirit will be poured out on the unreached people groups of Siberia, and for a great 'harvest' for the Kingdom of God.