The cold and dull aches fill my tired bones. The flimsy tent in which I have just awoken has thankfully kept my family safe the previous night from the passing storms. Even at 4 a.m., the sky is already bright, and the sun is about to show its first warming rays.
I am here with my husband, Tim, and our young boys, Steven and Jonathan. Our boys are still sleeping soundly next to me, their breathing very deep and regular. Tim’s arm is still protectively heavy around my waist. I snuggle up closer, hoping to catch some more of his body heat.
We live in our house 3 kilometers out of the booming oil city of Krasnoyarsk. It is our base from where Tim takes his trips to the people groups. And sometimes, we get to go with him.
The Road to Pasechnoe
Tonight we’ve pitched our tent in Tatyana and Alexander’s yard. Alexander is the head of the Chulym people group. He and Tatyana met some 40 years ago, when she was sent by the Soviet government to teach the Chulym children in the local school. She had known nobody here in this isolated village of Pasechnoe. Together they have had four sons.
The mighty Chulym River often overflows its banks, claiming anything in its path. The single-lane dirt road leading to Pasechnoe is often washed away by the rains and the village is then completely cut off from the rest of the world. The villagers need an open road at all times leading to life.
Seeing no future for themselves, many young people in village Siberia find comfort in vodka. Some will comfort themselves to death. Last year, Tatyana’s youngest son committed suicide. He felt he had no hope of a future and wanted out.
I wish I could shout to the civilized world in the West what darkness these needy people live in, and maybe someone will hear the call, be bold, leave all and come help the Chulym find the light, the joy of living in Jesus Christ. This place at the end of the world definitely needs a reason to hope, a road to life.
The Red Book of Endangered Languages
Because of its shape and yearly tide-like behavior, the Chulym River leaves behind thousands of lakes all around with indigenous fish only found in this area. It was because of the excellent fishing that the Chulym settled here, according to their legends, a long time ago after migrating from the mountains of Turkey after a great worldwide flood.
They have learned to live from the very rich fishing and abundant berries found in the woods. They still today make their own handmade nets, and their boats are carved out from big log trees.
Today, the Chulym people group are considered almost extinct. They are dying out, with only 300 Chulym on this side of the river. There are more on the other side, but still, they are in the Red Book of endangered languages. They believe that the next generation will not have any Chulym left.
Alexander was sharing last night with us around a fire about how there are only a handful of the older generation who actually still speak their language. The younger generation, under constant pressure from the government, have adopted the Russian lifestyle and language. Most heartbreaking for me is the fact that there are no known believers among them, not even nominal believers.
They Would Describe Themselves as Shamanists
They believe in a Creator God, but he is so far removed from their daily lives that they cannot have fellowship with him. Yet the spiritual world around them is very powerful and demands to be reckoned with. Very often you can see them offering sacrifices to appease the spirits.
Nevertheless, ever since Tim contacted them two years ago and made his first trip up here, Alexander has shown a great openness to God’s message. Alexander has agreed to help us translate the Gospel message into his language, so that we can record it and distribute copies to all the Chulym. Alexander wants to save his language, and at least have it recorded. He wants future generations to remember that there was a Chulym people group and a Chulym language.
By God’s providence and orchestrating, a former student of Tim’s is now working on her PhD with the Chulym people. Her job is to give the Chulym language a written form. She has developed an alphabet for them and today Alexander is able to write the Gospel story in his own language. This will be the first document ever written in his language.
I remember how Alexander’s eyes gleamed with gladness when he realized that the Creator of the world had not forgotten him and his little struggling people group. I feel that it is just a matter of time before Alexander, the chief of the Chulym will become my brother in Christ. What joy it will be in heaven, when he will be worshiping next to me and praising God in his own language! Hopefully many more Chulym will follow his example.
The Eternal Things, The Real Things
It is not easy to live in a foreign country. It is actually heart-wrenching every time we say ‘good-bye’ to our parents at the airport in Chicago. And oh how I miss the comforts of ‘back home’! But who would have told Alexander about Jesus, had we not obeyed God’s call of leaving all and following him?
There are around 40 people groups in Siberia, who have been neglected and forgotten. We want to give them a chance to hear the Good News, by going there and making recordings of the Good News in every language of Siberia. Our vision is to see a multiplying indigenous church in every nation of Siberia.
Will we have time? We have been to seven different groups and have seen the mighty hand of God do miracles as we interacted with various people. God has been faithful over the years. But both Tim and I are starting to feel our age.
How long can we continue to do this? What will we do, when the boys are college age? Where should we be? What should we be doing? Is this all for nothing? I feel sneaky thoughts of darkness roll into my head like steady waves. “This is impossible. We are wasting our lives here. Nobody cares about the Chulym.”
Doubt, self-pity, jealousy, even anger can rip me apart in seconds. After many years of fighting this temptation, I know that my answer is to turn my eyes away from those ‘giants’, and back to the Lord. I need to reign in my bucking thoughts, and not let them go wild. I need to focus all my attention right now on the truth—no, on Truth himself.
Look unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God....consider him, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews, chapter 12
Slowly, as I struggle to focus on the real things, the eternal things, I feel my mind coming to peace again. God is here, with me in this shaky tent. God, Abba, will never leave me nor forsake me. I don’t need to worry about the future. All I need to do is to walk with Him today.
I clearly remember that day when Brother Andrew came to our church in Switzerland in 1984, and shared about how he had smuggled Bibles into the Soviet Union. I remember being very surprised that some people in the world didn’t have the Word of God when we had more than one translation available in our pews.
I was even more amazed at all the miracles God performed through Brother Andrew in order to get those Bibles into the hands of believers behind the Iron Curtain. I realized that God’s heart was to reach the lost. He does not want one soul to perish, but he wants all to be saved. That is God’s heartbeat. That is what he was calling me to do with my life. And I simply said “Yes, Lord.”
Nothing else compares to aligning my life to the will of God. And for me, since that day, it was and has always been Siberia. I read every book I could get on Russia, on communism, on the activities of the persecuted church. Nothing could deter me from doing what God had called me to do.
St. Petersburg, 1993
During college Tim started to pray with some other guys in his InterVarsity chapter about the possibility of going to Russia. There were rumors that the Russian students were flooding into churches and Bible studies were springing up all over Russia. InterVarsity was going in, and was looking for young men and women willing to be staff for one year, to share the Good News with these hungry souls just coming out from the Iron Curtain.
Tim, with two other friends from his InterVarsity group, committed to one year in St. Petersburg in 1993. They went with much faith that God would do wonderful things. And they were not disappointed. Every dorm room they visited, every door they knocked on, was opened. Many were hearing for the first time about their sin and the Savior. They were hungry for Truth, and many found him, the Bread of Life.
That is When We Met
In the middle of the school year, all InterVarsity staff would gather together from all areas of Russia for encouragement, teaching and prayer. The first time I saw Tim, I fell in love with his deep faith and pure love for the Lord. Then as time went on, I got to know the man behind the missionary. He was compassionate and strong.
I remember the day when he shared about how he met these two Siberian students from the Mansi people group, how they had gotten saved, and then were being sent back to Siberia with Bibles for their own people. He was so excited that not only was he sharing the Good News with students, but he was sharing the Good News with whole unreached nations, about which the world knows very little.
God was starting his work in both our lives, drawing us to the most needy, the most persecuted and forgotten in Russia: the native people groups in Siberia. “Who will go and tell them?” “Here I am Lord, send me,” was Tim’s answer.
So here we are almost twenty years down the road, in this wet tent, spending the night with howling wolves, possibly bears and definitely mosquitoes. God’s love constrains us to give up all and follow him.
We pray that God will send some young people who will be willing and have the courage to take up the baton from us. This is my prayer today from the middle of nowhere in Siberia, that God would send out more workers, for the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few.