Most of the people in the former Soviet Union live west of the Ural Mountains. Accordingly, most of the Christian ministry is there, too. But Siberia, a word that evokes exile and expanse, is hardly empty. Yakutia, for example, Russia's largest autonomous region, located in eastern Siberia, is home to a million people. Some 800 cities and towns are sprinkled along its rivers, the only means of surface transportation for most of the region. Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East (RFE), boast over 600,000 people each. (Although there is no clear-cut consensus on terminology, I will use RFE to refer to the regions immediately bordering the Pacific Ocean, and Siberia for everything else west to the Urals.) Even Providenya, far out on the bleak Arctic shore where Russia and Alaska nearly touch, is home to 6,000 people. Current population statistics on Siberia and the RFE are elusive, but they almost certainly have outgrown a 1979 figure of 36.8 million.
Space does not allow for fair exposure to all the ministry happenings in this part of the world. In Novosibirsk and its surrounding area alone, at least 12 agencies or churches have active ministries: Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), Calvary Chapel of Moscow, CIS Baptist Mission (Southern Baptists), Evangelical Lutheran Ministries, Every Home for Christ, International Institute for Christian Studies, Operation Mobilization, Grace Brethren, New Life (Campus Crusade), Scripture Union, The Alliance for Saturation Church Planting*, and Navigators. Rather than attempting to treat such a plethora, this article will attempt to give a picture of what is happening in eastern Siberia (east of Irkutsk) and the RFE. Although attempts were made to uncover any significant ministry in this vast region, no doubt some worthy efforts have been missed, for which the writer wishes to express his regret.
Siberia and Alaska are often referred to as divided twins, given their many similarities. Such similarities include people groups and common interests, and both are home to significant outreach ministries. Wycliffe Bible translators David and Mitzi Shinen have lived on Alaska's St. Lawrence Island, 38 miles from Russia, since 1959. They are in the final revision of a New Testament in the Siberian Yupik Eskimo language. The 2,500 Siberian Yupik Eskimos are more or less evenly divided between Alaska and Russia, and when perestroika ended 70 years of enforced separation, families immediately began to visit each other. Years of gospel radio broadcasts and language preparation meant that the Shinens were able to capitalize on the new openness. Today a small group of Eskimo believers is meeting in Sireniki on the Russian coast.
Another effort is the Chukotka Native Christian Ministries (CNCM). Wycliffe Bible Translators and five denominations (the Alaska Moravian Church, the Presbytery of Yukon-Presbyterian, the United Methodist Church in Alaska, the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Alaska) make up CNCM. It supports outreach ministry to the RFE in two ways: by underwriting the cost of native Alaskan missionaries who are Siberian Yupik Eskimos by ethnic background, and by supporting the work in Chukotka until these congregations and fellowships become self-supporting. Alaska's proximity to Russia has given rise to other significant outreach ministries. Lake Clark Bible Church at Port Alsworth, in a remote area of Alaska's wilderness approximately 160 miles west of Anchorage, has organized 22 trips into Providenya, taking 150 team members in and bringing more than 120 Russian visitors out, all by small aircraft. The exchange groups have included businessmen, families, school administrators, performing artists, orphans, and a variety of teen groups.
Two missionary agencies with a long history of Alaska ministry, SEND International and InterAct Ministries, have crossed the Pacific to conduct various outreach and equipping activities in Siberia and the RFE. SEND's RFE ministry is completely within the sphere of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB). Its resident church-planting couple in Providenya is serving with a Russian co-worker, in line with its policy to minister only in conjunction with the Baptist Union. SEND's primary ministry in the RFE is the Far Eastern Bible College in Khabarovsk, which it funds and staffs. In June 1995, 15 people will make up the first class to graduate from the school's two-year course. SEND also has ten resident staff in Khabarovsk in language-training, who also travel to minister in Sakhalin, Kamchatka, and Vladivostok UECB churches. Other SEND activities include funding salaries for eight Russian pastors and missionaries assisting with church-building construction, sponsoring two- to three-week short-term teams to assist in construction, and assisting churches by providing tools such as audio-visual materials, literature, public address systems, and in a very few cases, vehicles.
InterAct Ministries has placed resident staff in Siberia and the RFE, following three years of sending teams to conduct training seminars in Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and Kavalerovo in the RFE, as well as in Yakutsk, Chulman, Khandyga, Mirny, and Neryungri in Yakutia, an autonomous region of Siberia. InterAct partners with an indigenous mission, Light of the Gospel, and is committed to facilitating and equipping its workers, 25 in Yakutia and 16 in Primorskiy Krai. In 1991, 17 Russians attended a six-week training session at Arctic Bible Institute, InterAct's school in Palmer, Alaska.
Although InterAct has had considerable ministry in the RFE, its focus centers on Yakutia, home of the Yakut people, a tribal group of between 300,000 and 400,000 population. Last year, in cooperation with Cook Communications, Gospel to the East (the Yakutia affiliate of Light of the Gospel), and the Evangelical Christian Church of Yakutsk, InterAct published the first Scripture portion in the Yakut language, The Illustrated Life of Jesus Christ and History of the Early Church, also known as The Picture New Testament. Distribution of the 50,000 scripture portions has begun in hundreds of towns and villages throughout Yakutia, many of them by vehicle as InterAct missionaries have accompanied Michael Trubchik, director of Gospel to the East, over frozen rivers and winter roads to remote areas of the coldest inhabited region in the world.
InterAct plans to field eight missionaries in Yakutsk in the fall of 1995, continue its periodic training seminars begun in 1991, as well as conduct a facilitating and equipping ministry for Russian pastors and workers. InterAct represents the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting as well as Project 250 organized by Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries.
Another agency with a specialty in tribal ministry, though not from Alaska, is New Tribes Mission. Although its nine missionaries are primarily in the Omsk area engaged in language study, its goal is to assist Russians and other indigenous Christians in teaching New Tribes chronological Bible-study materials. It also wants to work with non-Russian language groups. One Russian worker who has completed the New Tribes training program in the U.S. is now traveling out of a local church in Ulan Ude, near Lake Baikal, three days a week to outlying villages to train Russian pastors in the use of New Tribes Bible-study materials.
Ministries from European Russia and Western Europe
A number of ministries with offices in Moscow also are involved in Siberia and the RFE. The Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union is planning a pastors conference for November 1995 in Khabarovsk. This four-day conference is expected to attract approximately 150 to 300 pastors, deacons, and lay preachers and will offer such seminars as "How to Be a Biblical Spiritual Leader," "How to Preach," "How to Grow in Christ," "Spiritual Warfare," "Youth Work," "Prison Work," and "Christianity and the Family."
U.S. Southern Baptists are also active in Siberia, working in cooperation with the UECB. Their work in the RFE is limited to Khabarovsk where one couple is involved in language training. Another Southern Baptist couple, the Yees, were found murdered in their apartment in March 1995. (See accompanying article.)
Life Publishers, an arm of the Assemblies of God Church, is distributing the Book of Life to school children in various cities in Russia, including Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. This illustrated work summarizes the Gospels in chronological format in simple language and includes 100 questions designed to lead the reader to a salvation decision. American Assemblies of God teams spend 10 days in a given city, distributing as many as 60,000 copies per team. They also speak in school assemblies and classes. In addition, Life Publishers has resident staff in Vladivostok, Kamerovo, and Krasnoyarsk.
Another Moscow-based ministry active in Siberia is Every Home for Christ (EHC), with offices in Omsk and Irkutsk. The goal of EHC is to place Christian literature in every home in the former Soviet Union, along with an invitation to one of the 5,000 churches in its database. In addition, it operates St. James Bible College in Magadan, where 20 students are enrolled in a six-month program followed by a six-month work-experience practicum. Teachers come from the U.S. for two-week sessions. Students come from Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and other cities in the RFE.
Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), active in Russia since 1988, has an active ministry in Chita and Novosibirsk. Its objective is to set up structures of church-based training to be staffed by qualified people. During the initial thrust nationals spent three years in Moscow receiving training. These students have since returned to their home areas where they conduct seminars. Other nationals travel to the RFE for two months of training. Several teachers from Ukraine are involved in such a program on Sakhalin Island where 1,000 students are studying at some level of involvement. BEE is partnering with the UECB in this work.
The Institute for Bible Translation, Stockholm, Sweden, has an American linguist in Yakutsk who is developing several Evenki-language Scripture portions, the first Scripture for the 48,000 Evenki, an unreached people group who live in Siberia, China, and Mongolia. Finally, several radio ministries are broadcasting in Siberia and the RFE, including Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) and Trans World Radio.
*The Alliance for SCP is actually an association of member agencies with a vision to equip Russian believers for a DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) approach to ministry in former Soviet republics and East Central Europe.
Gary Brumbelow is general director designate with InterAct Ministries, Boring, Oregon.
Editor's note: Missionary Frank Tichy has identified 26 churches and parachurch ministries working with the Buryat people of Siberia and Mongolia. To request his newsletter, Bridge to Buryatia, contact:
|The Inland Empire
U.S. Center for World Mission
1600 S. San Jacinto Ave., #44
San Jacinto, CA 92583
Tel: 909-654-3007; Fax: 909-925-0628
Editor's note: Many of the organizations identified by Gary Brumbelow are included in the East-West Christian Organizations Directory. See EWC&M Report 2 (Winter 1994), 13, for order information. Addresses for ministries identified in this article which are not in the Directory are:
|The Alliance for Saturation Church Planting
Rt. 1 Upper Hudlow Rd.
Union Mills, NC 28167
|Grace Brethren Foreign Missions
Winona Lake, IN 46590
|Chukotka Native Christian Ministries
Gambell, AK 99742
|Lake Clark Bible Church
Port Alsworth, AK 99653
|Cook Communications Ministries International
850 North Grove Ave.
Elgin, IL 60120
|New Tribes Mission
1000 E. First St.
Sanford, FL 32771-1487
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1995 Institute for East-West Christian Studies