We had just come from a small, unnamed village in the Mari-El Republic – the home of one of Russia’s unreached/unengaged people groups -- a group whose native religion is still quite pagan. Earlier that day we had visited several locations in the Republic where the locals still make sacrifices and prayers to the gods of nature and water. Our day ended with an invitation to visit the home of one of less than 40 Mari believers in the Republic; an area the size of Vermont.
As we sat down to a meal of Russian black tea, pancakes, honey, and some unidentified local cuisine we began talking with the visitors from the village who had come to meet the visiting Americans. Of the seven or eight that wandered in and out of the small one-room cabin, three women sat down at the table to talk. None of them had ever met an American before. Two were much older, but all three were drawn to a conversation about how the world had changed over the past few years. The circumstances in this village were not different than they are in any number of Russian villages. People who live outside of Russia’s big cities have never enjoyed the economic benefits of those who live i
n the cities, and the years following the fall of Communism have made life for villagers harder. The women shared that the nearby factories had been shut down, that they had trouble getting their fields plowed and the crops in the ground, and most of their community’s young people were moving to the cities rather than choosing to stay on the family farms.
“Our children are out of control. Their lives are a mess and I just don’t know what to do about it,” said Nina, the youngest of the three. “They are a mess because I never taught them. I didn’t know what to teach them because nobody ever taught me.” And there it was…a simple invitation. Like a running back who has just had a path cleared all the way to the end zone, the Holy Spirit had just opened the door for me to share the Gospel with them. “Would you like for me to teach you,” I asked. “Right now, I can teach you what you need to know and what the most important thing is to teach your children.”
The next 40 minutes or so were mostly a blur. The volunteer team watched and prayed silently as I taught and explained the Gospel to the women using analogies from the countryside and from their pagan rituals I had seen earlier that day. As I was teaching, one of the three women got up, hugged me and left. But the other two wanted to hear more of what I had to say. As
I finished, I asked if they understood all I had been saying to them. I probed a little deeper and asked if they wanted to repent of their sins, and to have Jesus living in their hearts. So, right there at the kitchen table we bowed our heads and prayed as I lead Nina and Magda in a prayer of confession and invitation for Jesus to cleanse them of their sins.
Of course, only God knows the condition of a person’s heart. But, as I was leaving the house Nina caught me, gave me a hug and said, “I hope that you will visit our village again soon. But, if you never do, I know that I will see you again in heaven because I am your sister now.”
“I thought you said it never happens like this,” he said. And, he was right. That is what I had said. Maybe I should have used the word “rarely” instead of never.