Thursday, December 28, 2000

The Ends of the Earth

My own children think I’m crazy. For years their question was “when are you going to some place besides Israel?” Now they say “why don’t you go to a good place, why do you go to these countries that no one else wants to go to?” This makes for good spiritual lessons, as I answer, “The Lord chooses where I go, and I go where He chooses”. While making the flight arrangements for Bosnia, the travel agent had a good laugh as well. She said, “Seems like you need to talk to the Lord and pray for some better locations!”

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

I laughed saying, “yeah I think there is probably some good mission work in Fiji, or perhaps Hawaii”. I hung up half joking half serious, but the next day a phone call came from a previous Russian teammate with an invitation to join them in Siberia. Who says the Lord doesn’t have a sense of humor. I just shook my head “tropical locale, Lord, not arctic”.

For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth" Acts 13:47

Salekhard, Siberia the region known in Russia as “The Ends of the Earth”, is home to a tribal people called Nenets. Living on the tundra following the reindeer, these Eskimo looking tribes practice a pagan animist religion (i.e. sacrifice and deification of animals). Communism systematically tried to destroy their ancient culture by taking the children ages 5-17 away from the parents for 10 months out of each year, placing them in state run boarding schools. They were forced to learn Russian and forbidden to speak their native language. Graduating good citizens were encouraged to move away from the tribe and come to the “cities” to work in burgeoning industries such as natural gas and oil projects. Alcohol was cheap and the hardship of life on the arctic tundra faded into a warm inebriated haze.

You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger. Psalms 60:3

But 80 years of oppression did not destroy their ideals and ways of life. They held fast to the traditions of their ancestors, customs that kept them alive in the months of total darkness on the tundra. Presently, the children of the Nenets are still being removed to boarding schools, but the old guard is embracing the culture of the past, both are struggling to coexist with the vast differences between them. We were there during the “Reindeer Festival” when the Nenets came to display their culture to outsiders. Prizes were given to the best “native costume” created from reindeer skins and colorful woven fabrics. Contests of roping and riding reindeer were cold counterparts to a Texas rodeo where ropes never freeze and losing your footing on ice is not an issue. This was our first inside look at the challenge of bringing the gospel to the only city built on the Artic Circle.

For he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. Job 28:24

After my experience in Bosnia, Salekhard confirmed my renewed sense of purpose. As our bus took us from the warmth of the hotel to the out reaches of the tundra, the white vista of snow and ice was otherworldly. I realized the presence of the Lord was HERE, concerned with a pagan nation shrouded in darkness and evil traditions, and there truly is no place on earth He is not.

He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace. Micah 5:4-5