Russia (MNN) — Earlier this week, a state of emergency was called in Siberia after 49 people died of alcohol poisoning. According to the Washington Post, they died after consuming a bath oil they hoped would give them a buzz.
Historically, Russia has struggled with alcohol abuse. In 2014, the BBC reported a study where 25 percent of men died before age 55. The study attributed most of these deaths to alcohol. In fact, according to Rehab International, there are 20 million people in Russia who are dependent upon alcohol.
The same is true in the Far East, even in locations that are hard to reach. In Chukotka, a federal subject of Russia in Provideniya, it’s no different.
According to the International Journal of Circumpolar Health, some of the major concerns in this region include alcoholism, suicide, underdeveloped health care, and poverty.
We spoke with Joanna Mangione of SOAR International who visited the region years ago. She describes Provideniya as a dark, treeless tundra — harsh and barren in its appearance. SOAR works with a church near the remote villages of Chukotka. Alcohol, especially among indigenous Eskimo and Chukchi people, has been an evident challenge in their work.
Mangione says, “You will see, or at least I saw, young children on the street drinking. So they’re exposed to it at a very young age. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope. The struggle, even sometimes with the Church, is keeping people strong in the faith — the instinct is to just fall back into their old ways and go back to doing whatever they want.”
But even in this dark corner of the earth, there is a light. Recently, we shared a prayer request with you from SOAR International for God to open new doors for ministry when others have closed in Russia. That is what He has done for them in Provideniya.
Paperwork challenges make it difficult for SOAR’s team from Alaska to visit this area, but God has brought a family in from Moldova who can minister full time. In 2012, Ruslan and Olya came to serve there under SOAR.
“They serve in the small church there in Provideniya. So they help, pastor the church, coordinate, [and] take care of the church and the church members. And they have continued since the U.S. teams haven’t been able to visit and go into Provideniya and do the camps we used to do — they have taken up the mantel of conducting Bible clubs and camps and Bible studies and such. So they have just kind of continued to keep the light on — the Light of Christ on,” Mangione explains.
And this light is very much needed. In fact, according to the Joshua Project, only 0.7 percent of the Chukchi, one of the people groups in this area, are evangelical Christians. Mangione says in Provideniya, people are just trying to survive. There isn’t much there as far as livelihood goes, and so many times adults have to travel to find work.
“You often will have kids living months at a time by themselves. It is a very harsh climate, a very harsh way of living, so it makes it very difficult to live there and therefore to have missionaries there. They face a lot of difficulties and struggles with trying to reach these people who are so set in their ways, but also just have a hard time believing there is such a hope that is being spoken to them.”
Even worse, the villages are often cut off from the rest of the world because of weather conditions during both the summer and winter. They can only be accessed by special vehicles.
Recently, they were able to purchase the vehicles needed to do outreach to the remote villages.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see that God has provided and their ministry is growing and reaching out to the surrounding people.”
Clearly, the work is an uphill battle, and that is what makes your prayers so important.
“Pray that the church would continue to grow. Pray for the members of the church, that they would remain strong, that they would just be filled with the Spirit, filled with God’s strength, filled with God’s love.”
Also, pray for the missionary family as they’ve had recent health issues. Pray for their protection, strength, and perseverance.
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