Perm is a mega-city, more populous than Amsterdam, built on the banks of the broad meandering Kama River, 1,400 km east of Moscow.
Over twenty years ago, I wrote one of the earliest Weekly Words from Europe’s eastern-most city in the heart of Russia, Perm.
Russia today of course is in most people’s bad books. Yet the long-term transformation of that nation must remain a priority for God’s people.
Perm is a mega-city, more populous than Amsterdam, built on the banks of the broad meandering Kama River, 1,400 kms east of Moscow. The so-called Ural Mountains, which I was surprised to discover were mostly a low rolling ridge of hills just to the east, mark the border with Asia.
Perm was thus the ‘Gateway to Siberia’ for many exiles – Dostoevsky among them – who began their trek eastwards towards an unknown fate along the Siberia Road, starting downtown at the riverside. Perm was also the last city prisoners saw as they were herded north to the dozens of prison camps dotted throughout the Perm province. Some have called this area the “garbage dump of humanity”.
Secrecy had shrouded this city, closed to foreigners until just a few years before my visit. Even the workers in the giant armaments factory were not permitted to know what they were making. Two decades ago, and I suspect still today, space rockets, rocket launchers and aeroplane engines were being manufactured there. Yet despite the sophistication of its industry, whole neighbourhoods of log-cabin type houses still lend the city a ‘frontier’ atmosphere.
A young, non-Russian couple with our mission had begun pioneering in Perm two years prior to my visit, creating a springboard for ministry teams heading north to work among prisoners and to plant fellowships in remote villages; to minister among Tatars down-river and unreached peoples like the Khanty-Mansi over the Urals in Siberia.
I was there at the time to speak in the first DTS held in the Ural region, with a sharp group of mainly Russian and Tatar students. A very capable Ukrainian young woman was leading the school, while one of the first Uzbekis to join our mission was my translator. I was conscious of the historic foundations this school was laying for the future multiplication of workers to spread out into this vast and challenging region, and beyond.
So what has happened to the network of bases and schools opened over the years since communism imploded? Al Akimoff, who has criss-crossed the whole former Soviet-world more than anyone else in our mission, keeps in daily touch with our workers in that world.
A few months ago, he wrote about the hundreds of thousands of Russian young people fleeing across any border they could to escpae conscription for the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine. Many of our workers also had to leave the country, some going to Europe, the U.S. and Brazil; others to the nearby Central Asian countries. Yet many chose to stay and continue to serve in Russia. In spite of the crisis, discipleship courses and outreaches have continued in Russia over these months.
One whole school and staff of forty managed to cross to a neighbouring country to continue their course. They are now on outreach, going to some of the most unreached nations including, Nepal, Turkey and African and Central Asian countries.
Another school for indigenous people in the Arctic is sending teams to the unreached in the Tundra. This is a totally non-foreign operation, and Al reports that these young Arctic indigenous youth are breaking new territory, travelling with snow-mobiles to engage with remote peoples.
Life is not easy for these pioneering teams, Al reminds us. Some years ago, one of our young leaders in the Arctic was killed by a bear, leaving his wife to carry on leading the discipleship programmes and outreaches.
As we pray for peace and freedom for Ukraine, Al asks, can we pray for the same for Russia? ‘Pray that they will be released into their destiny, fulfilling their dream of being missionaries to the world.’