[Note: I ran across this newsletter from earlier this year (March 9, 2013), Faith and Hope Newsletter #221. It mainly reports the evangelistic efforts of Fr. Pavel Zayakin, parish priest of St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Abakhan, Khakassia (Siberia, Russia) and the dean of the Eastern Deanery of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church. Fr. Pavel and his brothers are bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Siberian far east. His narrative is fascinating and shows just how resilient the Word of God is, and is an inspiration to those of us in the West who are tempted either to take our faith for granted, or despair of the task at hand in ministering to a culture that has become alien to the Christian faith. If you would like to support Father Pavel's heroic endeavors, please contact the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society - Ed.]
Peace to you dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!
We wish you God's blessings in this time of Lent and want to share with you a story of Pastor Pavel Zayakin about his recent trip to Eastern Siberia.
At first we asked Pastor Pavel Zayakin how he would call his trip, and he responded: "Wild East." So, this is his story:
I like to travel. Of course, it is most pleasant when you are the master of your journey, when you direct your way according to your desire sitting in your car with wife and children or, for example, hiking across mountain range. Then you feel yourself free, you can stop wherever you like it or leave any place that is dangerous or unpleasant.
But I serve in the Church for 17 years now, and I don't always choose my way as well as means of transportation. We priests aren't free. I remember how our Bishop told seminarians: If you want to stay free, leave the seminary. And it is true: a priest must forget about himself and what is his own and serve the people of God. This is the mandate we have from Christ.
In the second part of February I went on my next trip to the eastern parishes of our Church. You know that the territory of our Church is divided into three deaneries, and I am the dean of the eastern one.
I regularly visit these parishes, and I know all their needs and difficulties. Oftentimes one of the pastors accompanies me also, and this time it was Andrey Ivolga, our pastor from Angarsk.
The most complicated things in travel across Siberia, of course, would be our huge distances. Our travel route was from Novosibirsk to Buryatia and then to Chita. This is the same distance as from Novosibirsk to Moscow, that is, three thousand kilometers (about 1900 miles). The comfort is non-existent: old 3rd class train cars packed with crowd of people (we, like majority of Russia's population, can not afford traveling in the second class train cars), very heat, stink, draft.
Next to us in the car there were some Asian people (they comprised about one third of the train passengers). Two of whom were sick with tuberculosis and coughed all the time, one of them was coughing with blood, spitting out the parts of his lungs along with that. That is the terminal stage of tuberculosis, it is impossible to cure such person.
Forgive me for this level of detail reminiscent of horror movie, but tuberculosis is an integral part of life in Siberia [see Newsletter # 162 concerning Tuberculosis in Siberia]. Millions of people are sick with tuberculosis in Siberia. Even in relatively wealthy Novosibirsk about 1700 die annually according to official statistics.
In Novosibirsk you can daily meet people sick with tuberculosis -- in subway, in buses, out on the street. It's just that not everybody yet may discern regular cough and tuberculosis cough. We clergymen do it by now.
And in Buryatia sick people are everywhere, and there is no place for you to hide from the bacteria flying in the air. All hope is for my immune system to be strong enough to cope with infection.
In general, Buryatia always makes a very strong impression on me. In our place, Khakassia, people live poorly, but I found out once again how some things may pale in comparison. In Petropavlovka, a Buryatian town where our parish is located, half of the local population is sick with tuberculosis. There is terrible poverty there and also degradation (alcoholism, drug-addiction).
I saw once again that part of our parishioners got ruined by alcohol and got back to their former pagan life. It is a great pity that people can not receive constant spiritual care from us. We don't have a permanent clergyman in Buryatia (we lack clergymen in our Church, and we lack funds for regular trips), and services in some remote locations are held once a month. It is very sad.
Then we got back to the train and went from Buryatia to Chita. It isn't very far: only 16 hours by Trans-Siberian railroad.
When we came to Chita, we once again faced difficulties: hotels were expensive, and the average local people poor. Thanks to our Chita parishioners: they found mattresses and pillows for us, and we spent nights while there on the floor and on the chairs in the church facility.
However, I would like to tell you not only about sad things. You know, the most moving thing is to serve the liturgy in such places. People wait for you, they want to hear you, they ask you many questions. Here every priest always feels how much people need him. You can not experience this feeling anywhere else. It seems sometimes that in the large cities people attend the services half-heartedly. But here people take in the Word of God with great hunger making you understand what it means to be hungry and thirsty for the Word in the Biblical sense.
I like to travel. I like the fresh wind out in the mountains and the fast road twists under the car tires. I can not understand only one thing: why is it that the smell of the 3rd class train compartments reminds prison smell so much? And why do the looks of people who I pass by in the eastern towns and villages, remind so much the looks of the convicts? May be, it is because it is still Soviet Union that is in their eyes, still lack of freedom? I don't know.
But I know one thing: there is one real freedom in these places that smell of prison, it is the Church of Christ, which carries light and forgiveness to people.Please, pray for the clergymen and parishioners and of the Eastern deanery of Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.
|Pastor Zayakin in the Train|
|Road in Buryatian Desert|
|Pastor Zayakin Teaches People|
|Pastor Andrei Ivolga and Parishioners in Buryatia|
|In the Bus in Buryatia, Pastor Zayakin Sends Short Messages to His Wife|
|Pastor Zayakin Sleeps in the Church in Chita|