The following update is from Mikhail, an SGA-supported missionary. Incredibly, he and his family have been ministering for five years now in the Far East of Russia. Through highs and lows, and ongoing challenges, their hearts remain steadfast to take the Gospel to unreached villages—many of them only reached by plane!
Mikhail’s letter gives a vivid account of he and his family’s aviation trips in 2022, as well as a more recent description of their ministry today. As he powerfully writes, “Five years have flown by rather quickly. May 30th is the anniversary of our arrival. In these five years many obstacles have arisen, but every one of them has been overcome, and in great measures, because of faithful ministry partners holding the rope. Thank you so much for your faithfulness!”
Thank you for supporting amazing ministries like Mikhail’s as he travels with his family far and wide to reach the unreached, teach the children, hand out Bibles, and share the Gospel.
By God’s grace, we are still in Far East Russia and are continuing to serve the people of this vast region. In this letter I’ll try to provide a general overview of the ministry as it currently stands and our goals as we continue to push forward in these uncertain times for this country. As we’ve now been here for five years, we have had our successes and challenges and these I’d like to share as well.
I’ll start, however, with an updated from our ministry in 2022. We decided we needed to focus on new villages only accessible by aircraft. By God’s grace, one of the first villages we visited near the Sea of Japan, we were invited to do a Christian kids program (Vacation Bible School). In July of that year, we came back for five days to do the kids program. That summer, we visited a few more villages north of Khabarovsk and tested the limit of our aircraft. Four hours is the maximum time our aircraft can fly without refueling. We maxed it out on our visit to one outlying village. Flying longer distances has its unique challenges. Most villages don’t have fuel available. So the further we go the more we need to plan ahead.
Visiting new locations has its challenges. The first issue of concern is usually the condition of the airfield near the village. After that comes the question of getting the necessary permission to land at the airfield. And, most of the villages that we visit do not have fuel available, and so the further we go the more of an issue this becomes. We looked for intermediate villages and made arrangements with someone to drive us to a local gas station. Once all the logistical questions were resolved, then we got to the most important questions: “How do we start ministering once we arrive?” “Who will we spend time with once we arrive?” “Where will we spend the night?” These questions become our prayer requests in the weeks leading up to visiting a new village. And now let me tell you how God answered our prayers regarding two specific villages.
The first is a village located in the mountains near the shore of the Sea of Japan. The population of the village is just over 100 people, of which most are Udege (a native group). For most of the year, the only way to get into this village is on a helicopter, and preference is given to residents of the village. For a number of years now, we have wanted to visit this village, and in the summer of 2022 our prayers were answered…
We made arrangements to fly into the airfield nearby. During our stop, we only expected to see the airfield manager, but once we arrived, surprisingly another man showed up with a couple of his kids. In our brief 30-minute conversation, we asked if they have any summer programs in the villages this summer for the children. They said no! Taking the opportunity, I offered to bring a team and lead a Christian kids VBS program. Surprisingly, they seemed to be interested, but said we need to check with the local administration. After exchanging phone numbers, we returned home. That same evening on the day of our flight, we get a call from the man we just met. He informed us that he already spoke with the village administration, and they approved the Christian kids’ program and gave us all the necessary contact information to plan the visit. Talk about an answer to prayer! In one day, we went from being uncertain of the airfield condition to meeting a person who does not acknowledge the God of the Bible (clear from our conversation) but is willing to help organize a Vacation Bible School program. We slept with a smile that night. And this was just the beginning. (In the following link, you can read my article about another event of Gods provision — http://www.sga.org/summer-bible-camp-from-the-sky-reaches-remote-children.)
We then visited another village that God gave us an opportunity to visit this past summer. It is located 450 miles north of Khabarovsk. This is a village of about 1,500 people, and most of the year accessible only by air or ship (there are no passenger ships available, only cargo). Another prime location for the aviation ministry! We had never been in this village and there are no evangelical churches, but God provided several contacts who offered to drive us around and even gave us a place to stay (for free). Upon our arrival, we met the air traffic controller, and later that evening spent over two hours talking with him. It was mostly about aviation, but the issue of why we fly eventually came up and so we got to the Gospel. The next day before departing, we said our goodbyes and gave him a Bible. A relationship was established, Lord willing, with more conversations to come. God also provided an opportunity to visit with a local social worker. I spoke with her about families and children’s programs in the village, asked about possibly doing a VBS program, and she said it’s possible. As we parted, I asked if she had a Bible, she said no, and I gave her one as a gift.
I hope you got a sense, while reading this letter, that despite the turmoil in the world and the changes that are happening within Russia, the door for ministry is still open in Far East Russia, and probably even more so as life becomes very unstable for many people.
More recently since our arrival, we’ve come alongside local believers and helped in reaching the people in difficult-to-reach villages. Not all the villages that we were initially involved in required the use of an aircraft, but all require hours of travel in either a boat, train, or car (in the winter traveling on ice roads). We started flying regularly to villages with which we were already familiar and slowly exploring new locations.
As the winter of 2022 drew to a close, and with the certification woes of our ministry aircraft now behind us, we could finally put to the test our vision of reaching villages beyond the reach of traditional transportation. Our summer goals extended beyond the villages we visited in the past. We wanted to go further north and find new ministry opportunities in villages far from the main cities. We also wanted to visit villages in the mountainous area east of Khabarovsk located along the shore of the Sea of Japan.
What’s the future looking like? Despite the turmoil in the world and in this country, there have been no hiccups in our ministry. Yes, some people have left our region since the start of the war, but ministry in general in the Far East has not been noticeably affected and neither has our ministry. We are focusing now on getting more young people involved in leading the kids programs in the villages, which would free us up to focus on flying to new locations. Other local missionaries and church leaders are ready to come along to reach new villages with the Gospel. Our team is still quite small, but we are making necessary adjustments and moving forward.
Are there more airplanes coming? Are we getting more missionary pilots? Good questions! There are a few more airplanes available and ready to be brought over when needed, and there are at least three people who are either training or are already trained who are praying about coming. What’s slowing down the process? I’d have to say the current world events, and for those who are out of the country, it is unclear how they can come in order to fly here. And for those already in the country, they can’t take advantage of flight training available in the US. The last couple of years have not affected our aviation ministry activities, but they have affected the expansion of this ministry into other parts of Far East Russia.
Five years have flown by rather quickly. May 30th is the day we arrived in Khabarovsk. In these five years many obstacles have arisen, but every one of them has been overcome, and in great measures, because of faithful ministry partners holding the rope. Thank you so much for your faithfulness!”