March 2011

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Are Shamanists in Russia Coming Out of the Cold?

by Keith Carey

Editor’s Introduction: The following excerpt was written by a Russian believer who works in the Irkutsk region of eastern Russia where many of the Buryat people live. What he is saying can also apply to just about any people group we will intercede for this month.

Spiritual Obstacles Facing The Buryats

It is no secret that the spiritual condition of many of the native peoples living in the Irkutsk Region of north eastern Russia leaves much to be desired. In spite of the fact that churches are working very hard in the area, they have had little effect on the majority of the people. Church growth is either insignificant or absent altogether. Let’s prayerfully look at some of the problems facing the believers in this area as they try to fulfill the Great Commission. We will start by learning about the history of the Western Buryats.
As the Buryat nation was developing, many different events took place that led the people into spiritual darkness and sin against God. The devil used these events to establish spiritual strongholds in the Irkutsk Region. These strongholds will only be pulled down as God’s people stand before Him prayerfully in obedience to His Word. That way the corporate sins of the past and present generations will be done away with and the strongholds will fall. God’s people will see a great awakening come to Irkutsk. As the people are filled with the Lord’s glory, the spiritual environment will improve.

The Sin of Idolatry (Shamanism)

They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols (Psalm 78:58).
We know from God’s Word that all the nations came from the sons of Noah. Noah’s descendants did not forget God right away, but rather it was probably a gradual process. For example, when different peoples and tribes were making their way to new lands, they would see high mountains blocking their path. But instead of calling upon the Lord for help, they would call upon the spirit of the mountains to assist them in going over the mountains or in passing around them. After the people got to the other side of the mountain range, they would become slaves to that particular mountain spirit. This is how many people found “protecting spirits” and soon started worshipping a whole pantheon of different spirits. This spirit worship is what shamanism is all about. Instead of worshipping the One Lord of heaven and earth who created them, the people began to serve demons and rebellious spirits.
Archeological evidence proves that even in 200 B.C. shamanism was already widespread among the tribes around Lake Baikal. The Buryats, as well as the tribes that helped them form their nation and the tribes that lived nearby were all shamanistic. This sin which is really idolatry established a spiritual stronghold in the Irkutsk Region.
In the 17th century Russia expanded its borders as far as the region around Lake Baikal, gaining new territory in the land, which is presently occupied by Irkutsk Region. At that time many natives of the land were converted to Christianity by force, which did not solve the problem of shamanism, but rather made it worse by creating a mixture of shamanism and Orthodoxy. To this day the sins and cruelty of these so-called Russian Christians have left a mark on the people of the area.

The Sin of Humiliation and Bloodshed

You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! (Habakkuk 2:10-12)… Russians did not conquer Buryat land until the 17th century. At first it was a peaceful expansion. … However, that was followed by a bloody tragedy that happened in the Buryat plains. Kazak troops led by Lakov Chripunov, after many failed attempts to find silver ore, made up for that failure by robbing and pillaging Buryat villages. This happened around the same time that the Kazaks from the newly established Krasnoyarsk Fort also came raiding the nearby Buryat settlements.
In the 17th century the Russians established forts at Lensk (1630) and Bratsk (1631) and other cities in Siberia. They were built as bases for future [Russian] colonization of the land. Their primary purpose was to be the military and administrative centers for their respective areas. They were also to assist in gathering tribute from the native peoples and to help in conquering new “unruly lands.” It was at this time that the attitude of the Buryat princes began to change. They took up their weapons to attack the Russian troops. The Bratsk Fort was involved in several military campaigns against the Buryats…. A lot of innocent blood was shed during this time. There was also a lot of cruelty and humiliation perpetrated against the natives of the land, including forced relocation of many Buryats.
Many true believers in Russia have repented as citizens of Russia, for the shedding of innocent blood that was done while the Buryat land was being conquered by the Russians.…

The Sin of False Christianity and of Forced Conversion

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:13-15).
Christianity started coming to Buryatia with the first Russian settlers who came there between 1620 and 1630. In the beginning the conversion to Christianity was done by means of forced baptism of Buryats who were captured in the battles. Then, forced conversion was no longer practiced, but there was still a special policy for Christianizing the Buryats. For example, the poor people would be freed from taxes if they would convert to Christianity. But they were also forced to move closer to the fast growing number of monasteries in the region. In addition, criminals could avoid punishment by getting baptized and moving into the monasteries, even if they were guilty of very serious offences like robbery or murder. …
According to the Russian Science Academy, the main results from this type of Christianization were:
1. Certain parts of shamanism were removed, while some of it was “transformed” into false Christianity.
2. The religion of the indigenous tribes in the Buryat region became a syncretic form of shamanism-Christianity, and in some areas shamanism-lamaism-Christianity. Also, the cultural and ideological system in Buryat villages became more complicated.
The so-called Christianity represented by the Russian Orthodox Church was against everything that pertained to the Buryat national culture and traditions, requiring the people to reject their former heritage.
This caused the spiritual stronghold of confusion, anger and suspicion to be formed in the areas around Baikal. People thought, “A Buryat cannot be a Christian and a Christian cannot be a Buryat”. …
I suggest that God’s people should not identify themselves with those so-called Christians who forced the Buryats to convert to Christianity and who blasphemed God by doing disreputable deeds in the name of Christ.

The Sin of Disobedience and of Missed Opportunities

I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 22:30-31).
It’s clearly seen from history that God again and again gave His people opportunities and open doors to bring the life of Christ to the Buryats and other nations that inhabit the territory of the modern day Irkutsk Region.
…A great opportunity came when the [Irkutsk Region] was being colonized. But religion and politics were brought in instead of the gospel. Even when in 1819 a mission from the Bible Society of England started working among the Seleng and Chorin Buryats, it was mainly opposed by the Irkutsk Orthodox Fellowship. The English mission “was actively doing cultural and educational work; translating and publishing theological and secular literature into the Mongol and Buryat languages. It was running a technical school for Buryats and giving them medical aid” (Russian Science Academy). In 1842 the mission had to leave the region due to many hindrances put up by the Orthodox Church.


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From the Editor

by Keith Carey

Dear Praying Friends,
For hundreds of years the shamanistic people groups who live in the eastern republics of Russia have been dominated by the Russians. During the Czarist era, the Russians often tried to force them into the Russian Orthodox Church. During the Communist era, they were forced to be atheists. Now 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, many of these people groups are looking back to their past traditional shamanistic ways to find their identity. They believe that the shamans can help them gain favor and control over a plethora of spirits that inhabit the world. Rituals and ceremonies are important, but they must be performed by the shaman in order to be valid.
Although many peoples today in eastern Russia still think that they need to depend on shamans and spirits to survive and keep their culture alive, true believers know that peace, joy and a fulfilled life can come only from having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. However, due to the long history of mistreatment and cruelty that these people have endured at the hands of the Russians, it is difficult for outsiders to present Christ to them in a way that is meaningful and doesn’t seem foreign. But it can be done. Members of the Siberian Partnership, a Christian organization, meet each year to discuss and try to develop new ways to overcome cultural issues that are impeding efforts to introduce the shamanistic peoples to Jesus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guide them.