Siberia makes up some 77% of Russia’s territory or 10% of the earth’s total land surface. It is an immense space with often-impossible communication and transport routes. Spanning seven time zones and taking eight days to complete, the Trans-Siberian Railway runs from Murmansk up on the Baltic in the North West to Vladivostok on the Pacific in the East. It is a journey that crosses the nation and seems to go on forever, yet it is one of the only ways, especially in winter when airfields are closed, that towns along its route are supplied.
I remember a couple of years ago taking this journey, looking out of the windows of my carriage and day after day the view was the same, just a huge expanse of white snow-covered tundra and frozen permafrost punctuated by very isolated towns and villages alongside the rail line. As we huddled around a coal fire and boiling ‘Samovar’ in the conductors compartment, I watched as the outside temperature plummeted to −13 °F (−25 °C). It was cold but it would get even colder still. I was shocked to think that people could even stay in such a place let alone earn a living and conduct family life.
The old carriage conductor lived on the train. She was a large, tough looking lady who had a bird in a cage; a dog; a rocking chair; photos of her family on the mantelpiece and all the effects that make up home. As her job was to look after the passengers on “her” particular carriage she would go with whichever train her carriage was connected to. This week, Kiev. Next week, Omsk.
She told me through my translator that she had been up and down the Trans Siberian for over ten years. She threw her dachshund the skin off of the dried sausage which we had been sharing and which had defeated her ancient teeth and gums. She then got up and passed me her small decanter of Vodka, muttering the only two understandable words in her limited English language vocabulary, “Is good!” I politely declined but I watched how this ‘anti-freeze’ brought apparent warmth to her body and red glow to her pale cheeks.
These were days when Christians travelled clandestinely, out of sight of the Government who would deport from the country for supporting the underground church. Those were days when churches could not meet openly and times when a Christian Bible or teaching material were prohibited and could get you thrown into jail.
Today, in towns and cities across Siberia things are different. Churches are no longer closed, and the government no longer persecutes church members. The weather is still freezing, but believers can gather together to worship their God and Savior in freedom and liberty. In some places one still has to keep ones car running over night to ensure that it does not freeze up, but things have vastly improved and life is now more open.
It is to places like this that we have targeted the seeding of Russian language editions of ‘Extraordinary’. Transportation to many towns and villages across Siberia will take months as slow distribution channels continue to ‘trickle feed’ books to leaders of churches in remote country towns and villages. Sometimes these places are cut off for weeks, yet as we are able, material gets to them too. I have learnt from experience that the harder the supply chain, the greater the reception and the more valued the resource.
Occasionally, we receive feedback from these seeding fields a thousand or miles from a large city, a short email, praise report or photograph of the ongoing work. From some distant place, a dot on the map with a seemingly unpronounceable name, yet it is a place where God has laid upon our hearts to seed these books. The Bible tells us to “Go into all the world” and Siberia is part of that world, so indeed we shall go! Sometimes all we receive is a single photo with no explanation at all but the joy on the faces of those unknown people in that far distant land says it all and their smiles of delight transcend all language barriers. They may be unknown to us, but they are all surely known to the Father equally important and equally deserving of the best that we can possibly give.