Leif and Jami G. and their three kids recently moved from the city of Ulan-Ude to a small village populated by Buryats. Tibetan Buddhism heavily influences this unreached people group’s religious beliefs. Our team in Siberia engages Buryats with the message of Christ through community outreach, English classes, and cultural exchanges. Click to explore opportunities to serve with them.
By Jami G. in Siberia, Russia — Early one morning, I felt God nudging me to get up and spend some time talking with him. Our family had recently moved to a Buryat village, and our house didn’t have heating yet. It was cold, and my bed was warm. But I trusted that God had something special in mind, so I got up with a blanket and a cup of coffee and started praying.
Very quickly, Aryuna* came to my heart and mind. She’s a 14-year-old girl who lives on our block. I’d met her mom, Surena, after offering her a ride to the city. Surena had said that Aryuna sat around bored all day and would benefit from friends. “I’ll send her to your house,” she said. Sure enough, a couple of days later Aryuna came. We fell in love with her immediately. She was so sweet and played so nicely with our kids and the other kids in the neighborhood.
What came to my heart as I was talking to God was the idea of inviting Aryuna to a church camp where she would learn about Jesus alongside other kids. I wasn’t sure about it. We’d just moved to this neighborhood, and almost all of our neighbors are Buddhist. I didn’t want to start things off on the wrong foot or push anyone away. But the nudging was still there at my heart.
Later that day, I told my family about possibly inviting Aryuna to camp. My daughter Anneka was so excited that she left immediately and ran to Aryuna’s house! Both Aryuna and her mom were happy for Aryuna to go to camp, and a week later she joined the rest of the kids for a week of learning more about God. At this camp, Aryuna prayed for the first time and began reading the Bible for the first time. She was excited about the things she’d learned and was quick to tell me everything when I picked her up at the end of camp.
In the following months, Aryuna and her mom both read the Bible. Surena told me that sometimes Aryuna would read it until 2 in the morning! They had to hide the Bible from Surena’s 28-year-old son. He is a devout Buddhist and wouldn’t approve.
Both mother and daughter also came to a ladies’ Bible study and our home group a few times — but then Surena and Aryuna moved to the city. Surena has been reading the Psalms periodically, but both are disconnected from Christians.
The pull is strong for Buryats to remain Buddhist, as the religion is so tied up with their culture. Many Buryats believe that to become a Christian would mean to give up part of their identity. We have noticed that prayer is very powerful as we share with our Buddhist friends. Please pray that these dear people would see that Jesus is the God of all people and that they can fully be Buryat and fully be believers in Christ.
- We’ve gathered resources about interacting with Buddhists and engaging them in spiritual conversation on our Path to Peace page.
- ‘Your God answered our prayer’: Surely he who parted the Red Sea could clear the fog away to delight a band of weary hikers and show his might to a Buryat man.
- Intro to Buddhism: A three-part series covering basic Buddhist beliefs, symbols and traditions, and how to engage Buddhists in meaningful spiritual conversations.
- A shrine destroyed: A new believer rips down the idols in her home, even though she fears she could be cursed.
- Don’t miss a story in the Path to Peace series! Sign up to be notified each time we post on this blog. (Just enter your email at the bottom of the page on mobile or in the upper right corner on your computer).
*Names have been changed in this article.