The Mari El Republic is home to the Mari people, a Finno-Ugric ethnic group who have traditionally lived along the Russian Volga and Kama Rivers. The population of the Mari El Republic is just under 700,000. Mari people can also be found in nearby Tatarstan and Bashkortan. Mari tribes can be traced back to the fifth century. Even though a significant number of Maris became members of the Russian Orthodox church during the Soviet era, many kept their pagan traditions.
A group of the first year students at Eurasian Mission College in Kazan went to Yoshkar-Ola – the capital city of the Mari El Republic – for their recent mission placement. A college student, from Russia itself, reports back on their evangelism…
“Before I arrived, I looked at the information on the Internet. It was written there that it is an Orthodox people. But when we arrived, it turned out that they were pagans. We plunged deeper into the study of the people when we went to visit a village. We shared the gospel. We knocked on the doors of the houses. In one house the door was opened by an elderly woman and her husband. This woman said: “We do not need your God, we have our own. We worship in the groves.” I was so surprised. It is the first time I have encountered this. I thought, in the centre of Russia, 750 km from Moscow, is paganism.
The Mari still worship in the groves of tree spirits and offer them blood sacrifices. Each family has its own place or grove. It turns out that, in one area, 70 groves exist where they worship, and half of them are officially registered. By law, they have exactly the same rights and status as churches. They have registration, they have their priests. Their priest is called a Kart. They make sacrifices there. They used to bring big animals. But now they use small animals and birds – goats, sheep, geese. They put a vat in this grove and start cooking. The blood of the animal that flows to the ground is brought to the lower gods, and the stream rises to the higher gods. They cook a blood sacrifice in the cauldron and only the family can eat this, and the remains of the food are burned. This is a tradition that is passed on from generation to generation. They believe, for example, if your foot is ill, remove the sock and tie it to this tree and healing will come. Mostly they ask their gods about how to have a good life here on earth. They talked little about eternity. They believe in Jesus Christ, but for them he is not God, but rather just a saint.”
Pointers for Prayer
- Thankfulness for the opportunities the students had to speak of Christ, in what is a very difficult and largely closed region for evangelism
- Praise God that there is one church proclaiming the Gospel in the capital Yoshkar-Ola – pray for His blessing and their protection
- Pray that the Gospel will take root amongst the Mari people, known as Europe’s last pagans – that they will come to see that Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins