The Eurasian Mission College year 1 students are heading off for their next mission placement on 12 Feb for 3 weeks. Some of the students are going to the Yoshkar-Ola region – which is a dangerous place to share the Gospel.  Their desire is to reach the Mari people.

The Mari are a Finno-Ugric ethnic group, who have traditionally lived along the Volga and Kama rivers in Russia, with a significant number resident in Tatarstan. Known as Europe’s last pagans, Mari tribes can be traced back to the fifth century.

Even though a significant Maris became members of the Russian Orthodox church during the Soviet era, many kept their pagan traditions. Insisting that their faith is the world’s oldest, the Mari people have carried out the same rituals in praying to the gods for centuries. Communal religious practice takes place in the grove as opposed to the Church. The religion revolves around the worship of the forces of nature and heavily emphasizes man’s respectful relationship with the natural world.

Before the widespread influence of monotheistic ideas in the 19th century, the Mari Pagans worshiped a number of gods, all as gods of elements of the natural world. Kugu Jumo acted as the main god, and the 12 other gods paid tribute to him. Now, it is more common to just worship one figurehead God.

A typical grove worship includes bringing all anxieties and grievances along to discuss with the priest, who then passes on the requests and desires of the individual to God. In the forests and along the river bank of the Volga, domestic sacrifices are brought along by the people. These sacrifices are most often geese, as they are considered the most sacred animal due to their ability to commune with earth, air, and water. The geese are calmed to ensure good wishes before they are sacrificed. The geese are cooked in huge industrial pots chained to the trees. The Mari people then communally cremate the skin, bones, and organs in bonfires at the grove in order to seek communion with nature. [source: The Culture Trip]

The principal source of subsistence among the Mari is agriculture (grain and flax) combined with dairy farming and stock raising. Yoshkar-Ola, the Mari El capital, boasts of training schools in subjects such as animal husbandry, forestry, optics, and papermaking. In handicrafts, the Mari are noted for their wood and stone carving and embroidery.


  • the students safety
  • for them to be given a real love for the Mari people
  • good gospel sharing opportunities
  • the students to have the necessary courage, and wisdom as they seek to evangelise
  • for the glorious light of the Gospel of Christ to shine into the hearts of the Mari people