EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptists will observe the 2010 Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization May 23.
IZHEVSK, Udmurtia (BP)–During one of his mission trips to Udmurtia, Jack Gilliland, pastor of Rea Valley Baptist Church in Flippin, Ark., asked a local believer, “Are we making any difference? Are we just coming and entertaining you, or is this helping?”
“Every time you come,” the man responded, “it’s like you drop a rock in a pool and whatever foggy, murky stuff that’s on the top brushes away a little bit — and we see a little more clearly.”
Today Gilliland volunteers from his Arkansas home as an International Mission Board (IMB) virtual strategy coordinator, which he describes as “filling in where the missionaries can’t go or live.”
The Udmurts, an unreached people group in Russia, were the focus of Southern Baptists’ Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization emphasis in 2007. Since then, answers to those prayers are bringing Living Water to the spiritually thirsty in the Republic of Udmurtia.
Around the world people have come to Christ, doors have opened to allow witness in places where missionaries cannot go, the faith of believers has strengthened. The common thread? Prayer — focused on one people group at a time for nearly 20 years of Day of Prayer and Fasting emphases.
In 1995 prayers were lifted for Mongolia. Now more than 400 churches and about 45,000 believers call Him Savior. Tibet had no churches in 1996 when the Day of Prayer focused on that Buddhist country. Today there are 19 churches and more than 600 believers. And the stories continue for each group that received the benefit of targeted prayer.
One of the 2007 prayer requests asked Southern Baptists to pray that God would call an individual to coordinate efforts among the Udmurts. Shortly afterward, the Lord burdened Gilliland’s heart.
He began to pray with believers around the world for God to send someone to Udmurtia to live full time and serve as a catalyst among the churches. Through word of mouth, e-mails and the Internet, Gilliland amassed a prayer network of more than 1,000 people who regularly intercede for Udmurtia.
During the past three years, Gilliland also led multiple short-term volunteer teams to serve as “virtual missionaries” in the absence of full-time missionaries. Volunteers work alongside and encourage the seven small Baptist churches in Udmurtia and help approximately 200 indigenous believers minister to and present the Gospel to villagers. Less than 0.3 percent of Udmurtia’s population is considered evangelical Christian.
“You go in and you build relationships,” Gilliland said. “You live there like you would at home, just like a missionary does, and you share the Lord.”
Gilliland and his prayer network recently saw their prayers answered by two American couples.
Charlie and Heather Murphy*, originally from Searcy, Ark., and Joplin, Mo., respectively, first met Will and Marie Thompson*, whose hometowns are Cordell, Okla., and Clinton, Okla., while attending school together in Texas. Their journey began when Charlie read the IMB prayer guide for the Udmurts.
“The Holy Spirit moved in me that day when I read that article,” Charlie says. At that moment he felt the Lord say to him, “I love these people, and that’s where I want you to go.”
About that same time, Will heard in class about the great need for people groups in Central and Eastern Europe to hear the Gospel. As Charlie and Will shared these experiences with one another, they realized it was not coincidence but the providence of God. They began to pray for and research the Udmurts, and God kindled their hearts for the people group.
The Murphys and Thompsons are now Russian-language students living in Izhevsk, the capital city of Udmurtia. They have learned to rely on the Lord through prayer as they transition to the new culture and language.
“The most difficult thing is wanting so badly to be able to explain the Gospel to people but not having the vocabulary to do it,” Charlie says.
“I don’t just want to be a language student. I want to be able to share God’s love with people, and right now I don’t have the vocabulary to do that. That causes a lot of tears some days, just weeping over the lostness and feeling like there’s nothing you can really do about it, and then hearing God’s still, small voice saying, ‘You can pray.’ That will forever be the most powerful weapon you have, even when you can speak the language fluently.”
The couples pray for the day when more Udmurts will put their trust in Christ and boldly share their faith.
A local pastor believes Charlie and Will can be an encouragement to Udmurt believers, inspiring them to evangelize their friends and families.
Gilliland agrees. “The trails have been blazed, and we’ve laid some good groundwork,” he says. “We’ve built a trust relationship with the people so that now it’s a matter of them catching the vision.”
Gilliland’s next project is raising more prayer support for the Murphys and Thompsons and for a church-planting movement to start among the Udmurts. Having acquired the names of every village in Udmurtia, Gilliland is enlisting local prayer warriors to commit to praying for a specific village. His prayer is to see at least one Bible study group form in each of those villages.
Southern Baptists will unite again this May 23 on the Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization to celebrate answered prayers over the years and to continue to pray for God’s intervention among the peoples who still need to hear the Good News. To learn more about the Day of Prayer, visit imb.org/dayofprayer. The website features resources to help churches, small groups and Sunday School classes pray for peoples who have yet to hear the Gospel, including a downloadable poster and video, planning helps and other materials. To order the Day of Prayer and Fasting DVD, go to imbresources.org or call 1-800-999-3113.
*Names changed. Blake Williams wrote this story on behalf of the International Mission Board.
How to pray for the lost in Udmurtia:
— Pray for spiritual darkness to be lifted and for the Udmurt people to see the light of Jesus Christ. Pray that they will receive and worship Him.
— Pray for the Udmurts who struggle with alcoholism and depression that the Lord will bring them hope and purpose.
— Pray for men to come to Christ and become leaders in their homes and churches.
— Pray for new Bible study groups to be formed and new churches to be planted.
— Pray for people of peace who will open their homes for evangelistic Bible studies.
— Pray that the Russian government will not restrict missionary and evangelistic efforts.
— Pray for volunteer mission teams from the United States that will be traveling to Udmurtia.
— Pray that the Lord will give you a love for the Udmurt people.
How to pray for Udmurt believers and churches:
— Pray that the seven Baptist churches in Udmurtia will be bold in reaching out to the villages and sharing their faith.
— Pray for the churches that have no pastor.
— Pray that the Lord will raise up men of faith and equip them to be leaders in the churches.
— Pray for the two couples who are Russian-language students in Udmurtia. Pray that they will become fluent in the language. Pray that they will be an encouragement and support to local believers and churches.
— Pray for at least 25 churches to be planted during the next 10 years.