Unreached Spotlight: Buryat of Russia - Radical

Unreached Spotlight: Buryat of Russia

David Platt proposes the following definition for the term unreached:

Unreached peoples and places are those among whom Christ is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Christ known in its broader population without outside help. 

Definition of Unreached People

Based on that definition, there are two main factors we can use to identify people as unreached. 

They Don’t Know Christ’s Name

1. Unreached people don’t know the name of Christ. Some who are unreached have never even heard of Jesus. Others may have heard the name, but they don’t know who Jesus is or what He did. They are like many Americans today when it comes to someone like Confucius. Also, they may be able to tell you that Confucius taught on philosophy or the meaning of life, or something along those lines, but that’s the extent of it. 

They Don’t Have Church Presence

2. Unreached peoples don’t have a church presence around them. Unreached people can don’t have contact with a community of followers of Christ. Geography could cause this seperation. You are physically separated from Christians. Or there may simply be no church among your people group (or both things may be true). Regardless, we considered a people group unreached if there is not a church with sufficient resources to make the name and truth of Christ known among that people group or in that place. Unless someone from the outside comes in and works among that unreached people group or unreached place, then these people will likely be unreached until they die.

These two factors used to identify the unreached should make it clear why the label unreached is different from the labels unsaved and lost. Some people wonder why an emphasis should be put on the unreached when there are lost people all around us. However, the lost people around you have access to you, as well as to other Christians and churches. The unreached, on the other hand, have no way of hearing the gospel. So yes, we should always try to reach the lost people around us, but in terms of cross-cultural missions, our top priority should be those who currently have no access to the gospel.[1] 

The Buryat of Russia is Unreached

In light of this definition of “unreached,” it’s sobering to realize how many peoples and places are still considered unreached. Joshua Project is a ministry that serves the church in reaching the unreached by tracking the progress of unreached peoples around the world. Below you’ll find one of their unreached people groups profiles—this one is for the Buryat of Russia. This kind of information should help direct our prayers and our efforts to make disciples where there is little or no access to the gospel. 

Population

470,000

Main Language

Buriat, Russia

Largest Religion

Ethnic Religions

Christian

1.00%

Evangelical

0.04%

Introduction / History

The Buryat are thought to be descended from Mongols who moved north to escape the rule of the Mongol empire, as there is a similarity of features and language. 

Today the Buryat have incorporated Mongolian, Tibetan, and Chinese elements into their own culture. Russians arrived in Siberia in the 17th century and did little to destroy the culture until the 20th century, when Communism was introduced. A large percentage of Buryat live in the lowlands along the Russia-Mongolia border. We call this area the Republic of Buryatia, an autonomous region within the Russian Federation.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Buryat traditionally have been nomadic herdsman. The Western Buryats have largely abandoned this lifestyle though, and have settled into permanent villages, learning farming from the Russians. The Eastern Buryats remain cattle herders. They move large herds of cattle, horses, reindeer, pigs, sheep, goats, and camels several times a year because of the seasons of short, hot summers and long, harsh winters. A family may live in four or five different permanent houses each year, often resembling the traditional round felt tents or yurts.

What Do They Eat?

Like other Mongolian peoples, Buryat eat mainly mutton, airag (fermented mare’s milk), yoghurt and cheese, sausages, and a flour dough cooked in butter. Once they ate with fingers or chopsticks, but today they eat with Western tableware.

Where Do They Live?

Much of the area where the Buryat live is covered with forest, and many work in the lumber industry. Each family prepares mountainous heap of logs, as homes are heated by a central wood stove which is also used in cooking. Coal is another source of energy used in the region. Remote mountain villages may lack plumbing and other utilities.

The capital, Ulan-Ude, is an industrial center. It is home to a large meat-packing plant, railroad car shop, glass factory, power plants, and flour mill. Many Buryat that work in the city have high levels of education. They excel in the fields of science, medicine, teaching, engineering, business, and government. Ulan-Ude is also a cultural center in Siberia. There are five popular theatres, a philharmonic, and several museums. 

Today’s Culture

Today, they only use colorful native clothing of bright blue, red, green, and orange silks and brocades for festivals. They wear standard Western clothing, including shawls and felt hats.

They founded Buryat society on the clan or lineage. A man’s home, his political position, inheritance, and status were largely determined by his clan membership. Traditionally, parents arrange marriages, forming alliances between clans. Members could not marry within their own lineage. A bride could also be obtained by abduction, with or without her consent. Today, couples initiate most marriages themselves. The Buryat love music, folk dances, chess, and sporting events.

What Are Their Beliefs?

In 1818, the first Protestant missionary began work among the Buryat. The work lasted 22 years. After that time, the laborers were few. The Buryat are now Siberia’s largest Buddhist group. Those residing east of Lake Baikal are devout followers of the Dalai Lama. They are “lamanistic” Buddhists, although they include some aspects of their old Shamanistic heritage. They have much more of an Asian influence. The Buryat west of Lake Baikal have had more of a Russian influence. 

They practice a primarily Shamanistic religion called Burkhanism. They are preoccupied with the spirit world. Also, they call upon monks and lamas to alleviate evil spirits through divination and oracles, sorcery, mediums, and astrology. Ways to obtain merit involve spinning prayer wheels, reciting mantras, and daily walks around shrines. In a Tibetan Buddhist “scapegoat ritual,” the sins and misfortunes of one individual or community are placed upon an image of dough. They then throw it away in some wild or uninhabited area. Occasionally they choose a domestic animal (often a goat), symbolically laden with guilt. They send it out destined to die. We can use this analogy as a cultural bridge that introduces the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

What Are Their Needs?

There is a desperate need for a current, up to date translation of the New Testament in the Buriat language. They are waiting for the printing of the Gospel books of John and Mark. Only one known church exists among the Buryat. So many more need to know that God loves them. 

–This information is used by permission of Joshua Project.

[1] David Platt, Mission Precision, 90–91.

Joshua Project is a research initiative seeking to highlight the ethnic people groups of the world with the fewest followers of Christ.

Less than 1% of all money given to missions goes to unreached people and places.*

That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Let's change that!