IZHEVSK, Udmurtia (BP)--Charlie and Heather Murphy* met Will and Marie Thompson* while attending seminary in Texas. The two couples discovered a mutual desire to share God's love with the nations. Little did they know that God had a plan to send them to engage the same unreached people group in the Republic of Udmurtia, a small country west of Siberia.
Today, the Murphys and Thompsons are Russian language students in Izhevsk, the capital city of Udmurtia. They believe God has called them to show His love to the Udmurts.
"I loved the Udmurt people before I ever took a trip here, before I ever met one of them," Charlie says. "And that really was just a love that came from God."
The population of Udmurtia is largely Russian, while ethnic Udmurts make up only 30 percent of its inhabitants. Shy and quiet, Udmurts show themselves to be a warm, vibrant people once trust is built with them. They often are recognized by their distinct physical features, such as small stature, high cheekbones and a high percentage of redheads.
Udmurts often mix Russian Orthodoxy and pagan worship practices. Fewer than 0.3 percent are considered evangelical Christians.
Years of social and spiritual oppression have rendered the Udmurts as outcasts. Because of low employment rates, most Udmurts live in rural villages where they struggle to eke out a meager existence from their family gardens. It is no surprise that a general sense of hopelessness -- expressed in depression, alcoholism and high suicide rates -- plagues their culture.
"Without a doubt," Charlie Murphy says, "the thing that burdens me the most about this people is just the depression. You can see it on their faces. They're buying time until they can see what's next. Unfortunately, a lot of the animistic roots still remain in this region. Some turn to the animism, some turn to the Orthodox Church, but right now very few are turning to Christ."
Will Thompson echoes these sentiments. Udmurtia, he says, is "a place ready to receive the Gospel because there's really not as much pride that you have to fight through. Hopelessness is just an open field -- open soil for the Gospel."
The two couples pray daily for Udmurts to put their trust in Christ and boldly share their faith in their villages. These prayers are fueled by an earnest love for the people of Udmurtia.
"Why on earth would I love a people that I'd never met?" Marie Thompson reflects. "Why would I want to go live with a people that I hadn't really seen? I think only God can give you a love like that for a people group."
Heather Murphy agrees. "I'm excited because God is doing something the Udmurt people," she says. "He loves the Udmurt people, and He has a plan for them, so I just want to be a part of that anyway that I can."
*Names changed. Blake Williams wrote this article for the International Mission Board.
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