January 26, 2021 | Interview by Beth Fromme
Welcome, Lucas and Jamie Orner! We are so happy to have you at East White Oak. Can you give an overview of your life and ministry in Krasnoyarsk, Russia?
We moved to Siberia (the eastern 2/3 of Russia) in 2008. We live in the city of Krasnoyarsk (cross-na-YARSK), which is a crossroads for people seeking education, work, and health facilities. The evangelical church is growing in the city, but there are still hundreds of communities in the broader region with no church or gospel witness, especially among the indigenous people groups of Siberia.
One people group that we work with is the Tuvan people. They are traditionally shamanistic and Buddhist. They see Jesus as a white-man god (Russian) and prefer to go to either the local shaman or Buddhist lama when they need help in life. As you know, there is little lasting hope in either of these options, and alcoholism is prevalent.
Our family’s ministry has developed into two parts – we enjoy actively participating in our local church body in Krasnoyarsk, which includes leading an English club and discipling young believers. And we also maintain an active relationship with believers from outlying regions, hosting them in our home whenever they come to visit our city and making trips out to see them as often as we can. We are impressed by the increasing number of Tuvans moving to our city and are praying about bringing some of them together to form their own fellowship group. We also long to see the day when Russians are going out from the Krasnoyarsk churches to these unreached areas.
Are there any misconceptions that had to be overcome in moving to and living in Siberia?
One common stereotype about people in Russia is that they never smile. While it’s true that Russians do not crack a smile much in public, if you spend time with them long enough, you’ll find that they just reserve those smiles for good times with friends. Plus, it hurts your teeth when you smile too much in the cold.
How did you prepare yourselves and your family for missions?
There was a lot that went into preparation and yet one of our pet peeves is to hear people say, “I could never do that!” We firmly believe that God can call any of His kids to go and do fruitful ministry in another culture. And anyone can grow into it the same way we did – one small step at a time.
The first thing that we needed before we could go was a strong team behind us, praying for and supporting our family and ministry. That’s where East White Oak and other churches stepped in to lift up our family and ministry in prayer and support us financially and spiritually. Also, Jamie and I both studied cross-cultural ministries while we were students at Moody. And while that gave us the tools to prepare us for working with others cross-culturally, we would not have been prepared without a firm foundation in our relationship with Christ and knowledge and belief in the sovereignty and character of God. Head knowledge and great support will only push a missionary so far if they are not planted firmly in faith.
Are there some specific ways life has been richer because of cross-cultural service?
Absolutely–in so many ways. One is learning from brothers and sisters from another culture. Stories of faith and provision during time of poverty, steadfastness during persecution, and victory over trauma and addiction. Then there are the hardships and times when we endure trials that we know we would not have had to face if we had stayed in the U.S. But as James 1:2-4 teaches, we grow richly in those trials as they help us identify sin in our lives and grow to be more like Christ.
What are the best and the hardest parts of missions?
The best part is that we get to go to very dark places with the light of gospel and share hope with those who don’t know Christ, and walk alongside fellow believers to become more like Jesus. The hardest part is doing exactly that, but witnessing firsthand what life in a godless culture leads to. Memories of atrocious trauma, bondage to strong addictions, losing loved ones to suicide, wave upon wave of hopelessness, and deep pain are all normal hurdles that we are witnessing in people’s lives. It’s the truth of Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
How can we pray for you?
Our team in Siberia is specifically praying for more workers. We see so many needs and long to build a team that can reach farther into the unreached regions.
What has been a most meaningful experience while doing ministry in Siberia?
Our Tuvan friend, Pastor Ayas, recently shared about the youth group trip that their church took last summer. It was amazing to see a group of Tuvan teenagers, the first of their people growing up in a Christian home with believing parents, inviting their nonbelieving friends to go on this youth retreat. They don’t have nice camping equipment or folding tables/chairs, but they packed a box truck full of basic chairs and tables and old tents and cooking equipment and . . . a live goat. The goat served as the meals for the week and the groups spent time together teaching the Word to these young people. It is so amazing to see local church leaders initiating and leading training and outreach in their own language and style.
What has helped you to persevere in the hard times?
When times of hardship and suffering have come, our perseverance has been based on our relationship with God and knowledge of His character, motivated by our love for the people we serve, and driven by the support of other believers. We look to the ultimate sufferer—Christ. How much emotional and physical suffering did he endure? His friends abandoned him. Others mocked and tortured him. And yet, in the midst of that hardship, his focus was on his Father and others. We certainly aren’t there yet, but that’s what we strive for.
What are some specific ways you have seen God at work through you in Krasnoyarsk?
We’ve seen spiritual growth in those we disciple and having opportunities to share the gospel with those who are seeking. There is a young man Zhenya who we have known for almost ten years now. For the first five he was a non-believer. We saw his interest in God grow from nothing, to curiosity, to taking the step of repenting and believing. We saw him tell his friends about Christ (one who came to faith). We walked alongside him as he continued to grow in his knowledge of the Word. And now in the last couple of years we have started to see him serve, teaching the Bible to others at a rehab center and continuing to evangelize. It has been slow going at times and there were days early on where we were really ready to drop our pursuit of Zhenya, but now, looking back over the past decade we are thrilled at how God has been working in his life and it’s been a privilege to play a role in that work.
What does a typical day or week look like for you while living and ministering in Krasnoyarsk?
Our typical day is to expect an atypical day. The people that we serve do not operate on much of a schedule beyond a day or two. It’s not uncommon to get a call or message that says, “We’re headed to Krasnoyarsk and will be there around 11pm. Is it okay if we stay with you?” Our 800 sq ft apartment is tight for a family of six, but our Russian and Tuvan guests never seem to mind, and our little home has often been the center of some our greatest memories and ministry opportunities as we host other couples, families, and church groups.
Our kids do go to school at a Russian public school that is situated about 20 yards from our apartment building. If you see them over the next couple months, they’d be happy to share about what they enjoy doing with friends and what life is like through their eyes.
How can the congregation of East White Oak keep up to date with your life and ministry?
Every 1-2 months we send out email updates about our ministry and ways to pray. The easiest way to sign up would be to shoot us an email at [email protected]
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is hard to put into words the role that the body of Christ at East White Oak plays in our lives and ministry. The encouragement, prayers, support, friendships, love, acts of kindness, biblical teaching, good counsel, meals together while we are here…we are so thankful for all of it. Saying thanks doesn’t seem adequate and yet there is a pure joy knowing that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and that you do all this not out of obligation but out of our shared love for our Creator and Redeemer!
We are thrilled to have Lucas and Jamie spending time at East White Oak over the next few months!
Would you like to meet the Orners in person? Contact the church office and we will help you get connected.