A Whanganui church group has just returned from a mission to a remote area of Russia.

Five members of Faith City Church spent three weeks in eastern Siberia, in and around the city of Ulan Ude, in Buryatia province, located 150km from the Mongolian border.

The group was led by Ian Mealings, who was visiting Buryatia for the eighth time. However, three of the team members were visiting for the first time.

"I'm very familiar with the place, although we do have to use interpreters while we're there," Mr Mealings said.


He said the local population was a mixture of Russians and ethnic Buryats. Russia is the language commonly spoken, although in more remote areas the Buryat language - considered by Unesco to be critically endangered - is still heard.

He said it was early spring when the Whanganui team visited, and the weather was still chilly.

"It was about 5 to 10 degrees, and the locals were still breaking the ice on the rivers and lakes to fish."

For Marty Bullock the trip was his first time in Buryatia, and he described it as "life changing".

Mr Bullock said the purpose of the trip was to support the work of the church in the region.

"Buryatia has many social issues, including alcoholism and drug addiction, unemployment, crime and divorce.

"The churches we worked with have numerous rehab centres and are doing an amazing work with very limited resources. The team was able to assist the church's rehabilitation centres for alcohol and drugs and also with those in prison rehabilitation. These people are forgotten by the state and receive little or no assistance otherwise.

"The rehab centres teach life skills and help them to become self-sufficient," Mr Bullock said.

He said both Russian and Buryat people were "extremely hospitable".

Faith City Church has a long-standing relationship with the region. Eighteen years ago the church decided to assist a part of the world that was extremely poor and did not know about Christianity, and chose Buryatia.

Mr Bullock said the church's commitment to Buryatia would continue "for many years to come".