Ministry in Kyiv
Dear Gateway Family…Greetings from “somewhere” out in the frozen tundra of Ukraine called Bil’che, near the city of Lutzk. Yes, it is cold, between 15-28 F, but nothing that we were not expecting.
Well, it has been a full and hard week of ministry so far. We finished up our conference on the outskirts of Kiev hosted at a camp/conference center owned and run by the Scripture Union, a mission organization and centered in England. The accommodations were not luxurious by any means but sufficient for what we were doing with the brothers. The bottom line is that we all slept well, had great fellowship and were encouraged by the growth and development of the men who attended.
The conference in Kiev was held on Friday and Saturday, but on Saturday night and Sunday night we had the great privilege to be hosted by Jerry & Kellie Benge. Jerry is a pastor friend of mine from Michigan who is now teaching Pastoral Theology at the Kiev Theological Seminary. They joined us as we went to church on Sunday and took us sightseeing in Kiev on Monday. For the church service I was assigned (on Friday) to preach from Matthew 4:18-25. It was difficult to find the time to prepare, but God gave me strength.
On Monday we were able to visit two special sites in Kiev. The first was the Famine Museum which is a remembrance of the over 7 million Ukrainians who were starved to death by Stalin in 1932-1933 in order to both control an uprising people as well as to build up economic wealth used to purchase military equipment. It wasn’t that crops were not being grown, but that the peasants were not allowed to eat any of the fruit of their labors. Simply eating an ear of wheat would end up in execution. Families were not allowed to store up food, but many hid food in secret compartments just to survive. Sadly, much of the grain produced by the USSR during that time was sent to the West (Europe and the USA). It was a really sad and evil political strategy, but largely ignored for the evil that it was. Then we visited the second holiest site of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pechersk Lavre, where mummified former priests are kept in underground caves and multiple chapels and a cathedral encompass most of the buildings. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, like most Eastern Orthodox churches, are gaudy, gold and grand in their appearance. The idea is to show how magnificent God is, but man is left far removed and totally at a distance from every interacting with Him. He can only commune with God through saints and the priests. One marked difference is that in an Orthodox church there are no chairs or pews. Those in attendance must stand during the service. That of course makes for short sermons and ceremonies (hey! Don’t get any ideas!). It is always a heavy discouragement when I visit in such places because I see man in such bondage, in awe of the greatness and completely otherness of God, but enslaved to and reduced to hopelessness because he is so far removed from God. Still, it is a reminder of the beauty and privilege that we have in the Gospel to come boldly to the throne of grace.
Please pray for us. We are all extremely tired. We have not had much time to ourselves and we have had to move about quite a lot. We are not discouraged, but trying our best to manage our time well as well as our strength.
Today is the end of Day 1 of our conference in the Rivne region and things have gone extremely well. JD has done an exceptional job and is well liked, as well as respected, by the men attending. Yuliya is consistently working behind the scenes as well as being our cultural advisor/casual translator. On top of the conference I will be speaking to families tomorrow night and to a Youth Evening on Saturday night. I would appreciate prayer on choosing a text/sermon for both of those times of ministry – writing fresh sermons for each is a likely reality.
We miss you guys a lot and appreciate your comments and feedback.
We love you!
Rod, Yuliya and JD…