I spent about half of October working in three areas of beautiful Ukraine. Did you know it’s about the size of Texas? I traveled with our International Commission team, led by fellow staffer and office-mate J.T. Hilyer, to Odessa Theological Seminary. There, we met with leaders from Baptist churches all over the Odessa Oblast who are associated with the seminary and each team member was assigned to work with one of those churches for the project week. Overall, the team reported 77 decisions for Christ during that week! The project also built and strengthened relationships with those area churches which should pave the way for ongoing international partnerships and future projects. They love having mission teams come from the United States and they hope to have many more next year as they make the most of an unprecedented opportunity: Ukraine is officially observing the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Evangelical churches will be able to use government-sponsored celebrations and events to share about the simplicity of the gospel of grace.
I worked alongside Pastor Victor with churches in a town called Chornomorsk (on the Black Sea near the border of Moldova) and its surrounding villages. The pastor’s family hosted my translator (also Victor) and me at their apartment downtown, and we did not want for comfort nor food; his wife Sacha is a chef.
Throughout the week, I preached during Sunday morning services, evening services, special worship events, and a harvest celebration. I also taught during small group Bible studies, made home visits to share the gospel with people who have been visiting the churches, and talked about my relationship with the Lord during dinners with local believers’ friends and neighbors. I also had the privilege of meeting with and encouraging students who are in the missions program at the seminary.
Another part of my work was media production. Between other activities, I got to interview some of the pastors and the seminary president and to capture footage and images of life in their communities. The pastors talked about the importance of evangelism and discipleship in their culture, which is heavily influenced by Eastern Orthodox tradition, and why it’s beneficial for international mission teams to work with them. I’ll use this content for various purposes; some will be edited into short videos for social media storytelling, and some will be saved for the production of a longer-form documentary.
At the end of the week, most of the team headed to the airport from their respective towns, but I regrouped in Odessa with nationals Luba and Misha to board an overnight train to Lviv (adventure!). From there, we rode a bus to Luba’s hometown of Boryslav to meet with and interview more pastors. There we also reconvened with American team member Chuck, who’s a long-time I.C. project participant and friend of the churches in that area. He and Luba continued home visits in Boryslav while Misha and I headed back to Lviv on another (and much more modern) train.
I was hosted in Lviv by the Blessing family at Bethel House. The Blessings have been missionaries in Ukraine since the early 1990s. Kim and I became close friends with sisters Bria, Lindsay, and Krista when they lived in Nashville, and they’ve since been called back to ministry in Ukraine. A Texan bapticostal international missionary family with three homeschooled daughters, we are kindred spirits. I enjoyed spending a few days with them experiencing and capturing life in Lviv, discussing the joys and challenges of missions, learning more about Ukrainian culture, and teaching during their church’s young adult meeting. It was a profoundly encouraging time after a whirlwind year of transitioning from the career world into full-time ministry, leaving behind our home and family and friends to move to a new state, raising support, buying a new house, and trying to connect with a new community.
One of my favorite meetings of the project was a dinner with friends Tonya and Tanya. Home visits really are the heartbeat of I.C. projects. Tonya’s family hosted us with great hospitality at their apartment and we spent hours sharing testimonies of our relationships with Christ, stories of miracles we’ve witnessed, and enjoying amazing homemade food. The friendship of Tonya and Tanya inspired me; these nurses have worked together for many years and Tanya, who is a strong believer and unstoppable evangelist, recently led Tonya to a personal relationship with Jesus during a time of depression and uncertainty about her religious upbringing. Tonya told the story of how the Lord pursued and spoke to her amidst that season of doubt and confusion and how He used their friendship to show her the difference between religion and relationship. Having discovered the voice of the Holy Spirit through prayer, Tonya also shared how she was moved by the film War Room to make her own prayer closet, where she spends time with the Lord every day. Please pray for her husband and daughter, who have been attending a local church with her.
Thank your for your prayers and support! I truly, in every sense, could not do this work without your partnership. If you want to experience the joy of working with a church to share the good news of Jesus in another culture, go with us on a project! I’d especially love for you to go with me on a trip next year.