Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ukraine 2008: A Brief Summary of Children's Ministry, Compassion, and Reconciliation

Dear family and friends,
I have recently returned from a Youth in Mission trip to Ukraine, and it was a wonderful time of playing with children, leading and helping with Vacation Bible Schools, and otherwise seeing God’s hand at work in the lives of Ukrainians. Thank you for your financial and/or prayer support that enabled my team and I to participate in this; you have played a part in ministry to others around the world! This letter will give you an overview of the two months I spent in Ukraine and will introduce you to some of the people we met, though it is impossible to fit all the stories from that time into these few pages.

Ukrainians have been influenced by three major events/societal structures: World War II, Communism, and Eastern Orthodoxy. Everyone in the Soviet Union lost somebody in the war, and nearly every village/town/city has a war memorial and an Orthodox church. Whenever we were in downtown Kyiv (the capital city) on weekends, we would usually see wedding parties walking or driving around to the various war memorials and churches for photos in honor of their family members who served in the war. Ukraine only recently became independent, and it is mind-boggling that people I met or passed in the streets have lived what I learned about in history classes.

During our first week in Kyiv, we met a Canadian girl about our age, Charly, who had been teaching churches how to use puppets in children’s ministry. It was wonderful getting to know her! Later that week, we joined her for a Puppetry Seminar at Kyiv First Church, which gave us skills and puppets to use throughout the rest of our time in Ukraine. We also met Irina (the children’s director) and Deena, who later joined us in Zaporozhe.

The work of the Church of the Nazarene began just after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when a missionary couple returned to the country and began hosting home Bible studies. Their translator was Vova (Vladimir), who is now the pastor of Kyiv First Church.

I found that the passage of 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 about Christians being given the ministry of reconciliation really relates to how the church is working and growing in Ukraine. Currently there are a number of churches and drug/alcohol rehab centers throughout the country (mostly in the western part) and 2-3 children’s homes. We were also able to visit 2 men’s rehab centers, one women’s rehab center, 2 children’s homes, and a halfway house for men who have been released from prison.

We also helped transfer banana boxes of humanitarian aid from the Kyiv Ministry Center to a truck that would then transfer it to Vira in Chernovtsy. As you will soon read, we had worked with her and met some of the children who would receive that aid, so it was really neat to see the banana boxes travel full-circle and have a personal connection. Also, at our last location, there was a boy who wore t-shirts with names of small towns that are on my district. That gives me reason to think that I have truly seen the final destination of banana boxes from my district.

On our way to Chernovtsy, we met Vica (our translator/interpreter) and Tiffany (a volunteer in Ukraine), who traveled with us for the rest of our time in Ukraine. It was wonderful having them with us -- to learn from their experiences, have some companions , and have fun with them!

In Chernovtsy, we worked with Vira Kushnir, who is passionate about helping children with special needs and their families. She says, “Compassion is my lifestyle,” and challenged us by saying that compassion is more than simply feeling sorry for a cause or a person – it means DOING something about it!

We met Sveta, who is 30 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. We helped teach her how to tie her shoes, practicing by using toy shoes. We also organized boxes of toys, occupational therapy supplies, personal care items, and school supplies for Vira to distribute.

One of the highlights (for me) of our time in Ukraine was getting to know Katya and her mom and to encourage them. Katya is 18 and has cerebral palsy, and we went to her apartment twice to sing songs, talk to her, play with her (bubbles and “soccer”), and chat with her mom. Life is difficult for her mother, because in Ukraine, very little assistance is given to those with disabilities. Her husband left her a number of years ago, she is a single mom raising 2 children, and she devotes much of her time to caring for Katya. She says that it has been wonderful knowing Vira and joining her children’s clubs, so that she can meet others in a similar situation.

In the town of Tulchin, we worked with Pastor Victor to host a backyard Vacation Bible School (VBS). For about 4 mornings, we would meet with around 4 children to play games, share a Bible story and lesson, sing some songs, and share a snack. In the evenings, we would simply play with Victor and Olga’s own twin boys after they returned from daycare.

Pastor Victor is one of many Nazarene pastors in Ukraine that has come out of the drug/alcohol culture. He is now sharing that same hope, love, and new life found in Christ with others in Tulchin. He and his wife also shared with us the story of the biggest miracle they’d witnessed: he and Olga were told they would never be able to have children, and now God has given them three young boys!

Our time in Zaporozhe was a time of really getting to know the kids in the community surrounding the church, and then helping to host a cowboy-themed VBS during our second week. The first week included simply being at the church in the mornings for any children that might stop by to play, and so Nadine and I played basketball, ran around, and played games with them, along with letting them show us tricks they could do. Since we also needed to prepare for the VBS, a number of the kids wanted to help us decorate and advertise, so we welcomed their help in creating a cardboard street front, wall decorations, and flyers.

I got to know 7 year old Vladik throughout the course of the week, as we played basketball. He, of course, would talk to me and I would have next to no idea what he was saying; likewise, I’m sure he had no idea what I was saying either. Once he figured out that my camera could record short videos, he would ask if I could record him jumping off of a small awning, or if he could record someone else saying or doing something. His younger sister Ivana also came to play at the church, and during the VBS I helped her make an origami flower.

For VBS, we were joined by youth teams from Kyiv and Vinnytsa, as well as another American girl named Ree. The Ukraine teams primarily lead the VBS, whether it was with songs, games, crafts, origami, or Bible studies with each age group. Our role at this time became one of support, filling in wherever someone was needed. As we walked to and from lunch and the games area, we were able to talk to some of the children who also enjoyed practicing their English.

The theme for this summer’s VBS was “God’s Love Changes Everything,” and it is my hope and prayer that what the children learned and saw that week will have an eternal impact on their hearts. I hope that Anya and Marina, two teenage girls who became Christians during that week, will continue to walk with Christ. I hope that Vladik and Ivana will continue attending church, and will find that the love shown there is actually Christ’s love for them.

Our final destination was the small village of Gorodkivka, where we would help Pastor Oleg with a 3 day VBS. This was the first one that we had completely planned ourselves, so we used ideas that we had learned from the other teams at Zaporozhe. “A vot morye” (There’s a Sea, roughly translated) was a big hit with these kids, and we had spent a few hours learning the song ourselves. Roughly translated, the song is “There’s an eye, on the fish, on the pole, in the hand, of the fisherman, on the boat, on the sea of Galilee,” and its repetition helped us to sing most of the words instead of mumbling them like we had in Zaporozhe!

During our time in Ukraine, we experienced new foods, traveled on trains, and saw God’s hand of protection at work. God kept us safe as we traveled with a “maniac” driver—I call him that because he was driving far too fast in a thunderstorm for my comfort—to an overnight camp in Chernovtsy. God protected us from any more trouble as we returned from a wedding in Vapnyarka; we had run over some debris in the road that damaged our fuel and oil lines, and we had to sit on the side of the road in the middle of the night for two hours. We also saw God’s provision, as we worked with some wonderful people like Charly, the Kiev/Vinnytsa teams, and Pastor Andriy at Zaporozhe.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and thank you once again for providing support this summer. It was a time of learning to trust God as well as seeing God’s hand at work within the country of Ukraine.

In Christ,

1 comment:

Taxtai said...

Hi, this is pastor Andriy from Zaporizhzhya here.... I really liked your report and feedback on your trip to Ukraine. Thank you very much for coming and helping us. You have done an amazing job of helping us with publicity before camp, and now, because of the VBS that we have hosted this summer our Sunday school attendance has increased to 30 children every Sunday, and now we have to split them into 2 groups, because they do not fit into one room anymore. Thank you for dedicating your time... And I would also like to thank all people, who has made this trip possible.
Andriy Takhtay,
Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine