My final week with Ken has been in the wonderful country of Ukraine. Quite a cultural contrast from the Far East & Nepal! Historically rich in Orthodox Christianity but greatly affected by years of communist power. Now, with more freedom, the non-denominational church is growing rapidly and it has been wonderful to spend the week here in a number of different churches and Bible schools.
We’ve been hosted by Serge and his family and their lovely church. Serge was a professional drummer and musician and was converted later in life. He said that as he started to listen to the worship in church the music, and musicians, were awful… but … something amazing happened when the people worshipped – the presence of God was felt. And he loved it!
He really didn’t want to become a pastor, but God called him to plant a church in Bolhrad (about an hour north of Izmir). The testimonies of the people who have come to faith are wonderful and humbling.
Daytimes were spent teaching at a daily Bible School which Serge had set up for his own church and other local churches. Then after sharing a lovely meal in the home of a church member we taught in an evening meeting in one of the churches in Izmir. There is a real hunger for God and His word here and it’s been a privilege to hear people’s stories.
Most people we met are not well off. This is a poor region of Ukraine.
We’ve met some amazing people and heard some beautiful stories. None of this would have been possible for us without the amazing Svetna, our wonderful translator, stood next to Ken in the picture below.
Her own story is an incredible testimony to God’s grace. She was saved out of a life of utter spiritual rebellion against Jesus (which is a whole other story). As a university student she gave her life to Jesus and was baptised. When she came home to tell her parents, her father was furious! A committed communist and atheist (and alcoholic) he was utterly opposed to her decision and insisted that she renounce her faith. She wouldn’t, and at times her life was literally in danger at home.
An agreement with her Father was made that she wouldn’t attend a church until her studies were finished (he hoped she’d forget about it all by then). So she agreed. As soon as she left university she found a church and got involved.
By God’s grace her Father has recently had a miraculous conversion. He now loves the Lord Jesus, is completely sober and his wife, who was also utterly opposed to Christianity, has given her life to the Lord. We had a great time with them all!
Every lunch and evening meal we were invited into the homes of Church family members where they served us the most lovely food and made us so very welcome by their hospitality and love.
Their stories were always so moving and humbling. Every story was unique and too many to tell.
One family that made a big impact on both Ken and me was the family in the picture below. Their story is one of sadness and joy intermingled with deep faith and love for Jesus and people.
It was Oxana’s 40th birthday on the day we went for lunch. Her face just beamed with the love of God and her warmth and love was infectious.
She was a very talented child with a real gift for music. But her whole life changed when she was 8 years old and went to have a vaccination. The equipment was not properly sterilized and she contracted hepatitis from the vaccination. This went to her brain very rapidly and she has suffered with Cerebral Palsy ever since. She’s been learning English recently and so she was able to tell us in her own words that it’s ‘only been by the love and presence of Jesus that she hasn’t descended into depression and has been able to keep going’.
Sadly, her father, has recently had a stroke and was severely affected. He lay on the sofa in a different room watching TV and unable move well or join us.
Valla, Oxana’s mum, has brought her up and cared for her. About 10 years ago Valla started to get ill herself. She became paralysed in her legs and was hospitalised for 4 months. The doctors couldn’t locate a cause for the paralysis.
Valla was in despair. Who would look after her daughter if she wasn’t able to? She wasn’t a Christian and knew nothing about Christianity, but in desparation she prayed and cried out to God one night. As she fell asleep she had a dream – it was full of imagery that she later found out was from the Bible. But in the dream she was assured that she would be okay and she would be able to care for her daughter.
When she awoke she began to get some feeling back in her legs. Little by little over the days that followed she got more feeling back into her legs until one day she got up and was able to walk for the first time in months. The doctors couldn’t believe it – and wouldn’t believe that she was really better and told her to stay in bed.
She knew she was getting better and in the end called a friend to come and help her get discharged. She went home to look after Oxana, and made a complete recovery. Still not a Christian at this point she and Oxana were invited one day to hear a visiting evangelist. They knew very little about Christianity but went and at that meeting gave their lives to Jesus.
Life is still very hard. But the love of Jesus shone from Valla and Oxana. It was a real privilege to spend some time with them.
It has been an inspirational week in Ukraine and tomorrow I fly to Poland as Ken flies to Moldova.