It has been a while since we have written about our lives and ministry here in Ukraine. First, we just want to express our thanksgiving to all of you who support us with your prayers and finances. The Bible reminds us not to be ignorant of our enemy’s devices, and we are also told that the prayer of the righteous availeth much! While being here in Chernivtsi we experience both. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, “As Christ’s soldier do not let yourself become tied up in worldly affairs, for then you cannot satisfy the one Who has enlisted you in His army.” This is where I (and you) must be a wise steward: with our time, with our resources, and with our life in general. There is much to share as it’s been five months since our last report, but I will do my best to be brief and clear. I feel like the Apostle Paul when he said, “I wish to be present with you and not write to you,” but for now I don’t have this opportunity so I will try my best to share with you in writing what God is doing in our lives and ministry here in Ukraine.
One of the greatest testimonies we would like to share is of God’s work in me and my family. Maybe this sounds self-centered, but I will explain what I mean. Since coming to Ukraine, our goal here has been (and still is) to be missionaries who are concerned for and working with other people, seeking to help them find God’s answers to their problems. But, we know that before He can find us fit for His work here in Ukraine, He must first do the work in our hearts and in our lives. We were beginning to feel that, over the past few months, our ministry was somewhat stalling as it hasn’t grown much from what it was or taken any drastic steps. But, then, we realized that we were looking with our human eyes, and not with God’s eyes. We were overlooking God’s working in the everyday, “little” things by looking for big, grand things. It seems that God is taking this time and teaching us day by day how important it is to seek His interest in this life and not our own (Phil. 2:20-21), and to be faithful in even the smallest of “little” things. After going through four years of Christian college, and gathering much head-knowledge of God and what He wants from us, I feel like I’m just now starting in God’s kindergarten. It is one thing to know, but it is totally another thing to live! It is this truth that we, as a family, are trying to learn and seek after. Someone said, “It is better to know one verse of Scripture and to live it out, than to know the whole Bible yet not live by it.” Praise the Lord for His abundant mercy and grace that He is showing toward us as we seek to learn and incorporate His truth into our hearts and lives.
These past few months have been our busiest yet, even though it hasn’t always been with what may sound like your standard missionary outreaches! I will try to divide our recent activities into two categories: one is family/home activities and the other is ministry activities. First, our family and home activities. To simply put it, we are living and working around the house. We keep a large garden, just like most other Ukrainian people do, while continuing to chip away at years’ worth of neglect of the house and property. These seemingly simple chores help us and people around us to understand each other. We don’t want to be seen as “the Americans” here amongst our neighbors, but we are trying to live simply and show them that we’re just normal people like they are. At home, Sarah’s main chores consist of cleaning our house and our grandmother’s house, daily meals, and, lately, a large chunk of her time is spent on maintaining the garden and preserving the harvest for the long winter months. This past year, as we arrived right at the beginning of winter, we had to buy most of our produce either at the bazaar (market) or at the grocery store. Here in Ukraine, that means paying very high prices (sometimes 10x higher than in summer) for oftentimes very questionable quality. Aside from the price, food here is usually produced with very heavy levels of chemicals and pesticides. While those things are pretty much unavoidable no matter where you live these days, here in Ukraine, the problem is that their use is almost completely unregulated. Pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that have been banned in the States and EU because of serious health concerns are freely imported here under the table from China and often used in high concentrations. We have heard directly from the farmers how they won’t let their families eat the very produce that they grow and sell. A Sister from our Church here is a nurse in the city hospital and she says that spring is always the busiest time at the hospital as so many are sickened by the produce that floods the markets as the weather warms up. We are thankful for a big garden and the opportunity to fill our root cellar with lots of homegrown food that we can use both for our family and also with which to help others as we are able! I have also been keeping busy around the property in my spare time, not only with seemingly never-ending repairs, along with many projects for various churches and ministries, but the Lord has also given us the opportunity to begin supplying some of our own meat through raising meat rabbits. Meat here is often similar to the produce–very expensive and better left on the store shelf or meat vendor’s table. The 20 rabbits growing out back are a very low-maintenance and economic meat source that, along with the garden, will help to drastically reduce our food budget and free up those resources for other areas. As for the last member of our family, Andre also has work around the house! His favorite things are helping to weed the garden (translation: anything green gets pulled–weed or not), helping feed the rabbits, and sampling all of the various fruits and vegetables. We often find him simply sitting quietly out in the garden, with his puppy at his side, munching away on whatever berries or vegetables he finds. His constant smile and friendly, outgoing personality endear him to all he comes in contact with. We have found that he can sometimes open a door to reach people that we never would’ve been able to open ourselves. Often, when people would not have stopped and talked with me or Sarah by ourselves, they will stop and gladly begin a conversation with or about Andre. He is such a blessing to us! We only pray that God will give us wisdom and grace to raise him for His glory.
As far as ministry activities, we haven’t added much new, but we have been continuing on in many of the same things that we’ve mentioned in previous letters. I still preach regularly both in our local church here in Chernivtsi and also in various villages. Please keep me and my preaching in your prayers as I strive to bring the truth of Scripture to light, even if it may sometimes go against some of the old, strongly-held Slavic traditions. Pray that God’s Spirit will open and enlighten hearts. I also continue to spend Saturdays working with the village children in Maliy Kuchuriv. Next week we will be holding a summer Bible camp (similar to American VBS) there Monday-Friday during the day. This gives us the opportunity to reach children from the surrounding villages as well as those children we have been already working with. Much work and long preparation has gone into this and we look forward to it! Please keep us, the other camp workers, and the children in your prayers. The Lord also continues to keep the door open to work with the two families that we’ve mentioned previously (the new converts, and the family struggling with personal/marital issues). Please, we ask you to continue to pray with us for these families. The latter of these families especially is a very difficult situation, and progress often seems almost impossible to our human eyes. The Bible clearly states that, when a man and woman become married, they are to leave their old families and cleave to each other as a new and separate family. In Ukraine, however, we see a big problem in the Churches in that this “leaving and cleaving” is not happening. Most newlyweds remain nearby their families after the wedding, building houses next to their parents or, for financial reasons, simply continuing to live in their parent’s home. This is Ukrainian culture, but not Biblically wise. Often, the parents simply continue to control their children like they always have, without letting the new family be a separate family with the new Husband as the head. We are seeing firsthand the havoc this wreaks in those new families. In our friends’ case, they’ve been married for over 10 years and the families are still interfering and trying to control everything about them. In particular, the wife’s family strongly disagrees with the Husband and does everything they can to turn the Wife against him. It’s a very, very difficult situation. However, we know that nothing is impossible with the Lord, and we want to trust Him and wait on Him to do His work in His way and in His time. We also continue to seek opportunities to witness to our neighbors, trying not to forget that our biggest witness to them is oftentimes in the smallest, most mundane, everyday things of life. Most of them are Orthodox believers and are already very religious–they’re not looking for someone to come and give them a presentation on the ABC’s of salvation. We realize more and more that they are watching us very closely to see how we live day-to-day–this is our biggest witnessing opportunity with them right now. We pray that they see that our religion doesn’t just end when we walk out the Church doors on Sunday afternoon, but that it encompasses and transforms every aspect of our lives, every day. They don’t want to just hear what we have to say–they want to see it for themselves in our lives. Pray with us that we show them Christ in everything!
We have one last prayer request to share with you, and we’ll make it in the form of an announcement. After much prayer and counsel with others, we have decided that we will visit the States for a few months this fall for Sarah to have the baby there. There are many factors that contributed to this decision, but the biggest one is that finding reliable, good medical care here is very difficult. In our small local church alone, several women have been left unable to have more children as a direct result of the poor medical care and doctors’ interventions during/after birth. Unfortunately, their stories are all too common. Here, in Chernivtsi, we have so far been unable to find suitable prenatal and birth care. However, we have been in contact with the Christian midwife in the States who delivered Andre for us, and she has agreed to work with us again for the birth of this new baby. Lord willing, we will visit the States the beginning of September, and–barring any complications–hope to return to Ukraine in January. We praise the Lord for this opportunity, and ask you to pray that everything will go smoothly.
Now I shall close this letter with these words, “Grace be with all of you that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.”
The least servants of Christ,
Yuriy, Sarah, Andre, and Baby Gula
Our garden, tilled and ready to be planted!
Andre, with his puppy, Bella, helping plant raspberry plants along the back fence.
The greenhouse, currently full of cucumbers.
My garden helper, all worn out from the day's labors!
Yuriy rebuilt some old, dilapidated cages on the back of our property to house our new meat rabbits.
Preparing to pour a concrete floor in the garage – improper street drainage means that all rainwater comes down the hill and washes through our property, turning the dirt garage floor into a mud pit every time it rains. This makes it very hard to keep tools and materials from getting ruined, and also makes it difficult to work in the garage, which also doubles as Yuriy's workshop.
New concrete floor to keep the water out and new, sealed ceiling to give two separate, useable spaces.
Pouring a concrete floor in the puppy's pen and in the chicken coop to keep them out of the mud too.
Andre helping feed the rabbits–his friends for now, and his supper in the near future!
Preparing for upcoming Children's Camps by making sets of cornhole boards with friends from church.
Ministering with the Church in the village of Pashkivtsi, the village where Yuriy's Grandparents and Father grew up.
Ministering in the village of Rzhavyntsi.
Brother Sergei (left) and the Pastor of the church at Rzhavyntsi (right).
Traveling through the Carpathian Mountains to visit a small village church there in Berkhovina, planted in part by our local church here in Chernivtsi.
Snow still on the mountaintops in June!
The church here in Burkhovina was celebrating their 20th anniversary with a Jubilee Celebration and invited many area churches to participate in a big, outdoor service.
Yuriy preaching during the Jubilee Service
Shuttling kids home in the pouring rain after our weekly Saturday meeting in Maliy Kuchariv–how many children can fit in one small car? 🙂
Baby Gula – praise the Lord for a healthy, growing baby!
Pea season is everyone's favorite season–especially Andre!
The River Prut isn't too far from our house – a wonderful way to cool off on a summer day!
We are thankful for God's faithfulness to us!