by Roger Brind, with Mark Davies
Roger has been a regular visitor to Central and Eastern Europe, for Bible teaching and evangelism since 1969; Mark is the GLO Training Director.
There is a long history of workers from a UK Brethren background serving the Lord in what is now West Ukraine. We are therefore building on the foundations laid in the past. The fruit of earlier gospel work among the Ukrainian people was considerable. The leaders we are working with today, came to Christ as a result of the partnership of British and Ukrainian servants of God.
The Griffiths, Hines, MacGregors and Schneidrooks served in this area, when it was part of either eastern Poland or Greater Hungary. Several older believers remember those workers and hold them in high esteem. They also speak highly of those who followed, including Fred and Ruth Kelling (GLO), who visited Transcarpathia before the fall of communism, and Paul and Sally Thomas. More recently I responded to the call from believers in the Volyn and Ternopil regions to lead discipleship and teaching programmes. Mark Davies and others have agreed to partner in this work, under the guidance and leadership of local church leaders.
The Philadelphia Trust and GLO Bible teaching partnership are involved in consecutive Bible teaching, discipleship programmes and gospel outreach, through English lessons and professional expertise in education and medicine.
Many have come to faith and although disabled in body have total freedom in Christ
The three provinces in the northwest of Ukraine, Lviv, Rivne and Volyn, are known as the ‘beloved strip of Ukraine’. They have seen great blessing over the past 20 years. Many have come to Christ and the influence of these regions for the gospel is enormous, not only in Ukraine, but further afield in Russian-speaking areas, such as Georgia and Kazakhstan. West Ukrainians are usually bilingual: speaking both Ukrainian and Russian.
Gospel Activities in West Ukraine Drug & Alcohol Abuse Programmes
Substance abuse has reached epidemic proportions in Ukraine. Groups of believers in various areas seek to minister to this need and use it as an opportunity for witness. Undoubtedly, the most successful programme we have witnessed is in the Lutsk area. The ministry is led by Jura Tsymbol, who joined the original programme as an addict when it was led by Pavlo Myronuk, a very successful church planter. Today, more than 100 people, who went through the programme in the last 15 years, have come to faith and are members of local fellowships; some are elders, pastors and Bible teachers.
Ministry Among the Severely Disabled
Sergey and Natalia Bolchuk were originally commended by the believers in Lutsk to an outreach ministry among drug addicts and alcoholics in central Ukraine. Not long after they had settled into their new region, they had a terrible accident that left Natalia a quadriplegic. They returned home for care and support, and it appeared that their life of ministry was over. However, as they prayed about the situation, the Lord clearly called them to a ministry among the disabled. When they shared their vision, others joined them in recognising the needs and opportunities they presented. The result was the Agape ministry, which was established to care for severely disabled people. All of those it now reaches, have been disabled due to having had an accident. They care for broken bodies, broken families and broken lives. Many have come to faith and although disabled in body have total freedom in Christ.
Using Education as an Evangelistic Tool
The Philadelphia Trust is involved in a variety of educational programmes in the Volyn and Ternopil regions, which also provide opportunities for evangelism.
In Lutsk we support a Christian school for primary and secondary age children. We have fostered links with schools in Cardiff, UK, and Pilismárot, Hungary, which assist the children in learning English – there is a Christian element to the link too. In the Volyn region, we support English language programmes for adults, run by Ukrainians. In Lutsk and Terebovyla, with the help of Professor Tamás Madarasz (Hungary), we provide an in-service training programme for teachers in the Volyn and Ternopil regions, which gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith. In the Ternopil State Medical University, Dr Johnson Samuel, Philadelphia Trust trustee and consultant doctor from Essex, has begun a programme of lectures and support for one of the most prestigious universities in Ukraine. This is also an opportunity for witness.
During a recent visit to the Ternopil State Medical University, the rector (equivalent to vice chancellor) invited us to consider running conferences for doctors and educationalists in their conference facility; in addition to our subject-specific programmes, he asked that we teach on ethics. We had an almost identical request from the Mayor of Lutsk, who offered us the use of the culture centre. Both facilities have been made available to us free of charge. We are planning to meet these needs and see them as an amazing opportunity for witness.
Responding to the War Situation
The believers in West Ukraine are responding to the serious problems, in eastern Ukraine, caused by the conflict. They use these difficulties as opportunities to witness for Christ in the Donbass: Lugansk and Donetsk.
Meeting Medical Needs
A group of Christian medics, psychologists and other health workers travel regularly to the Donbass to provide medical relief to those who live on the Ukrainian side of the front line. One of the team, Katya, wrote of her experiences. ‘The team of volunteer health workers and representatives of the church provide free medical consultations, preach the Word of God, and conduct educational work on a healthy lifestyle and the prevention of common illnesses. Where possible, the organisation provides humanitarian assistance to the elderly, orphans and low-income families, as well as those affected by natural disasters. After a medical examination, every patient in the clinic has the opportunity to listen to the preaching of God’s Word, talk with a Christian counsellor and receive free literature.’
…every patient in the clinic has the opportunity to listen to the preaching of God’s Word
Supporting Those on the Front Line
Warm the Soldier is a Ukrainian Christian organisation based in Kyiv, which helps at the front in two ways. It provides for the needs that the soldiers have, and it organises repair teams to go to places where shelling and bombing has damaged properties. We praise God for this ministry and our opportunity to support it. It is a great witness to Christian love.
Army Chaplains is another organisation Philadelphia Trust supports. Brothers from evangelical churches in West Ukraine and Kyiv, go to the front line and minister to the needs of soldiers physically, materially and spiritually. Mark Davies and I met Yaroslav, a student in Lutsk, who originally comes from the Lugansk region. He regularly takes three-month breaks from his studies to go to the front line and provide support for the soldiers. In a recent meeting, he shared how six soldiers were baptised after coming to faith during his last visit.
Help Now is involved in supporting those in the Donbass. They regularly send aid convoys into the area with food and other essentials. They also run a resettlement centre in Cherkasy; placing the refugees who come to them in suitable accommodation, and providing them with food and clothing. The trustworthiness and reliability of the Christians has resulted in the city council giving them free use of a building in the centre of the city to coordinate aid, and the council pay the utility bills. Help Now were told they would be responsible for looking after an expected 7,000 refugees; however, so far more than 26,000 have arrived. Only 5% of those who have used the service are believers. All of them are treated the same and this ministry is a great witness.
There are other ministries serving at the front line that we cannot report on in detail, because it would endanger believers there. We have close contacts who organise the transport of large amounts of food into the region, which local believers use to run soup kitchens. Their focus is on the aged, whose families have fled the fighting.
We regularly visit Ukraine, seeking to support the ministries and introduce others to the work. Our focus is on training the trainers in Bible teaching and using professional skills to create opportunities to share the gospel.