By Brother Sasha:
As you may have noticed I like visiting people. But being honest with my dear readers, – not everyone. There are people whom I have visited I find very difficult to minister to.
One group of people are those who are moaning all the time. You may find them among Christians and non-Christian. They would complain about how hard their life is. They blame everyone for everything bad that is happening to them. They often say nobody loves and cares for them. I found them to be a very difficult group of people to minister to.
Another group of people is probably even more difficult to me. I need to be wise in describing them in order not to hurt anybody’s feelings. I do not know what would be the proper term in describing them – maybe “super-spiritual people” will be a proper term for them.
What do I mean by that? There are certain people among Christians, who think of themselves as the only people on earth who know and practice “real” religion. They believe they are bearing the perfect knowledge about God and all the doctrines. You come to them and you may see how they evaluate you to see if you are good enough to dealing with them and help them. Their normal voice turns into a different “spiritual” tone when they pray. They are concerned about your dress. If you wear a shirt with the short sleeves, it is bad and you get into big trouble if you do not have a tie on. Even worse is if you are wearing jeans.
Here in Ukraine we have group of churches who left the Baptist Union in 1961 in protest to the state’s interference into church affairs. They are known now as “non-registered”, “separated” or “underground Baptists”. That was a healthy movement in the Soviet times. Many faithful ministers of the Gospel from that group of churches have spent years in prison for their position of not dealing with the state on any church affairs including official incorporation of the congregations.
When freedom came in 1993 these people remained independent and by now they consider the churches which are registered/incorporated by the state to be churches and Christian organizations which have withdrawn themselves from the truth of the Gospel. They are very strict and you rarely will see a smile of joy on their faces. The first question they would ask you is “are you registered or not.” If your answer is “registered” in most of the cases they would treat you as a pagan. The second question they would ask for sure is about how many children you have.
I remember years ago, when I first visited such a family. At that time, they were in great need and desperately needed some support with the clothing and food. This family had 8-9 kids, I do not remember exactly, and I found them living in a poor house. I started my conversation with the Mom of the family and with some of the kids and that was nice. We had a good conversation which lasted a good long time until the father came home. He asked me about my church affiliation, which is a “registered church” and about my family, I have 2 children. He left the room without shaking my hand. Over the next several years, I have been visiting that family delivering food, money, winter boots, and clothing. However, the father of the family has never appeared to see me. It was tough and unpleasant for me, but we’ve become close friends with the Mom and with the kids from that family.
I had no peace when was getting ready for my last week’s trip. Our staff members sent me some information on the families I would be visiting and I was about to cancel my trip because I expected these families to be from those I have been speaking about. At the prayer meeting with some of my friends I prayed for my heart to be free from prejudices and for God to lead me in my ministry to the people I was going to see.
You know what? God in His mercy answers the prayers of His children. The toughest expectations turned in one of the best visits I have ever had. They are refugees from Eastern Ukraine who are trying to start over in Zaporizhya region of Ukraine. They belong to the “non-registered” church group. I drove up to the house they rent and I met a smiling man who is the father of the family. He invited me to come into the house and the first question he asked was if I would eat some boiled corn on the cob with them. You can feel a wonderful atmosphere in the family by how kids are behaving. They look in your eyes and whether they talk or not to the stranger in their house.
I would say, the warmth of their house is something which is really rare nowadays, even among the Christians. Right away I felt as if I were at home. I was treated as brother in Christ in spite of the differences we have in our church backgrounds.
No moaning, no complaining, just sincere gratitude to the Lord for everything they had before having to move and for what they have now as they begin a new life. In Eastern Ukraine they had a big house, inherited from Misha’s parents. They had to leave it behind. We talked about their dream to build a big greenhouse, where they could plant flowers and make their living out of it.
We talked about the upbringing of the children. They said the strict prohibitions without love shown daily to the children will never work. The reasons for prohibitions need to be explained in love. Only God may prevent our children from falling away from His grace.
So, my time with this dear family was a breath of a fresh air. It is our hope and prayer to assist this family with the funds of $4,000.00 for the construction of a green house and for the bulbs and seeds they’ll need for it.
In the afternoon of that same very day I had another meeting with the couple named Nickolay and Lyudmila. They live in a camp for refugees in a type of a container which is very small and very hot. Their house in Donetsk was near the airport which is completely destroyed now by all the military fights taken place there. Their house came under artillery shelling and was burned out and destroyed. They lost everything.
Lyudmila is a church member and God deals with Nikolay in a very special way. Because of everything which has happened to them he had a stroke. His speech and walking abilities are damaged and they spent most of their little money for medications. Would you imagine a man under such circumstances smiling and joking? But this is what Nickolay is all about. I enjoyed a good talk with both of them and I may say that the Lord is nearby this dear man. They need some help. The biggest need is to help them to rent an apartment and pay for the medications. It will cost $1080.00 for 6 months. The rest of their income is from Lyudmila’s work which is a yard-cleaner.
The next day I meet with Lena and her son, Egor. The rest of the family, her husband and 3 kids, were gone somewhere else that day. They also are from Eastern Ukraine and Lena was in the Baptist church since childhood. It was another talk on how the Lord works in people’s hearts. I did not expect it, but the conversation got turned into the testimony of Lena’s experience with Christ. She was in the church for many years, but deep inside she knew she doesn’t know Christ. When people witnessed to her about their closeness with Christ it sounded unreal to her.
She was concerned about her spiritual state and had no rest in her heart. She prayed and in her prayers she was confessing that she does not really know the One through whom she was praying. Her husband had the same experience and they started their searching. They visited one church after another, listening to different preachers. But nothing has happened to their souls. One preacher was preaching a “take it easy” approach for life. Others were saying you need to fulfill the Law, but nothing brought that peace which they were looking for. She was overwhelmed with despair because of her state. She had a fear of death, the fear of meeting with the Lord she personally does not know.
When the war came they had to run away from the city they lived and after changing several locations they got to the small village where they all live now. They live in a rented house which is under renovation. When they moved to this area they found a good Baptist church with a good preacher who was preaching to her heart. In this church, after being the church member for over then 20 years the Lord gave her a true conversion. She is ready to talk about her Savior for hours. Indeed, it is the first love of God she is experiencing now. Honestly, I have not seen such a happy person in a long time. Everything she says and wants to say is about Christ her Savior. We did not even have time to talk about specific needs of this family. Isn’t this amazing?
Her story is just another proof of God being at work in the hearts of sinners, even the sinners who are respectable church members for many years. We all need to know Christ and that is above everything else.
Later on, I figured out about the material needs of this family – they need $1,000.00 for renovating their house and it is my hope we all together will be able to assist this family too.
The meetings I had on this trip once again reminded me of that lesson I learned a long time ago. The ministry is not about what I do for people, but more of what God is doing with my heart. I may truthfully say to you that the Lord worked greatly with my heart on this trip and I’m thankful for His work with my soul and I wish the same for your souls.
(Written by Brother Sasha:)
When I was a teenager, together with other young people from our church’s youth circle, we had what we called a Monday’s visitations. We were going to visit some elderly and sick people of our Baptist congregation who due to their sicknesses and age were not able to attend a church.
The visitations were very exciting to me. At the beginning excitement was mainly because a girl I liked was going with us on those visitations. But sometime later I started to like going there because of the people we were visiting.
When you see the people only in the church on the Lord’s Day, it gives very small chance to get to know people well. But when we were going to their homes, trying to bring to them some comfort by singing Christian songs and hymns; giving simple Scriptural meditations; (which was a good practice to young people who were considering becoming preachers) and most of all – listening to the stories of people whom we were visiting – then the congregation and people in it became very dear to me.
Over those visits, I learned several things: one of the lessons learned was – each person has their own story and the second thing I understood was - the church is not merely about what is happening at the worship services, but more about the people of God who often are not seen in public, but whose faith, commitment; and readiness to pay a cost for their convictions is what makes church real and makes it strong. (Editor note: Sasha is speaking about a time when Ukraine was under communism in the 70’s and 80’s. Remember, Baptists at that time were often not allowed to worship publicly and had to meet in secret.) I heard the stories of those people who suffered war, famine, persecutions from the communist regime, people who were imprisoned in camps by Nazis and by the communists. I remember how surprised I was by some people whom I saw at the church services sitting quietly and listening, but whose lives were full of stories of God leading them all. God was so real and so close in their lives.
Since that time, my deep interest is in getting to know people whom I meet on my life’s path and to learn from them their walk with the Lord. It is spiritually enriching indeed. I found much joy of spending time with simple and modest people from whom I often receive so much inspiration. These people are so spiritually deep. Often I do not see the depth with people who are well educated and bear various educational degrees.
About 12 - 13 years ago I met Alexander who at that time was in his late 20s and he was making an excellent carrier in one of the big church associations in Ukraine. He was born in a non-Christian home and his parents and his brother all had some kind of genetic problem. This caused them all to be almost blind, except Alexander. Later on Alexander joined a church, got his theological education and married a girl from a very well-known and respectable family in that church association. His marriage has opened up some doors for Alexander. But he had also been working hard and soon he received a position of the assistant of the regional church supervisor. It looked like in several more years he would become a leader of that regional district of the association. People predicted that he had a bright career perhaps even on the national level. But everything suddenly changed in his life.
I sit with Alexander in his house, and I see it is still hard for him to share everything which has happened to him. Here are some of the highlights of his story:
Alexander: “I became one of the top leaders of my church association. I had dreams and plans on how to make good changes within the association and of course I was proud to be among the top leaders. But the more involved I became in the association the more concerns I had. We were spending a big deal of time at various meetings of various committees working out various strategies and initiatives. We were focusing on how to make churches grow and how to get the finances and donors to make our plans possible. I had to be involved in all kind of church politics. I had to balance between various groups of influence.
Somehow it came to the point that I felt like we as the leaders lost our focus which was the real needs of the real people in our congregations. We just had no time left for the pastoral care over the flock. I was ordained as a pastor at this point and I had been planting a new church in my town. I may say now, the Bible changed from being a well of a fresh water for my soul and became a textbook to me. God became a means/a tool, for reaching my goals.
At one point of time, I asked myself a question – “what is it all about? What am I spending my life on?” I spoke a lot about God, but there was very little of God in my daily life. Speaking about God and living with God were two different things in my life.
On the other hand, my theological convictions were in a process of forming. I read a lot of the books of various reformed authors, believing in Sovereign Grace. As a result, my theological convictions became a contradiction with the view of church. How can we speak about “saving people”, if that is an act of the Sovereign will of the Lord?
I did not have peace in my heart, so together with some other brothers from our new planted church, we started to have a deep study of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. The more we study, the more we saw how different the Biblical convictions are from the practice and beliefs of the association we were part of. This process of reevaluation of our belief took us two years.
We also studied the church government and saw that in our association the governorship over the congregations is not Biblical. It was proclaimed about the autonomy of the local congregations, but in fact all the decisions regarding the lives of the congregations were made by a group of several “top leaders” or just by one regional supervisor.
After all the searches and after much of prayers we had a consensus in our small congregation we had to leave the association and stay as the church holding to the doctrines of grace.
We announced about our decision and right away the gates of hell got opened against me. First I had meetings with the leaders of the association we left and they were pursuing us to stay in the association. Their point was: you may believe and preach whatever you believe, but stay with us, because if you’d leave that would be such a shame over the association when one of the top leaders left. We denied it.
So, the association wrote a letter which was sent out to all the congregations in the area blaming me for being a heretic and forbidding all the people to have any fellowship with me and with our congregation. In one day I lost friendship with about 90% of all my friends. Some of them in a demonstrative manner would not even shake my hand. Those who yesterday were looking for my goodwill and were making up to me suddenly looked at me as if I did not exist.
The toughest things were the attacks on me using my family relationships. Some people, even the church leaders, were speaking to my wife, insisting that she should divorce me (we have 3 children). They said to her: it is better to divorce him, then to live with the man who betrayed our faith. For Irina, my wife, that was hard and I could tell, our marriage was balancing on the edge of divorce, but the Lord, finally has granted her His mercy to accept my decision.
My father in law, who is a pastor of the church in that association, had some heart problems so people would come to my wife and say: “your husband will be guilty in the death of your father (whom she loves dearly) if he would happen to pass away.”
It is hard to describe that level of hate and of the common doctrinal ignorance of people who were blaming me for changing my convictions. There was no dialog possible, since people just knew “Alexander betrayed the faith of our fathers.” That was the level of arguments I had to deal with.
In the meantime, a lot of positive changes have happened in my spiritual life. I may say, my relationship with the Lord has started over. The understanding of His Grace and the understanding of my corrupted nature have changed my attitude to people. I look at the people now, not from the top to down, but as equal with them. We are poor sinner who need His Grace daily. The Lord gave me love and compassion toward people I’m serving. My attitude toward the Gospel has been changed. I used to look at the Gospel only as what is needed to start the Christian life. But now I look at the Gospel as what is keeping me daily in His Grace.
I’m pastoring a small congregation of about 40 people and I’m happy because I know the Lord has placed me there. I do not regret my career on a big level. I want to live in accordance with my convictions and that is what makes me rejoicing.
If you would ask me how I look now on what I have come through, my answer will be “I would not wish for anybody to go through what I have come through, but what you get is more then what you lost...”
This is the story of Alexander. A story which is full of frustration after frustration, but he rejoices and his life is in harmony with his convictions even though it cost him an outstanding career. May the Lord bless all of us to live a life based on the scriptural convictions seen in our daily walk…
Lisichansk, Lugansk region
This congregation of around 120 members is facing difficult times. Even before the war started the town was in a very depressed economical state. It is a town where there are literally no jobs available. The war made the situation even worse than before. All people who could leave the town have moved away. The membership dropped from 250 people to 120 people, mostly elderly people. People could survive somehow over the summer and fall months from vegetables in their gardens. But winter is when the needs are the greatest. The biggest need for people is the heating of their houses. They need to buy coal which is expensive and not affordable for people with such low or no incomes. People need warm boots and clothing and money to pay for medications. Summertime is a good season for buying coal, since the price is a little less than winter. The deacons and the pastor of the church have asked us for help in raising the funds for these needs of the neediest members of the congregation. The amount requested by them is $4,000.00. Our team believes that this is a reasonable amount. The support is needed by August 15th 2016.
Dzerhinsk, Donetsk region
In this town we partner with 2 local Baptists churches. Their situation and the needs are very similar to those of Lisichansk congregation. The only difference is this city is right on the frontline of the war. In 2 congregations there are about 100 people who desperately need “winter help” support. The requested amount for 100 people is $3,500.00. The support is needed by August 15th 2016
Due to the war and general poverty Pastors are not able to be supported by their own congregations with the full amount they need. We ask you to consider supporting some of the pastors (refugees; from the grey zone of the military conflict) with the amount which will help them to concentrate on their pastoral ministry. With the financial support given by various local and Western churches and organizations, we’re able to support some pastors, but there are several more who need support. We are going to present reports on these brothers in the months to come.
Eduard Nosachev, Lisichansk
The general state of his congregation and of the town where Eduard (pictured above on the left) lives is described under congregational needs. In order to support his family, Eduard works as a track driver. That takes most of his time. We know for the church facing such difficult circumstances it is critically important to have their shepherd nearby daily, so we request financial support for this dear Brother.
The amount needed is $400.00 per month. The support is needed starting May 2016
Yuri was pastoring a congregation in the town of Alchevsk, Lugansk region. When the war started he had to flee with his family. He left everything behind. The city is occupied now by separatists and Yuri is on a black list because of his pro-Ukrainian position shown at the beginning of the conflict. He ended up in a town across the country in Western Ukraine and right away got involved in a new church plant work. He has weak health and a lot of their money is spent for various medications. The apartment rent cost and the medications take most of their small income. The amount needed for Yuri is $200.00 per month. The support is needed starting May 2016.
In this section we present the needs of families. There are lots of families who have suffered because of the military conflict. We understand we cannot help each one of them, therefore, we carefully select families which are under very special situations. Today, we’d like to introduce you to the situations of 2 families.
It is a tragic story indeed. Natalia is 40 with 4 kids and the youngest is just 3. Natalia’s husband was killed by the Ukrainian armed forces in August 2014. He was evacuating people from the war zone with his car and at one of the Ukrainian checkpoints he was mistakenly taken as a separatists and killed. What makes it even worse is that he was a pro-Ukrainian patriot himself. The body was not delivered to the family for a burial for several months. After that, Natalia’s mom got cancer and died. So the widow has no close relatives left, but as she witnessed to us, the Lord has granted her grace to forgive those who killed her husband.
They had to move back to the occupied area and live in the area very close to where MH17 flight crashed. They witnessed fragments of bodies; people’s belongings; parts of a plane falling into their yards. The house they presently live in has no good living conditions. They need to install a restroom and shower in the house and fix the kitchen. The overall cost of the project is $5,000.00. The funds raised-up by this time are equal to $2,000.00 USD. The remaining cost of the project is $3,000.00.
A family of 5 kids, ages from 15 to 3. Before the war they lived in the town of Pervomaisk, Lugansk region. They are a hard-working family, working on their own farm. The livestock provided the family with meat, milk and other necessities. There were enough foods to eat and to sell for their livelihood. When the war came, their house was destroyed and a lot of farm animals were killed. For sometime they had to hide themselves in the basement of their home.
They left Pervomaisk and now are trying to start over in Kiev region of Central Ukraine. They asked us to help them with the funds needed to start farming. For the cows, equipment and feeds they need $2,200.00. With their experience in farming they hope this start-up funding will aid them start their life over.
This family I love very much. Six years ago Alexey’s wife Elena went to be with the Lord. We became close friends and I pray for him and his daughter Veronica (15). When I’m in Odessa region I always stop by to visit with them. We have good talks and prayers together. Last year Alexey got an infection and was in danger of gangrene of his leg. But by God’s miraculous providence with financial assistance from Brother Pat and DMI amputation was avoided and he lost only one toe. By God’s grace Brother Pat and Brother Dean were in Ukraine when we received the call about the need for emergency surgery. We drove all day to get there with the needed funds for his surgery. God is good and all things are in His hands. Praise God. Raising a daughter without a mother is a tough task. Alexey works as a bus driver on a city route. He has to leave home at 5.00 am in the morning and does not get back from work until around midnight. So Veronica was literally adopted by the ladies from the church. Over the last 6 years they have visited her daily trying to teach her the things a mother whould teach a daughter. Pastor’s Misha’s wife, Katerina, taught her to cook and she promised for the next visit to cook Ukrainian borsch for me and I’m looking forward it. Alexey is not in good health after last’s year’s surgery. He may walk without a lot of pain only about 200 meters and after that it starts hurting badly. He had to miss some of his working shifts recently and the family’s income is low. He is very much concerned as to how he will be able to pay the bills and provide a living if his health will gets worse. I promised him I would bring his need to the committee and hopefully we’ll take Veronica on our kid’s support program, with $50.00 per month.
Somehow in our conversation we touched the issue of children’s responsibility for caring for their aged parents. I could tell this teenaged girl, who knows the loss of her mother and the love of her father who sacrificed himself to her, understands. We prayed together and I can say that I have never in my life heard a prayer like the prayer of this young girl, Veronica. It is not a formal prayer but a real, heart produced talk with God. It was moving and I thought of how the hardships of life make God real to people.