Friday, March 28, 2014

Here is what Light looks like in dark places!

Dear prayer partners, supporters, and friends,

As many of you know by now, we have arrived back in the states for our scheduled time of home service from March through August of this year. We have already given a report to our home church (Cornerstone Baptist of Roseville, MI) and will be busy over the next four months visiting our supporting churches as well as speaking in some churches who have expressed an interest in the Gospel to the Russian-speaking world. While we are very happy to be reconnecting with family and friends, our hearts remain in Kiev where the drama between Ukraine and Russia continues. Russia has already annexed the southern (and strategic) peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine. As you listen to news coverage from Ukraine, there is much speculation and fear that Russia's intentions could go well beyond Crimea, perhaps even reshaping the boundaries of Eastern Europe in order to restore Russia's former hegemony enjoyed during Soviet times.

But even as the world watches and waits, there are other stories unfolding - stories that remind us that the conflict is not simply between Russia and Ukraine or even East vs.West. The real conflict is between between the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God. This conflict is as old as Genesis 3 and will one day conclude when King Jesus returns (as John describes in the Book of the Revelation). Meanwhile, the victory over the ultimate enemy (sin and death) has already been won by Christ through His cross work and resurrection. And His story continues to echo through the lives of those who have experienced His life transforming power. One such example can be found in an amazing story of a man who was brutally abused by pro-government security forces who thought they were silencing a protester, but who in fact provided an opportunity for an eloquent and powerful witness for the Gospel. Read about it and be amazed in the link below. Then, keep praying that God would give believers (like Mykhailo) an ever increasing understanding of His grace so that they can display His power and love to those who live in darkness.

Because of His amazing grace and unfailing love,

Jerry and Kellie Benge

P.S. This account was written by the wife of a local Baptist pastor here in Kiev for CNN's i-Report.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

An Important Update

Dear supporters, prayer partners, and friends,

Many of you have been expressing growing concern about our safety as you have read about or watched the recent media coverage of the anti-government protest movement on Independence Square in downtown Kiev. Out of concern for the well-being of our Ukrainian ministry partners (and for our personal protection), we were asked not to make any explicit references to the ongoing demonstrations. Hence, we simply sent out brief messages from time-to-time requesting prayer for Ukraine and assuring you of our safety.  At this time, we have been advised that it is safe to provide additional information about this ongoing, historical development along with some personal observations.
Although the following words and phrases cannot fully explain what has happened. they provide a vivid summary of  the recent events of the past few weeks: Peaceful protest; brutal crackdown; journalist murdered; kidnappings; snipers; Molotov cocktails; barricades; rising death tolls; beatings; arson; stun grenades; medic shot; truce; slaughter; mourning for the dead, yet an undying resolve for a better country; tenuous political settlement; unknown whereabouts of president; restoration of 2004 constitution; removal of president; new government; collapsing currency; uncertain future.
All of this has been going on less than 10 miles away from where we live and serve in Kiev. While we have never felt that we were in any immediate personal danger, it has constantly been on our minds and in our prayers. Our hearts ache for the families of the more than 75 people (including protesters and police) who have lost their lives since the protest began back in November. Over half of the fatalities have occurred in just the past 5 days.
With the recent change of government, there is a sense of hope for the future. But that hope is threatened by the sobering realization that it is easier to topple a bad government than it is to establish a good one. Especially when there are so many challenges to overcome: 1) a nearly bankrupt economy (largely due to the systemic corruption of this and preceding governments); 2) a country that is divided by ethnic Ukrainians (in the center and west) who prefer a closer relationship to Europe,  and ethnic Russians (in the south and east) who want to  maintain historic ties to Moscow; 3) a geopolitical tug-of-war between larger powers for control of the energy pipelines across Ukraine that connect Eurasia to Europe.
Unquestionably the most important development in the midst of all this is how our Sovereign God is working through these situations to advance His Kingdom. We have heard of numerous opportunities where believers have been able to share the Gospel with fellow Ukrainians who have been sobered and even frightened by these recent events. I even had a young Ukrainian man approach me yesterday in order to find out if I knew God and if I understood why He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to earth. I was so blessed to see his urgency to “make the most of this opportunity” for the advancement of the Gospel (Eph. 5:16).
So please continue to pray:
1.       Pray not simply for political change, but for change in the hearts of people that comes only through the Gospel. As one missionary friend put it: “God's love and forgiveness is desperately needed to heal the wounds of this nation.
2.       Pray for stability and peace in a nation whose current sense of calm is fragile and could easily lapse back into infighting and conflict. Pray that God would raise up a leader with wisdom and integrity. This is has been deeply lacking and has greatly contributed to the present conflict.
3.       Pray for believers—that the church would step up like never before and be the church that Jesus has called her to be: Passionate for Jesus and His glorious Gospel above all else!
4.       Pray for our safety and effectiveness this last month before our home service begins on March 26.

Your partners to the Russian-speaking world,
 Jerry and Kellie Benge

Thursday, February 6, 2014

An exciting announcment!

Dear friends, prayer partners and supporters,

We have an exciting announcement. By God's grace and through a providentially arranged partnership with a small but strategic Christian publishing ministry in Ukraine, an important book has finally been published for churches in the Russian-speaking world, The Trellis and the Vine, by authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (Matthias Media). This book persuasively calls pastors to pursue the heart of authentic ministry, namely biblical shepherding. It offers a counter-intuitive model in a culture that has been shaped by a top-down model of leadership and which desperately needs to see an example that reflects the self-sacrificing love of our Chief-Shepherd. Using the metaphor of a trellis (which is designed to support vines) it shows how easy it is to drift from focusing on vine growth (growing people and developing leaders) to simply maintaining the trellis (using people to run programs). It then proceeds to lay out a plan that actually explains what it looks like for a church to be pursuing and experiencing what the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 4:11-16: authentic Gospel growth. Please pray that God will use this book to help pastors become more intentional in "hands on" discipleship resulting in stronger churches with a compelling witness and a passion for missions to the unreached peoples of the former Soviet Union.

Thank you for your prayers for this publication and for those of you who helped to make it possible by your contributions. Our next project for which you can be praying is the Gospel tract, "Two Ways to Live" (also by Matthias Media). We hope to see it completed by March or April.

Your partners to the Russian-speaking world,

Jerry and Kellie Benge

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Tribute to My Dad (by Kellie Benge)

             On November 5, my father, Don Lesh finished his journey on earth and went home to be with the Lord.  He left a godly heritage of faithfulness, joy and contentment.  He showed us how to finish this race well even in very difficult circumstances.  Dad was always a god-fearing man and made sure that we were in church every Sunday.  He was familiar with the Bible, but it wasn’t until I was 15 years old that he became a believer in the promise  that God sent His Son to pay the penalty for his sins.  From that time on, I don’t remember a day not seeing him up early reading his Bible.  He had a passion for God’s Word, especially the message of the gospel.  Many times as he met with people in their homes and talked about life insurance, the topic would inevitably turn to life “assurance.”  He met with many different men’s Bible study groups to learn more about the Bible. He was faithful to His Lord who gave him the desire and grace to faithfully lead, provide for and love his family.  Not only was he faithful, but he had joy.

            He loved to tease people and make them laugh. So many people commented about his sense of humor during calling hours before the funeral.  He used humor to lighten many tense situations; his laughter was contagious.  We have many memories of fun family times camping, playing games and just enjoying being together.  Even in his last year when it was hard to communicate, he would try to say something to make one of his nurses laugh.  God gave him the ability to see the humor in different situations.

            Probably one of the most remarkable things to me is his total contentment, especially after being diagnosed with MSA (Multiple Systems Atrophy). This disease gradually weakened all of his muscles so that at the end he could not talk, walk, eat by himself or do anything for himself.  He was basically trapped in his body, but he never complained.  That was amazing to all of us, but it just pointed to the greatness and abundance of God’s grace in his life.  I am so thankful for the great God in my dad’s life who enabled him to life faithfully, rejoice in all kinds of circumstances and live in submission believing that his God was working out His perfect plan in his life. Thanks to all of you who kept him and our family in your prayers.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A great start to a new academic year at Kiev Theological Seminary!

Dear Friends and Partners in Ministry,

My teaching 2013 Fall teaching schedule is now in full swing.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with this current group of students in in my favorite course: Pastoral Ministry. We have been discussing topics such as: a biblical theology of shepherding; a brief church history of shepherding (looking at godly examples such as the great Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter); the character and calling of a pastor;  and what God expects of a pastor (know, feed, lead, and protect the flock). These students have an evident love for the Scriptures and a passion to shepherd their flocks on behalf of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  I am blessed by their hunger, challenged by their questions, and humbled by their commitment in spite of many challenges. 

One challenge is that the vast majority of these men are bi-vocational. So, in addition to being husbands, fathers, and pastors, they must work in a secular job during the week to provide their income.  The totality of all these demands makes their task difficult to say the least.  One or more of the above-mentioned responsibilities often suffers.  The result has been weak preaching, insufficient discipleship and inadequate equipping of deacons and other church leaders (see Ephesians 4:11-16). So these students are seeking to sharpen their skills and augment their effectiveness in ministry. And we are working through these challenges and asking God for wisdom to help the churches share the financial burden that is often disproportionately borne by their pastors.

A unique way that our seminary helps the men and women who come for training is to offer a non-traditional schedule that allows the students to come for two weeks at a time (four times per school year).  In each two week module, students can take up to two classes (40 hours per class) for each session. That means four hours of class in the morning followed by another four hours of class in the afternoon. There are, of course, breaks and meals in-between (and a chapel service each Tuesday).  This approach makes education more flexible and accessible for students who travel here from all over the country without having to quit their jobs. But the schedule can be grueling—for student and professor!

We also try to have the students in our homes for meals and fellowship. And often we have the opportunity to travel to their churches (later in the year) and be with them in the context of their families and church ministries. All of this to say that, by God’s grace, we are seeing growth in the lives of the students which in turn improves the health of the churches and the promotion of the Gospel in Ukraine and the Russian-speaking world. To God be the glory. 

Thank you for your prayers! And please keep us in your prayers for the upcoming classes (see schedule below).


Jerry's Teaching Schedule for Fall Semester (2013) (KTS - Kiev Theological Seminary)

1. Pastoral Ministry (September 9-20) KTS
2. Introduction to Pastoral Leadership (First week; October 7-11) KTS
3. Biblical Counseling (October 21- November 1) KTS
4. Homiletics 1 (November 4-15) KTS
5. Small Group Leadership Training at Heart of Jesus Church In Chernivtsi (November 22-23)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

He is risen, indeed!

Today (April 15) in Ukraine is Paskha (Easter, although the word literally means "Passover"). When I got up this morning, I had my usual cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. And I briefly reviewed the traditional greeting that believers give each other in honor of this special day: "Christos voskres" ("He is risen"). The appropriate reply is: "Istinniu voskres" ("He is risen indeed').

On my way to church, I mentally rehearsed the phrase so I would be ready when greeted by my brothers and sisters at church. Of course, I stumbled on the first try (mainly because I am not a morning person), but quickly fell into the pattern, repeating the greeting or response several times. But as I was walking home, I heard the phrase again--this time very unexpectedly. You see, our church is not in the greatest neighborhood. You have to walk along a number of sidewalks or dirt paths that take you by an assortment of construction sites, run-down buildings, packs of roving dogs and...homeless people.

That was the context where I heard the phrase "Christos voskres." From a disheveled young man whose breath reeked of alcohol. The surprising greeting was followed by an unsurprising request for money. I was ready to say "No" and move on. But something prompted me to talk with him. So I said: "I won't give you money, but I can give you food." And off we went to the local convenience store. His name was Alexander. He came to Kiev from SE Ukraine to get work. But that wasn't working out. "It's really hard",  he said. I asked: "Where do you live?" He replied: "At the local train station."

"Christos voskres." I thought: What does this mean to him? Is it just a magical phrase to evoke compassion from a stranger?  We arrived at the store and got a loaf of  bread and a pound of kielbasa along with 1 1/2  liters of tomato juice. He took it to the counter. The cashier rang it up. She looked at him and stated the total. I gave her the money. Transaction completed. As we walked out of the store, I told him that this food came to him "in the name of Jesus Christ."  I briefly shared Christ's love for him. Then he hugged me.  And now I cannot get this young man off my mind.

My desire is that God would be pleased to help him see the connection between a risen Christ and his deepest needs. Please pray for Alexander that he may know the crucified and risen Christ!  And pray for our church that we will have the eyes of our Savior to see the Alexanders around us and be moved with compassion to show them a Christ who is risen, indeed!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good News--Bad News--GOOD NEWS

Dear Friends,

You are probably familiar with a genre of humor known as Good-News/Bad News jokes. Like the following joke:

"Good news: Recently, my friend got to go skydiving for the first time. Bad news: His parachute failed. Good news: As he was falling, he noticed a large pile of hay directly below. Bad News: There was a pitch fork in the middle of the hay. Good news: He missed the pitch fork. Bad news: He missed the pile of hay."

These past four months have been a mix of good news and bad news regarding the challenges of our residency. I won't rehearse all the details, other than to say that currently, the good news is that we are about to complete the last step necessary to receive our temporary residency in Ukraine. The bad news is that we have fallen on (yet) another pitchfork (ie. complication) in what has become an enexpectedly drawn out process.

And so we ask you to pray. Please pray for the local official with whom we meet today (around 9:00 to 10:00 AM EDT).  Solomon reminds us that "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1).  With that in view, we ask you to pray that God would move in his heart to be gracious to us and allow us to complete this process without further delay or additional costs.

But we also ask you to pray for us. The drawn out nature of this process with all its ups and downs  can become emotionally draining. The temptation is to focus on getting this over with so we can just "move on."  And so, every day becomes another chance for hopes to be fulfilled--or dashed. If we are not careful, we can become emotionally trapped between the hopes for good news and the numbing disappointment of the latest bad news.

Which brings me to our specific request. Pray for us that we will focus on THE GOOD NEWS, the Gospel! This news is not impacted by daily events ("good" or "bad"). It is the good news that our Savior has already satisfied the righteous wrath of God that we deserved and altered the effects of life in a fallen world for His people. This guarantees that whatever happens ("good" or "bad"), it always works for our ultimate "good" (For a fuller explanation of this, see Romans 8:17-39).

Pray that whatever happens, our focus today (and always) will be on His Good News.

Thankful for God's Unchanging Good News,

Jerry and Kellie

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Reflections

Dear partners and friends,

We are very happy to be here in Kiev, but it is not without its occasional melancholy moments.  This will be our first Christmas without at least one of our children with us.  That realization (typically accompanied by a nostalgic Christmas tune on our stereo) brings a momentary surge of sadness along with moist eyes and a very palpable sense of an unwelcome swelling in the throat.

If you are sentimental like we are, it only takes a familiar note in a song to trigger a cascade of memories of Christmases past—and the emotions that their elusiveness triggers.  Some fun, others funny—but all of them frozen in time and far away. Why is it that so many Christmas songs define Christmas as being “home for the holidays”,  decorating Christmas trees, sitting in front of an “open fire” (very few people in Kiev even have a fireplace), and being with family and close friends as we watch our children eagerly tearing open gift-wrapped boxes?

Surely not all of our past Christmases were as fond as our sanitized and idealized recollections would have us to believe. Forgotten in our sacred Hall of Christmas memories are the ghosts of Christmas meal disasters, innumerable hours spent on “easy to assemble” toys, the tragic absence of batteries; snowless Christmases, bickering children, and untimely bouts of the flu bug.  (How about some of those experiences in the next Christmas hit song?)  

Ironically, our biggest problem with our memories—are our memories! We focus on a few family traditions and forget that the best is yet to come. Nothing wrong with remembering the past—as long as we keep our eyes on the future.  And that is where things really become exciting.  If you know Jesus Christ, you can take your best Christmas experience ever, multiply it by infinity, and you still can’t touch what is coming. All because our God keeps all His promises. That is what makes this Christmas so special for us.

We are finding that keeping busy and having others over who are away from family really helps. On Friday night (December 23), we had 4 Kyiv Seminary students over for a meal. One is from Kazakhstan and is a bit homesick for her family (In fact, she lives with us and is like a daughter to us) Her boyfriend  has no surviving family members. They both are missions majors and in fact may very well end up in Kazakhstan serving the Lord together one day (at least that is something they are praying about). The other two are a married couple from Far East Russia. They are almost 6,000 miles from home—and it has been three years since they have been there!  

Our common separation from family and loved ones coupled with our common commitment to the Gospel in the Russian-speaking world made for a sweet evening of fellowship. Who knows? Maybe this will become a tradition.

So wherever you are, just know that the message of Christmas deserves more than a wish for a repeat performance of some idealized past memory. It is worthy of something  bigger than waiting in line for hours to have a chance to buy a pair of special edition Air Jordan basketball sneakers. It is in the category of an off-the-charts ecstasy that can hardly be contained.  We are not quite there yet. But we are fighting for it. “Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.”

Because he left His home in heaven to make us a home with Him,

Jerry and Kellie Benge

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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Teaching Ministry in Full Gear

Dear partners in ministry,

With language school behind us, ministry is now in full swing. Last week (September 5-10), I flew with friend and ministry colleague Artyom Kluchnikov to Kemorovo, Siberia to teach in a biblical counseling training module co-sponsored by International Faith Initiatives and Overseas Instruction in Biblical Counseling. This was my fourth opportunity to work with these two organizations which are partnering together to advance the cause of biblical counseling in the Russian-speaking world.  I had the opportunity to teach on several topics and thoroughly enjoyed the 35 enthusiastic students and their passion for the personal ministry of God’s Word. Artyom and I departed on Saturday, encouraged that biblical counseling is making significant progress in this part of Russia.

Shortly after returning to Kiev, I began teaching a course on Pastoral Ministry in a two week module with 4 hour per day classes (similar to American J-term classes). While the format is a bit tiring, the opportunity has been exciting thus far. I have a small class of 7 students which allows for more discussion and greater opportunities to really get to know the men. It is a privilege to share with them the truths that God has taught me over the years through many godly mentors in my life.  My passion (and prayer) is that God will use this class to help these men grasp the great privilege and awesome responsibility they have to shepherd God’s flock. Please pray that God will give me strength, wisdom, and sensitivity to the cultural nuances so that these men will grow to love Christ more deeply, embrace His Gospel more fervently, and care for His sheep in a way that produces a healthy sheep whose lives make the Gospel attractive to the lost.

Thank you your support of the Gospel to the Russian-speaking world,

Jerry Benge