Saturday, December 19, 2009

Knowing The Right Questions Helps You to Seek The Right Answers

Yesterday (Friday, December 18) marked a milestone of sorts for us. It was the end of our first semester of Russian language school. Slava Bogu! (Praise the Lord!) Kellie and I along with several other students were able to present our testimonies in Russian and actually be understood by the Russian teachers and language helpers who have labored with us so faithfully--and patiently! While we still have quite a ways to go, we can now engage in conversations with our Russian-speaking friends, neighbors, and people on the street or in the marketplace. Maybe in a future blog, we will give you some examples of our attempts at conversations. Some of them may remind you of Abbot and Costello's "Who's on first?" skit.

One of the methods that Russian teachers use to help their students to acquire the language involves learning several interrogatives (where? what? when? who? how? what sort of? etc) which help the students to learn, recognize, and hopefully use the appropriate grammatical structure when forming phrases and sentences. You must know which grammatical structure corresponds to which question. Failure to do so hinders clarity and possibly credibility in your communication. As I have thought about that, it occurred to me that the same is true with God's communication with us.

In revealing His life-giving Word to us, He couches His revelation in very specific questions. The three big questions utilize the words what, how, and why. Problems arise when either we fail to ask the right questions or fail to do so at the right time. For example, Israel during the time of the major and minor prophets was pretty good at asking "what" questions when it came to worship. They maintained the sacrifical system with regularity and precision, yet they ignored the "how" of worship and so earned God's severe rebuke: "Your lips are near but your hearts are far" (Isaiah 29:12); "Take away the noise of your (worship) songs" (Amos 5:23). Upon closer examination, you begin to see that they missed the "how" of worship because they failed to grasp the "why" of the character of God. Only a few, like Isaiah, saw the "why" of worship (Isaiah 6:1-4).

We are no different today. Many American believers (and Ukrainians too) are pretty attuned to what the Bible teaches. There is much information (that answers "what" sorts of questions) being dispensed. But few give sufficient attention to how God wants our lives to be lived outside of the building where we meet weekly to learn yet more information. Even when some preachers and authors try to address how kinds of issues (which is important), they fail to connect their how teaching with God's why. And so we end up with a pragmatic, self-help approach to life that misses the glory of God and the glory of a Gospel that transforms sinners like you and me (I Timothy 1:15).

That is our passion for coming to Ukraine. To train present and future church leaders in the Russian-speaking world to promote not only the what of the Christian life, but the pursuit of the what in a way that is concerned with how and why. So as you pray for us, pray that we will learn to ask and answer with the right grammatical constructions. Moreover, pray that we will live and teach in ways that God uses to challenge leaders and churches to ask the right questions at the right time. In Ukraine, the Gospel is no longer the novelty that it was after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. There is much spiritual complacency. What is needed are churches with leaders who are raising the right questions, questions that point not only to an answer, but to a Person--the One whose birthday we celebrate this week.

One final note. We praise the Lord that our daughter is with us here in Kiev to help us celebrate our first Christmas far from our former home in America!

Have a truly Merry Christmas!

Jerry, Kellie, and Karissa Benge

PS You can check out some recent pictures in our photo album!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Report from Kellie on our Trip to Sumy

Recently we took a 5-hour trip to Sumy which is about 200 miles northeast of Kiev near the Russian border. When we arrived on Friday evening, we were taken to our host's home, a wonderful young Ukrainian family. Sasha and Ira and their two boys opened their hearts and homes to us for the weekend. It was encouraging to see how our Russian speaking has improved since we first arrived here as we were able to converse and fellowship with them. On Saturday, we visited several ministries including a Christian camp and an ESL club for children. On Sunday, we attended AM worship at one of the main Baptist churches and then visited two village churches where Jerry preached. In a village of 6,000, one of the churches had only 8 people attending. The region is one of the poorest in Ukraine, and life is very hard for the people. But what broke our hearts was seeing the spiritual poverty and apathy. In nearly every village, there is a huge, beautiful orthodox church—even though the villagers live in relative poverty. And often villagers are discouraged from attending evangelical churches by local religious leaders. We were especially burdened when we observed people worshipping, kissing and praying to religious icons that cannot save them. There is much work to be done here. Barely 2% of the population in Ukraine is evangelical—yet it is considered the Bible Belt of the former Soviet Union! As we met with the team of five missionaries in Sumy, we were impressed by their perseverance and faith in God's plan for them. We rode home on the train on Monday morning, and thanked the Lord for the opportunity to see more of the world through His eyes.

Below are three videos from a recent Ukrainian Thanksgiving celebration known as Zhatva (see blog below). For pictures and video of the Sumy trip as well as other presentations, check out our photo album.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musings from Jerry on Thanksgiving

Recently we celebrated Thanksgiving at our church. Before you assume that we are totally confused, let me add that this was not an American Thanksgiving (which is coming up later this month), but rather it was the Ukrainian version. It's called Zhatva. It was quite different.  There were no family get togethers. No turkey. Not even a Lion's game on TV (thankfully). In fact, Zhatva is celebrated only by believers at their respective local churches. It is a time of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks to God for His abundant mercy. It's a time to reflect on the God who not only provides us with fruits and vegetables, but who is at work in the lives of His people, resulting in the fruit of His Spirit.

At our church, there was a sermon on discipleship and bearing fruit. There were songs of praise and thanksgiving (including recitations from the children and special music from several musicians). After the service there was a simple pot luck dinner with some favorite Ukrainian dishes featuring produce from their dachas (gardens).  There was not an overwhelming amount of food. Just enough for a tasty but modest meal. The focus was less on the quantity of food and more on thankfulness to God and delighting in the fellowship of His people. While I like a good American Thanksgiving meal as well as anyone, I came away thinking less about the food and more about the feast of fellowship that we enjoyed (and needed!) Though we are inostrazhi (foreigners) and clearly stick out in public wherever we go, at this gathering we were treated as brother and sister. It was refreshing. Turkeys and football may be fun, but a real Thanksgiving they do not make.

For photos of Zhatva, our recent trip to Sumy, and other experiences here in Ukraine, be sure to check out the photo albums on our blog.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ukraine in the News

Ukraine fears for its future as Moscow muscles in on Crimea

As Ukraine prepares for its first presidential election since the Orange Revolution, there are signs that its giant neighbour to the east will not tolerate a pro-western outcome. Luke Harding reports from Yalta.

Please click on the link below to read the full report:

Please continue to pray for political stability in Ukraine.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Six Week Check Up!

In many ways, it is hard to believe we have been here for six weeks. The time has gone by quickly as there have been many new things we have had to learn (ie. bus schedules, words to say what you would like to buy and then words for the price you need to pay, familiar items at the grocery store that have very different names, how to get to language school everyday, what church to go to, how to say if you want the bus to stop so you can get off, what to do when you miss your stop and go all the way to the end of the line!!, how to transport things in big bags because you don't have a car anymore to take you places). But in many ways it seems as if we have been gone a long time (you start to feel isolated in public because everyone else is speaking a different language that you can't understand, and they don't easily understand you, church services are in Russian and language study can become very consuming). But in saying all of that, we are not discouraged or unhappy at all. We count it a great privilege to be here training to bring the good news to those who we can see are without hope and without the Lord. That is what keeps us moving ahead along with God's amazing and abundant grace. We know that your prayers on our behalf have been answered, and we hope that strengthens your faith and joy in seeing God at work in a very specific way. Below are some praises and prayer requests.

Praises from Ukraine:

1. Our things that were shipped over at the end of July arrived with only minimal damage. It is so good to have our own belongings to use!
2. Our apartment is perfect for us--very comfortable and located very conveniently. We have great neighbors who are Ukrainian believers, and their 20-something son speaks perfect English.
3. We both have different teachers for Russian, and our teachers are perfect for each of us. Jerry's class is just a little ahead, and he loves the challenge of his teacher who has been the most recent convert to Christianity and who reminds her students of their great opportunity to serve the Lord with this language. Kellie's teacher is patient, compassionate, and gives their class loads of writing to do which helps cement the grammar in her head.
4. We are attending a church just down the road from our home (about a 10-minute walk). It is a church that is reaching out to professionals in many creative ways. We have been challenged by the great needs around us. They are friendly people (about 50) and many are new believers.
5. We thank the Lord for our SEND team here in Kiev. They have been very welcoming, with many having us over for meals and extending warm hospitality. There is a passion here to do all we can in the time we have to reach as many Russian-speaking people as possible.

Prayer Requests:

1. Making sure we are in the best church for us. Please pray that we can get together with the pastor and his wife soon so we can understand the direction and passion of the church. We want to fit in and be of help if we can.
2. So far, we have really poured ourselves into learning this language. We have a long way to go, and even after two years, we will still have a long way to go to learn it to communicate effectively. But it has been encouraging to begin to take baby steps in our speaking and understanding. We are making progress! Please pray for continued diligence and concentration especially in class. Both of us have language helpers whom we meet with an extra 3 hours each week. We want those to be very effective hours especially in speaking more.
3. To continue to understand and live in a way that demonstrates our total dependence on God (loving Him and learning more about Him and loving others in concrete ways).

Please feel free to reply to this and give us requests that we can pray for for you. We are so grateful for the team God has give us of faithful prayer warriors. We are challenged by and appreciate your love for God and us.

Because of Christ Alone,

Kellie (and Jerry)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Random Observations on Life in Ukraine and Learning Russian

Kellie and I are in the middle of our third week of Language School. Rather than share one big idea on this blog,we thought we would just share a variety of brief thoughts and observations from our most recent experiences over the past view days. Hopefully they will give you a “feel” for things in Ukraine.

On life here:
• People here are generally more reserved than in the States. They do not smile as much nor do they speak as much on the different modes of public transportation we have used. The typical outgoing American persona (casual communication with strangers, smiling in public etc) is viewed as being “forward.”
• There is an odd mix of wealth and poverty. Nearly everyone has a cell phone. People (especially younger women) are extremely fashion conscious. There are nice malls and restaurants. Yet you see disturbing examples of poverty as well. Buildings that are decrepit. Older women (“pensioners”) in kiosks trying to sell a few vegetables to augment their meager income. We even saw one scouring through a dumpster collecting “food.”
• You see relatively few overweight people here.
• Every day as we walk (or ride the bus) to language school, we are reminded how much people here need the Lord.

On the language:
• Even though we are learning Russian (which is used in all the Bible Colleges and Seminaries here), Ukrainian is commonly heard and seen in our daily experience. In fact, many speak a street language which is a hybrid of both. This can make things confusing when it comes to shopping (figuring out labels and product content) , trying to sing at church, or just figuring out signs.
• The Russian language is dauntingly complex. There are many rules to learn and seemingly as many exceptions. A friend mentioned to us that she was glad she had grown up with Russian because it is so difficult to acquire otherwise. She added that English was much easier to learn than her own native tongue!
• We have excellent language instructors. They are skilled, dedicated….and patient!!
• At this point for us, hearing Russian is like listening to a radio broadcast where the transmission has a lot of static. You hear words and phrases here and there…but much of it cannot yet be understood.
• Though language acquisition is challenging, every verb we conjugate and every noun or adjective declension that we memorize is another plank in the bridge of communication that will enable us to train Ukrainian leaders to plant churches and make disciples.

Jerry and Kellie

P.S. Be sure to check out our latest pictures featuring a Sunday AM wedding at the church we are attending. More thoughts on that later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

First Week Of Language Studies

It was back to school for Kellie and me this past week. It has been a few years since we have sat in a classroom setting day after day. And it has been a bit intense for both of us. First our teachers speak almost exclusively in Russian, requiring much concentration on the part of the students who barely know any Russian. Secondly, while Kellie and I had already learned to recognize and read the Russian (Cyrillic) script, learning it in cursive has been like learning a whole new alphabet. It is frankly very confusing (and frustrating) at times. So why bother learning Russian? Why not just rely on interpreters?

I have asked myself that question several times this week. And while I can think of several practical answers to that question, let me share two simple thoughts that have spurred us on--even when we have felt like our brains are on overload.

1. God devised language. It was His idea. He thinks. He communicates. And when He communicates, He acts. He spoke--and the world came into being. He spoke words of life to Adam and Eve. And if they had listened to His words, they would not have eaten the forbidden fruit and experienced sin and death. After they sinned, he spoke a promise to them (Gen. 3:15). And the rest of His Word is the fulfillment of those words, culminating in the coming of THE Word. That Word actually became flesh. He lived among us. He died for us...and rose gain. All in fulfillment of His Word. And it is the message about that Good News (or Gospel) which transforms sinners like us and puts us on the stage of human history to proclaim that Word until every last letter has been fulfilled and we can resonate back to Him words of praise and adoration forever more.

2. When mankind was united together against God in Genesis 11, God devised multiple languages as the means of dividing mankind and setting the stage for the unifying power of the Gospel--something that was foreshadowed at Pentecost (when Jews from all over the Mediterranean basin heard the Gospel in their own tongue) and will be fully displayed in eternity around God's throne. Learning another language gives us the privilege of being part of God's redemptive work.

We may not enjoy every moment of language school. We may feel frustrated and inept when we open our mouths in the market place to try and practice what we are learning. But we live for the day that Jesus' name is praised in Russian and all other languages in the world. Until that day....

Working on our word at a time,

Jerry and Kellie

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Back to School in Ukraine

Today was a huge holiday in Ukraine. The first day back to school. And do they ever celebrate the day with flourish! With students all dressed up, flowers for the teachers, along with music and celebrating--this is quite a day. Enjoy these pictures of the local school from our 4th floor apartment. 

In case you missed it, there is also a slide show of our first week in Ukraine over in the right sidebar of this blog. You can click on any of the images to bring up a larger version of the slideshow.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

And now...a word from Kellie!

I can't believe that I am sitting in our apartment in Kiev only 9 days after leaving Detroit. . .and I am rejoicing in God's gracious kindness to us. The transition has been very smooth and enjoyable.  Our apartment is very nice and extremely clean!  We have windows (a screen on only 1, but I guess flies don't come up to the 4th floor very often!) and wonderful cross-ventilation.  So it has been pretty cool here even when it gets in the upper 80's during the day.  I have a very small front-loading washing machine (very common here) and have already done several loads of laundry that I have to put out on our enclosed balcony on a drying rack to dry.  I love all the fresh air, and we have not missed air conditioning (at least I haven't).  We have gone to the outdoor market about every other day and bought all kinds of beautiful fresh fruit and vegetables.  We also were able to do some stock-up shopping with Rick and Marilyn Perhai last weekend at a place like Sam's Club.  It is a little frustrating not to be able to talk with people, but tomorrow language school starts, and I want to really pour myself into it.  The people are very nice and patient especially when we buy something and are not sure about how much to pay them.  We went to a wonderful small church plant this morning that is just a ten-minute walk from our home.  It looks like a place that we will want to continue to be a part of.  They are very loving, joyful people, and we had a great time of fellowship.  We were also impressed with the depth of the preaching and the evident commitment to glorifying Christ by savoring Him. Thank you for your notes and phone calls.  We will try to get back to everyone, but it may take a little while.  We can tell that you are praying much for us.  Thank you so much.  Jerry will add some pictures to give you a little more idea of the culture around us.  We love you and are thankful for you.

With joy and anticipation,


Saturday, August 29, 2009


After several failed attempts, we are finally up and running on the Internet. This first blog will be a bit brief, as it is going on 2:00 AM here in Kiev on Sunday morning--but I really wanted to get this blog going. We have had a good week just getting set up in our new apartment, shopping at the neighborhood market (more on that later), getting familiar with our surrounding community, meeting fellow team members (Steve and Nancy Wooden, Andy and Holly Rist, and Dave and Sharon Benzel) and even our Ukrainian neighbors. It has been a busy but refreshing week. Tomorrow (in just a few hours) we are off to church at a new church plant (called Faith, Hope, and Love Church) and then lunch with another SEND couple from my hometown of Indianapolis (Mark and Charlene Canada). We hope to get several more pictures online by tomorrow to give you a feel of life here in Kiev. In the meantime, we are gearing up for language school which starts on Monday. Thank you again for your notes and prayers. Even though we have had some difficulties getting online, all in all we have had a very blessed first week. Most of all, we are thankful for the Gospel! No matter what our circumstances are, our standing with God is firm because of Christ's righteousness in our behalf.

Exulting in His grace,

Jerry and Kellie

Latest Edition of the Benge Bulletin Now Available

The August/September 2009 Edition of the Benge Bulletin is now available.  You can view/download it by clicking on the image below.

If you would like to receive the Benge Bulleting automatically via e-mail please register by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to our new Blog

We have moved our blog to an easier to use blogging service! You can now easily add comments to our blog entries as well as search for text in any blog entry and/or comment. You don't have to sign up to enter a comment, but please include your name when adding a comment to a blog entry so we know who you are.