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.