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