My time over the past month has been divided among the tasks of working with Let’s Start Talking, beginning Russian lessons, and making plans for the things I’ll be doing during the rest of my time here. It seems that every time I turn around I find something else worth doing and have taken on another project. The list of tasks is daunting, but I am truly grateful for the opportunity to take on so much responsibility and to feel that I am really contributing to the work here.
The first LST team left Kyiv June 24 after six weeks, but they were replaced by a group of four other people also from the Knoxville, Tenn., area who came for a three-week project. Jana Lillie and Amy Gregg were my roommates, and Mike Buckley and Kelley Milam stayed with Chris Lovingood, the resident missionary. The second team continued meeting one-on-one with the readers who were interested in continuing to practice English using the Bible. Some of the readers had left the city for vacation, so our numbers dwindled a little, but the readers who stayed seemed to become increasingly more interested in learning about the Bible. I worked with LST two days a week, just enough time to keep meeting with 8 of my 12 readers. Some of my readers began meeting with other members of the team.
The weekend of June 29, LST hosted an outreach called FriendsCamp. FriendsCamp is an event similar to a retreat during which all of the readers have the opportunity to speak with LST workers, church members and each other in a less academic environment. A team of five people came from the States just to host the weekend, and they were responsible for planning and organizing the activities. FriendsCamp was held at a conference center about 15 minutes outside of Kyiv in an area called Pushe Voditsa that is well-known in the city as a beautiful place to relax. Over 60 people were at the retreat at one time, with about 40 staying for the entire weekend. The FriendsCamp team hosted games and discussion groups on the parables of Jesus, and there was plenty of free time for walking outside or swimming in the lake. The crowning event of the weekend was the bonfire on Saturday night. While some people walked around the lake, others made sausage shiskabobs, and the FriendsCamp team introduced S’mores to Ukraine. We sang a selection of devotional songs in Russian and English and had a group prayer before ending the night’s official activity. On Sunday everyone was invited to church, and about 10 of the readers came, swelling the size of the assembly to 62. FriendsCamp was a very useful activity, because it established our relationships with our readers as friends, rather than students. I pray that we were able to show the lifestyle of Christians a little more clearly during the time we spent with our readers. (See photos of Friends Camp in the “galleries” section of Chris’s website at http://www.kyivmission.org.)
One of the most amazing things about LST was the way my readers were able to continually surprise me. One woman that I had been reading with for about 6 weeks is a good example. We were not really comfortable talking together for quite a while, and it seemed to me that she was not really interested in discussing faith and was merely enduring the reading of Bible stories. At our last meeting, I decided to give her a Russian Bible in spite of her seeming lack of interest. Despite my expectations, her eyes lit up at the gift, and she thanked me for it numerous times. Another of my readers who I had thought resistant to Christianity surprised me by telling me how much she enjoyed the stories we read at FriendsCamp and saying that she found them useful for her life. Pray for both of these women that they will continue to explore the Word and to grow in faith.
Although Let’s Start Talking officially ended July 13, Chris and I have planned two follow-up programs that will begin in September. One program is an English class that will focus almost completely on grammar and language mechanics. The class will meet one night a week, and we will probably use stories from the book of Acts as text for practice and the basis for grammar exercises. The other program is a conversation group oriented more specifically to Bible study and learning about Christianity. Participants in this program will also meet one night a week for a meal and to listen to a talk about some subject related to faith and/or Christianity before opening the floor for everyone to comment. The basis for these discussions will be C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity, which is readily available in Russian, and was given to every reader who came to FriendsCamp. Lewis’s book is really excellent material for introducing Christianity, because he starts on a common ground of logic that believers and non-believers can share. It is my hope that this group will give people a chance to test the claims of Jesus in an open, supportive environment, and that it will give the group leaders and speakers a chance to correct many faulty assumptions about Christianity. Although Chris and I are working together to develop these programs, in September I will teach the English class, coordinate speakers for the conversation group, and lead the group discussions. We have already registered 20 people for the English class and 17 people for the conversation group; many readers are interested in both programs. Please pray for Chris and me as we develop the curriculum and for the LST follow-up, that the seeds planted by the two teams will see some growth over the summer.
I am also planning to meet with some readers one-on-one. One of them is the 18-year-old student I wrote about in my last newsletter. She has been on vacation the past couple of weeks, but I would like to begin meeting with her this summer to discuss Christianity. The other person I plan to meet with is a woman of about 30 who has two young boys. The LST teams got to know her very well, because she spent a lot of time at the church building where we were reading, waiting for someone to have a free hour so she could ask them questions about the Bible. She has a very difficult family situation, and is truly seeking a way to allow God to help her, so I plan to meet with her and help her understand more about grace and salvation. Please pray that the Father will be in the midst of my conversations with both of these women.
The remodeling work at the Ukrainian Education Center is still proceeding, and Chris and I have been discussing the organization of the Library/Resource Center that will include books in Russian, Ukrainian, English, French, German, and Spanish, as well as films and CDs in most of these languages. Most of the books will be in Russian, Ukrainian, or English, and there will be a large section of theological material to aid in Bible study. The bookshelves at the temporary Center are overflowing with materials, as is Chris’s apartment, the secondary storage place for UEC possessions. I have even been storing some books in my apartment until they can be moved to the library. This week I took on the responsibility of developing a cataloging system for the library that will be adapted from Dewey Decimal classification numbers. This project is a real challenge, because the materials are multi-language as well as multi-media, but fortunately I enjoy organization. I have been getting some advice from Marie Byers and Carolyn Wilson, two librarians at Lipscomb University. Kenneth Kirby, a former Kyiv missionary-turned computer programmer, is returning to Ukraine at the end of this month to help us set up the library’s database. (To view updates on the UEC or to learn how you can help, visit http://www.uecenter.org.)
I am also on a committee that is planning the youth conference in Cherkassy, a city about 3 hours south of Kyiv, that will be held the first week of August. Chris developed the Cherkassy Conference as a way to train small group leaders and encourage new young Christians, and the week is an intensive study of topics based around a certain theme drawn out of a book of the Bible. The starting text this year will be Revelation, and in addition to trying to gain a better understanding of the context and meaning of this very difficult book, we will discuss related issues. Topics in focus include perseverance in the face of persecution, imprecatory prayer, worship, and healing. We hope that some of the Ukrainians will agree to write a couple of songs in Russian based on the worship texts in Revelation. I am really looking forward to being a part of all the teaching and learning that this conference will involve—please pray for its success.
Aside from all these challenges, I have also been studying Russian with a private tutor three days a week. Zhanna is probably 65 years old, and she has been teaching Russian to foreigners for nearly 45 years. She lives on Kreshatik, the main street of Kyiv, and we meet at her apartment to study for two hours. Studying with her is very exhausting because she does not speak English at all, but I have already learned a lot and am, slowly, starting to understand some conversations. During each session, she walks me through a lesson in the textbook and then sends me home to learn everything in the lesson. It takes probably 4 to 5 hours of study for every lesson, and I work hard to learn the assignment because I want to be able to communicate as well as I can as soon as I can. The exciting thing about Zhanna is that she likes to feed people, myself included. Last week, I ate soup with her and her son-in-law, and also had some berries and a dish made of berries and curds. At least once during every session, she stops teaching and goes to the kitchen to get whatever she has for me that day. She waits patiently while I eat all of what she has given me; the lesson does not continue until I have finished. I just have to laugh to myself…and keep eating.
I am glad that I have had hot water in my apartment for the last couple of days. I had not had hot water since the first couple of days I was in Kyiv, and I am not really sure if I will have it for the rest of the summer or if it will be turned back off. There are several hot water plants in the city that each supply a group of buildings, and the government shuts down the hot water for some time during the summer to do maintenance work on the pipes. There are very few private hot water heaters in Kyiv, so most people are without hot water at least some time during the summer.
I will be out of Kyiv for about a week for a vacation in Odessa, a city on the Black Sea. An internet weather map reported today that it is 95 degrees in Odessa, as hot as some places in Africa. I am looking forward to having some time to relax and to staying in a place that (hopefully) has an air conditioner.
Thank you, as always, for your kind support and concern. May God continue to bless you!