The days are getting noticeably shorter and the air colder here in Kyiv.  For me, autumn has always had a certain mellow personality, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been finding that it is an international personality.  I get the same feeling walking the streets of Kyiv as I do in hometown Guntersville or in Nashville.  One disappointing difference is that there is no high school football season here, and I have no way to satisfy my desire to hear a marching band.

      As I write, both LST follow-up programs and the semester at ICU have passed their midpoints.  Now that the “getting used to things” part is over, every day seems to bring a new rich texture of experience.  Last week both the Mere Christianity discussion group and the grammar class moved to the new UEC facility, a very nice change after the close quarters of the Nivki Church building.

      Though some new people have joined the Mere Christianity group in the last couple of weeks, most of the growth taking place in that project is personal and internal.  The members of each of the four discussion groups are becoming more comfortable and open with each other, and the group leaders are becoming more confident.  In most of the groups, the focus has shifted from practicing English to engaging the ideas presented as the members decide they prefer to discuss faith rather than language.  I hope that within the next weeks we will be able to introduce a group worship time and prayers in the discussion groups.  Please pray for this transition, as we continue to pray for the spiritual growth of each person.

      The discussion matter for each group meeting has also gotten more intensive in the last month.  We’ve just finished reading the chapters in the part of the book entitled “What Christians Believe.”  Although all of the lectures start with a review and elucidation of the things C.S. Lewis wrote, in the past few meetings I have used Lewis as a starting place for a discussion of scripture; I use the Bible as a way to show where Lewis got his ideas.  For example, in one chapter Lewis wrote the following:

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic...or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

These seem like very strong words to people who may be accustomed to thinking of Jesus as simply a “great moral teacher.”  For people who are not familiar with the Bible and have no idea about the sort of things Jesus said, this statement is simply confusing.  So, part of the lecture for the week the group read this chapter was a focus on Jesus’ “I Am” statements in the gospel of John.  Hopefully, these people now have more information with which to make the decision about Jesus that Lewis challenges them to make.

      The grammar class also continues to go well, though it has undergone a major renovation.  Rather than having a short lecture and then breaking into skill-sensitive groups for practice, last week the meeting became more like a real class.  Several things have made this change possible.  First, the shipment of textbooks we had been waiting for since the middle of September finally arrived, and we were able to purchase enough of them for each member of the class to borrow one from the UEC library.  Second, six first-year students from the class I assist with at ICU have volunteered to help me and the four Ukrainians who have been working with the class to this point.  Third, the new UEC facility is more conducive to a classroom environment.  Last week I used an overhead projector for the first time in teaching a lesson, and it made explaining verb tenses much simpler.

      Grand opening week for the UEC’s new facility during the first week of October was a time of thanksgiving and prayerful dedication.  Several members of the UEC board (Gary Jerkins, Greg Hardeman, and David Ralston, the board’s president and one of the UEC’s biggest moral and financial supporters) and John Thweate from Otter Creek Church of Christ in Nashville were in Kyiv to join in the celebration.  I enjoyed spending part of an afternoon eating lunch and sightseeing with John and Greg, and the week’s efforts were blessed by the presence of all four of these wonderful men.  The first official grand opening activity was a luncheon for the visiting board members and UEC staff, and it was a blessing to be part of a conversation so full of gratitude for what God has already done with the Center and with hope for what He will continue to do in years to come.  As the person who has been involved with the UEC for the shortest amount of time, it was really special for me to hear in each person’s voice the passion and commitment that they have to this work’s continued success.   Other grand opening activities included receptions for students and educators, neighbors, and missionaries from areas in and around Kyiv.  One evening was a reception for the members of Livoberezna Church and one evening was for members of Nivki Church.  The official program at the Nivki reception was short, but afterwards groups of people went into each room in the Center to prayerfully dedicate those places to the glory of God; this time was really a blessing for all involved.  See photos of the new facility and receptions at www.uecenter.org.

      The UEC’s new facility has already been utilized and enjoyed by dozens of people.  Not only do the LST groups meet there, but also some cell groups from Nivki Church and outreach groups from Livoberezna Church on Kyiv’s Left Bank.  Chris and I have been working on an internal classification system for the library, which now contains over 3,000 titles in six languages: English, Russian, Ukrainian, French, German, and Spanish.  In addition to the volunteer staff of which I am a part, the UEC also employs four Ukrainians who help facilitate library maintenance and keep the center open for people who want to study, use the very nice kitchen, or simply watch a movie.  Every day there is a steady traffic of students coming there to hang out or eat between classes.

      In addition to all of these activities, I have really enjoyed being a part of the life of Nivki Church, particularly as part of the leadership team of one of the cell groups.  As one person last year explained these groups to me, if the Christ’s body is the church, then each small group is one “cell” of his body.  The cells are one of the most vibrant parts of the life of Nivki Church, because they provide a way for each person to be ministered to and to minister on a very personal level.  When a person shows interest in questions of faith, either by asking questions or by attending services, he or she is invited to be part of one of the cells.  Each cell meets one night a week; the group eats together, shares the blessings and “un-blessings” of each person’s week, worships together, discusses either that Sunday’s sermon or some other aspect of faith, and ends with a time of prayer.  The cell of which I am a part now has 17 members, five of whom have been added since I came to Kyiv in May, and meets in my apartment.  Ira, my roommate, has been one of the cell leaders for several years, so it is nice for us both to have all these folks in our home each week.  I have helped with the cell mostly by preparing food and helping with discussion time, but my personal goal for the remainder of my time with the cell is to help the newer members of the leadership team to develop confidence and even greater leadership abilities.  Please pray that God will bless this cell and all of the groups at Nivki Church.

      My education as an educator continues as I work with the University Study Skills class at ICU.  I am learning how much of a teacher’s time can be spent on grading papers and preparing lessons.  One of my biggest challenges is establishing my own ethos and authority in the classroom, since in all truth I am only a few years older than most of the students.  But, I imagine time and experience will solve that problem much more completely than efforts on my part, so I am trying to concentrate on making the lessons in the sections I teach interesting and beneficial to the students.

      It has been a joy to spend time with students at the student night that Chris sponsors.  Several of them come early each week to help prepare the meal, and most of them stay as long as they can, watching movies and playing games.  This week there were over 70 students present—too large a number for anyone to really be able to move comfortably, but it was really a blessing to see that the invitation had been accepted by so many.

      And, of course, cultural and linguistic adaptation is always an ongoing process.  Last week I was in the grocery store with a list and a pen, shopping for meals for the Mere Christianity discussion group.  I was standing in the fruit section looking at lemons when I noticed a woman looking at me rather intently.  As I pulled a plastic bag off the roll in order to select my fruit, she told me that she wanted two lemons...and promptly put her two lemons in my plastic bag.  I said to her in Russian, “Ya ne dyevushka,” and, after looking confused for a second, she understood that I was not, in fact, one of the ladies whose job it was to weigh and price fruit.  When I told this story to one of my Ukrainian friends later, she was kind enough to inform me that instead of saying, “I am not a worker-girl,” as I had meant to say, I had told the lady with the lemons that I was not a girl at all.  I guess that explains her momentary confusion.  And adds one more item to the list of things I should remember not to say.

      Thank you, as always, for your thoughts, prayers, and support.  Please continue to pray for all of these efforts to spread the story of Jesus.