The dull gray of November has turned into the sparkling white of true winter, and with the new season have come times of celebration.
The first celebration was over the conclusion of the two LST follow-up programs: the group that discussed Lewis’s Mere Christianity and the grammar class. Workers and readers alike celebrated, not because the hard work was “finally over,” but because the time we had spent together had been so fruitful. Anya, one of the students we met in May with the first LST project, began coming to the Lewis group and not long afterward joined one of the Nivki Church home groups. Slavik, another student who read with LST, joined the same cell. Several ladies who were already members of Nivki Church attended the Lewis program and were very helpful in reinforcing important ideas in the smaller discussion groups, as well as having their own faith strengthened. Other readers such as Elena and Olga who are not yet believers have, it seems, come to see Christianity as a viable option for their lives. Still others like Myroslav and Nadya have at least begun to be less hostile to Christianity, a very important step for older people who were raised under Communism. One of my greatest joys has been to watch the four second-year students who were the group leaders, translators, and kitchen staff grow in amazing ways, both in faith and in leadership ability. I truly rejoice over all the ways God has worked among us, through us, and in some ways in spite of us to build His kingdom through this outreach.
I am also very grateful that Grady Bryan has committed to leading a new group at Nivki Church that will be composed mostly of people who have been part of the Lewis program. Grady and his wife Lena, who is from Sumy, a city not too far from Kyiv, moved here in August with their twin boys to work with Nivki Church. (Lena actually entered the hospital this week to give birth to their third child, so please pray for their health and safety.) I think Grady will do a great job teaching and encouraging this group of around 12 people who, though they are older and have families, are still very young in their faith and seem to know very little about the Bible. I will work with the group in some capacity (most probably in food preparation!), and I look forward to seeing these people really be drawn into the life of the church and to learn to care for and minister to each other.
For those readers who are not yet ready to commit to being part of a faith community, I am planning a class to study the Gospel of John. As I have discovered, many of the ideas Lewis presented in Mere Christianity find support in John, and this class will begin by further exploring some of the themes with which readers are already familiar. We will also talk about themes in the book, connections to other New Testament writings, and possibly make suggestions on how to carry out personal Bible study. Approximately 10 people from both the Lewis group and the grammar class have been invited to this program, which will begin in the middle of January. My hope is that this group will offer spiritual food to nourish growing faith. Please pray for the successful planning and execution of this project, as well as for the foundation of the group that Grady will lead. Join me also in thanksgiving that so many people have grown in so many ways.
We were also blessed by the success of our cell’s “emergency multiplication.” The group now has 12 members, four of whom are considered part of the leadership team, and three first-year ICU students who joined us a week before we multiplied. Our first meeting was a group birthday party, and 7 of the 12 members were at my apartment early to help prepare a German feast of schnitzel, potato salad, sauerkraut, and apple cake. The biggest challenge of that evening was finding enough serving dishes to hold all the food; we even had to put a plastic bag in a basket as a salad bowl. We spent the rest of the evening in worship and in a mixer-type activity designed to help us get to know each other better. Since that first meeting, we have continued to learn about each other and to share our lives as believers, despite the rather different stages of faith at which the group members find themselves. I thank God for each of the members and the variety of gifts they bring to the group, and I pray that we will become even better representatives of the body of Christ.
Though I celebrated the fruitfulness of the LST follow-up and the cell multiplication, I truly did rejoice over the actual ending of the semester at ICU. I now understand how tiring the mere mechanics of teaching can be, with grading assignment after assignment. The final exam in University Study Skills asked students to write a series of paragraphs incorporating vocabulary words and specific elements from three of the stories we read in Dubliners. In addition to the times I read the stories when preparing for class, I have now read all three 110 more times as each student summarized it for the final. I am, honestly, very glad that process is over. But I still find the actual classroom aspect of teaching enjoyable enough to balance the monotony of grading papers.
I have also been experiencing my first “real winter.” As I have told some of the Ukrainians, this is the kind of weather that would bring life to a grinding halt in my home state of Alabama. The temperature has been around –16 C (3 F) for about a week now, and all of the sidewalks are covered with a solid coating of ice and the trees with layers of snow. No one here seems daunted by the weather, though. Cars, buses, and trolleys still run, and people simply bundle up and keep going. I only wish everyone would stop telling me that it gets colder!
One small success that I enjoyed this week was finally being able to sing in Russian from memory in church. Zhanna has assigned a couple of songs for me to memorize for my Russian lessons, but I was delighted this Sunday to realize that I have managed to internalize the words to other songs. In some cases I don’t know exactly what every word means, but it has been very important for me to be able to participate in offering “a joyful noise” to the Lord along with other believers. This week I was able to stop concentrating on getting the words right and think instead about the One to whom I was singing.
I will be leaving the day after tomorrow for a Christmas visit to the U.S. I hope that I will see many of you while I am there. But if not, may God bless you and your family with a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for your prayers and all the ways you have blessed me this year!