The work of the winter semester continues here in Kyiv, though accompanied by stranger weather than usual. All the snow melted in the week after I came back from the
, and it has only reappeared for brief periods during the last month. One day this week saw heavy snow, rain, sunshine, and wind cycle through in 15-minute intervals. I hear that Ukrainian weather is usually fairly reliable, but the last few weeks have reminded me of a warm and cool Alabama winter. I do enjoy the unexpected warmth, but in a way I’m disappointed because, in spite of my dread of cold, I was hoping to discover “real snow” in my first winter away from the South. US
In ministry, one of the things I’m most enjoying about this new semester is the “Chat Room” group that meets at the UEC on Fridays. We got off to a rather slow start, but there are now seven students who come to discuss Mere Christianity and to ask questions about aspects of the Christian system that may not make sense to them. Lera and Tanya, two girls who were in my USS section last semester and are now part of the cell I help lead, came with some very difficult questions right away: “How can God be three persons in one?” “How is God related to time?” “Why did Jesus have to die the way he did to bring salvation?” These are daunting questions, but they show a thoughtful maturity that already takes Christianity seriously. Two very intelligent male students, Artem and Anton, are also vigorously engaging the discussions, stating directly their disagreements and offering insightful support for their agreement with Lewis or whatever passage from the Bible we’ve been considering.
We have been working through Book One of Mere Christianity, in which Lewis builds an argument that the Moral Law, or the inherent knowledge of right and wrong, is evidence that there is a Power behind the universe. Lewis writes that people know that things like being truthful and unselfish are Right in an absolute sense, but that still they constantly fail to keep this standard. Lewis’s argument provided a clean transition to a discussion of sin and the Fall as expounded in the Bible. We have spent some time considering God’s attitude toward sin and how Jesus can be the answer to the problem of sin. These discussions also, accidentally, go hand in hand with the topics of the student night outreach in which we are “unpacking” the book of Romans.
Student night has been reorganized this semester to give visiting students more opportunity to mingle with Nivki Church Christians and to have a distinctly more spiritual focus. Chris begins by giving a talk on a topic from Romans, but then—rather than ending the official activities after the lecture—those present are divided into small discussion groups and work through a series of questions designed to reinforce the main ideas of the lecture and provide a chance for students to respond. The groups are divided in a different way each week, but the group leader is a member of Nivki Church, and there are other Christians in the mix. Many have said that they enjoy this way of doing student night, and they have the option each week of writing down questions and objections in the group’s “official notebook.” Please pray for all of the outreaches to students, that as they continue to think and learn about Christ, they will be led to faith in him.
I am also enjoying the Monday night Bible class on John’s gospel composed of LST readers. We have a usual crowd of 9 people, in addition to the three Ukrainians who help with the group. We began by getting a “brief” overview of the history of the Jewish people, concentrating especially on the promises that God had made to Abraham, Moses, and David, and how those promises strongly influenced the Jews’ expectations of what the Messiah would be like. We then talked about how Jesus surprised even those who were eagerly awaiting the Messiah and the conflicts that arose with Jewish leaders because Jesus did not exactly fit their expectations. We have also been looking at some of the miracles he performed, particularly the feeding of the 5, 000 and the healing of the man born blind. In addition to simply working through the story, I also try to stress the point that Jesus was making about himself, either in the conversation that arose out of conflict or in the teaching opportunity provided by the miracle.
I have really been delighted to see the reactions of the class members. One girl who is very frankly not interested in Christianity told me last week that she comes because she likes to hear the stories and that they provide something useful for her in her life. Another woman, Nadya, who was one of my readers last summer, has asked to meet with me personally once a week to discuss even more about the lessons. She’s been reading books on the origin and authorship of all four gospels, and though it seems some sources she gets from other people have a rather anti-Christian bias, it’s great to see her take such a self-directed interest in learning more about the Bible. Both of these women—and truly all the class members—challenge me to work harder and dig deeper in preparing lessons and trying to respond to questions. Through all of this, I am so amazed to see the Word of God at work within people, drawing them on in mysterious ways to more and more knowledge of the Father. Please pray that this process will continue to lead them on to faith.
The group that Grady Bryan is leading has been meeting for a couple of weeks, and the 10 or so members are starting to get a sense of group identity. The group has been composed mostly of Nivki Church members who were also LST readers, but two readers that I was very concerned about helping find a place in the church community have also come. It has been wonderful for me to see these relationships begin to form among older members of the church, who are outnumbered by students and may feel overlooked or out of place. The group sings and prays together and then discusses a topic taken from several related passages of Scripture. Some even asked Grady to give them “homework” so they could read at home and be prepared for the discussion!
My class at ICU continues to be very challenging. One problem is that some students in the class have a difficult time even understanding the lectures because their English skills are rather poor. Cheating and talking during class are also problems, and a couple of students have either failed assignments or been asked to leave the classroom for these disrespectful behavior. Nevertheless, I continue to enjoy hearing the students’ thoughts about the reading material and to see the ones who are determined to work hard improving significantly.
I recently had my first experience with a Kyiv movie theater, which, rather surprisingly, I enjoyed very much. I went with nearly 15 people from Nivki Church to see the Ukrainian premiere of The Lord of the Rings. The first remarkable thing was the theater itself. It was in a renovated opera house called “Movie Palace” high on a hill overlooking Independence Square. The film was showing in an auditorium with two balconies that held nearly 1,500 people, and we were sitting on the front row of the second balcony. It was also, of course, in Russian. I was very glad I had seen it in English when I was home for Christmas and could remember the topic of almost every conversation, because it was very hard to follow in Russian. The only thing I understood completely was when Galadriel told Frodo: “I know what you saw.” I was, however, very impressed with the translation and the similarity of the actors’ voices to the original and thoroughly enjoyed just seeing all of the gorgeous landscapes.
Please join me in thanking God for all of the good things he has done in Kyiv and the lives of people here, and continue to pray with me that he will lead more and more to himself. May God bless you this month!