I’ve never seen a spring come this slowly before. There are buds on the trees outside my window, but the air is still cold and the sky gray, threatening but not delivering snow. People are starting to spend more time outside, smoking and talking, but warm weather and green trees seem to be still a long time off.
It seems that the spiritual fruit of the work here is growing faster than the apples, plums, and cherries of Kyiv’s fruit trees. Anya Schvachko, a high school senior who was one of my LST readers last summer, was baptized last week. She had joined our cell last fall before it multiplied, and she continued to grow spiritually through the cell meetings and individual meetings with Lena Morozova, one of the leaders of our now “sister cell.” Before the baptism, Chris asked her to tell a little about why she had made this decision, and she talked about all that she had learned about God and said that she wanted Jesus to be her friend for life. That same evening, right after Anya had changed out of her wet clothes, the members of her group gathered around her to pray for her, and Artem, an ICU student who has been with their cell for only a couple of months, also prayed publicly for the start of her life in Christ. Artem is certainly gifted with intelligence and a servant’s heart, but he has been cautious about becoming involved in the church, turning down months of invitations to join the cell and coming to worship services for the first time only a couple of weeks ago. It was such a blessing to me personally to hear him pray in the church as a member of the cell for the birth of a new Christian.
A similar situation has also occurred in our cell in the last month or so with a girl who has been coming since the middle of last semester but has seemed reluctant to fully participate, especially during prayer times. Two weeks ago, however, I heard for the first time Tanya praying aloud, and I was once again blessed to hear a reluctant heart opening itself to God. Please pray that all of the people we meet, and these three especially, will continue to grow up in their love of Christ and that God will use them to push out the borders of his kingdom here in Kyiv.
The biggest adventure of the last month was the Spring Break visit from 6 Lipscomb students, a Nashville banker, and Scott Owings, Lipscomb’s missionary-in-residence. The trip was designed partly as a service opportunity for students, and partly as a way to show those interested in missions what an internship with the UEC could look like. In addition to bringing books and an overwhelming number of Christian music CDs for the UEC library, the group also planned the program for student night, which included skits, singing, a talk, and “surviving university” gift bags, which were unanimously well received. A team of three students observed the children’s school outreach that several young Nivki Church Christians coordinate, and later in the week they held a seminar to share ideas and give two suitcases worth of lesson material, crafts, and games. Different compositions of the Lipscomb group attended Chris’s and my classes at ICU, visited cell groups of Nivki and Livoberezhna, spent individual time with students, and I’m sure learned more than they wanted to know about cooking for large groups and washing dishes. ICU students accompanied the group on historic and cultural tours of the city, and the group had a real “cultural experience” during a group lesson with Zhanna, my Russian tutor, who did indeed feed them: very sweet jam without the benefit of bread to take the edge off. Though trying to make everything run smoothly was quite a lot of work, I really enjoyed meeting and getting to know every person who came. Please pray that God will water the seeds that they were able to plant during their trip, and that God will continue to bless growing seeds that they watered.
I have also been seeing some growth take place in the students who meet for the Chat Room group. Perhaps I am only getting to know better what the students are like and what they think, but it seems that, after having some of their questions about Christianity answered, they are starting to answer questions for themselves and for each other. The last two weeks especially, the discussion has been less of me talking and more of seeing what topics of interest they find themselves in what they read and how they generate questions and answers themselves. Last week the reading was from “Three Parts of Morality,” but the bulk of the meeting was spent discussing questions that Anton raised: “Shouldn’t we want to do what’s right and pleasing to God instead of thinking of obedience as a burdensome responsibility?” and “How can we train the impulse to righteousness?” (The first question is paraphrased; the second isn’t.) I waited to see how the other students would answer his very thoughtful queries, and was glad to see that they all took them seriously and even had opinions about the proper mental approach to the Christian life, affirming that Christians should want to do what is right but should also do good even if they don’t want to. This week Anton’s question was about whether or not human beings can ever completely get rid of the impulse to sin, and so we looked at some verses in Romans and II Corinthians to give some focus to the general discussion.
After the group meeting was over, I went back in the room to get something I had forgotten, and found all but two of the group members gathered around the table, singing American devotional songs from a summer camp songbook that we had in the library. Tanya and Artem were among the ones singing. I have begun to feel really comfortable in this atmosphere of thoughtful exploration and openness, and am rather disappointed that there is only time for a couple of more meetings before the end of the semester. Please pray for these students as they gain, not only answers to their questions, but also the tools to become lifelong seekers and sharers of truth.
The Bible class has presented a different challenge almost every week for the last month. I had asked for comments from the class members about ways to tailor the class more to their specific interest, and some responded that they would like for there to be more discussion. So, one class meeting was a discussion about miracles and the possibility of supernatural events occurring in our lives, a topic I was eager to find their position on. I was slightly surprised to find out that most of them believe in miracles and find the suggestion that there is nothing supernatural about the world we live in ridiculous. It was also very interesting having a discussion in which all comments had to be translated from one language into another; I’m not sure we’ll try that again this semester. This past week three members of the Lipscomb delegation came to an extra large class meeting (some people who were at the UEC for other reasons decided to join for a week) and shared stories of how God had been faithful to them and what their faith meant in their lives. It was a nice break from the regular routine, and a chance for class members to see faith alive in other people and to get to know the Americans who came to serve them.
In the last month I have also come to understand what a very heady and intellectual piece of work John’s gospel is. It is rather difficult to simplify or “lighten up” the message of the text because it makes such a profound claim on the lives of readers and about the nature of the world around us. The two class meetings before this week discussed the topic of death: how Jesus showed himself master of death by raising Lazarus and how Jesus’s own death is at the center of Christianity and was in fact the work he came to earth to accomplish. The last four meetings we will discuss the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection, just in time for Easter. Please pray for me and all of the students as we encounter this very important, but difficult, subject.
My Russian language learning curve has gotten more and more horizontal as I have not had time to study, but I have been pleasantly surprised by what I am able to communicate, or at least understand. During the group Russian lesson, Zhanna appointed me as translator and assistant professor, asking me to explain what she was saying when the group didn’t understand and put them through drills so they could learn to say “Kak vac zovut?” or “What is your name?” among other things. She also told us a very interesting story about her father, who was a general and a war hero is the Soviet Army and now has a street and a school named after him and a monument erected in his honor. I was also responsible for pointing out the landmarks that can be seen from her balcony overlooking the main street of Kyiv.
The best news about Zhanna, though, is that she has agreed to come to church with me. Tim and Darla Johnson, the missionaries who lived here for 7 years, studied Russian with Zhanna and taught her about the Bible. Please pray that the work they started will see completion in her and that she will come to know Christ as a member of his church. (And that she’ll be able to forgive me for not doing my homework.)
Let’s continue to thank God for all of the good things He does here, as well as continuing to pray that He will give grace and strength to those who seek Him and those who work with Him. May He bless you this month!