I hope this message finds you and your family safe and well.  There are really no words to describe what’s been happening in the U.S. the past week other than words that have already been used—tragic, shocking, unbelievable.  My phone did not work for most of last week, so I’ve had trouble finding ways to access the internet as often as I would like, but Chris and several of the Ukrainians have been keeping me posted.  So many people here send their condolences for what has happened to our nation.

One of the largest single installments of information I have received actually came during one of my Russian lessons.  Zhanna, my tutor, first offered her sympathy when I came in the door, and she actually stopped the lesson so we could watch a Russian newscast about the breaking news in New York.  I didn’t understand everything, of course, but she made notes and then explained to me in simpler terms what they had said.  Then she suggested that we pray together for the American people.  She let me pray in English first, and then she tried to get me to pray in Russian, but she had to take over when I wasn’t able to get the words correct.  I know I was visibly shaken by the images on the newscast, but she told me not to cry; she kissed me on the cheek as I was leaving and gave me some plums to strengthen my spirits. 

We also prayed in our cell group meeting for every classification of people we could think of.  For the people still trapped in the buildings, for rescue workers, for the families of the victims, for the American people and the leaders of government, for all the people of the world who are waiting anxiously to see what will happen next.  It was very comforting for me that people so far away from my home were so eager and willing to share the pain of this tragedy and to pray for God’s hand to be clearly seen in the events that follow.

I have been especially comforted by reading from Isaiah and have found encouragement in the recurring promises of salvation.  Although Isaiah is specifically talking about Israel and idolatry, I believe the main themes of the book are the same today: God says, “I am the only God, there is no god beside me.  Nothing can happen that I do not know about.  And I have promised to save my people.”  Reading these promises has really given me the strength to continue working without fear, even when I’m so far from home.

The first week in September was a very busy time of new beginnings for the work here in Kyiv.   Classes at International Christian University, the weekend outreach to students, and both Let’s Start Talking follow-up programs all began.

My biggest challenge so far has been coordinating the two programs designed for readers from this summer’s LST project.  The first group meets on Monday nights to discuss Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, who is often called the “apostle to skeptics.”  My activity on Mondays usually begins around 3:30 in the afternoon, when several students and I make a trip to the supermarket and then prepare a meal for everyone.  It’s always exciting trying to get our purchases from the store to the church building, because we have to carry our bags of groceries for about a mile.  Then, of course, all of this food has to be prepared.  I have been really blessed by the people who have been willing to help with shopping and cooking, and so far we’ve feasted on white chili and cornbread, pizza, and “heavenly potatoes and ham.”

The actual academic part of the evening begins around 7:30 with an English lecture on Lewis’s book, which is then interpreted into Russian.  I have done and will do most of the lecturing, but for next week, I’ve invited a member of Nivki Church to give a presentation on the composition and history of the Bible.  After the lecture, the group divides into smaller discussion groups, which are led by student-age members of the church.  I also lead a group of people who are comfortable speaking only English.  Though the readers are generally free to ask anything they would like, the discussion is guided by a list of questions designed to make sure the main points in the reading and lecture are understood.

On Tuesday nights, we offer a one-hour English grammar class.  I teach for half an hour on some aspect of grammar, and then we again divide into small groups for practice.  The groups are divided according to English skill level, and they are led by another set of members of Nivki Church.  The majority of the readers who come to the grammar class are either older people who want to review the fundamentals they learned in school or are just learning English, so we’ve been discussing rather basic things.  The high skill level group that I lead voted last night to read Lewis’s fiction book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a way to make the class more challenging for them.

The biggest problem I have had in working with these two groups has been the necessity of turning people away.  Between 30 and 35 people come to each program, and the small groups have reached their fullest capacity.  Plus, the Nivki church building is almost too small to hold everyone.  I am planning to move both groups to the new Ukrainian Education Center in a couple of weeks, when all of the renovations that have been underway for the past several months are complete.  (Read updates about the renovation at http://www.uecenter.org.)

I have to say that I have adopted these two programs, particularly the group that discusses Mere Christianity, as my personal project.  I’ve discovered how much I enjoy lecturing, especially to people who want to discuss ideas about Christianity they may never have heard before.  The other night I was going around to all the group meetings telling them our time was finished, and the members of one group were leaning in so close to each other and discussing things so intently that they were startled to look up and see me tapping my watch.  I consider it a true blessing to be involved in what I see God doing in these people’s lives.

Aside from the start of the follow-up programs, the first week of September was also the beginning of the fall semester at ICU.  I am assisting Chris in his University Study Skills class, which all the freshmen are required to take.  The class consists of a lecture that all the students attend and three smaller section meetings.  My responsibilities as assistant for the first couple of weeks included grading quizzes and mostly just observing Chris’s teaching style.  This week, though, I took over teaching two of the sections and will be responsible for those sections for the rest of the semester.

The goal of University Study Skills is, basically, to orient students to a Western-style educational system; it is designed to teach students how to show initiative in the learning process.  We are using a collection of short stories by James Joyce, Dubliners, as the textual basis for the class, focusing on grammar in the lecture and vocabulary in the sections.  I have been really delighted to see that students are interested in discussing the layers of meaning in the stories and are not just worried about learning a new list of vocabulary words.  I am planning to study a little more Irish history so we can discuss more about the “historical moment” that shaped this literary work.

I have had the chance to talk to several students in a more informal setting during the Saturday night student outreach that Chris started several years ago.  All first-year students are invited to the Nivki church building for dinner (prepared, as always, by a team of volunteers) and a discussion.  The topic for this semester’s discussion is “Questions and Answers,” covering everything from university life to, hopefully, questions about faith and the Bible.  There have been around 50 students at each of the two evenings we have hosted so far.

On a somewhat different level, my faith has really been strengthened through my association with the mother of the two small boys I wrote about in a previous newsletter.  We have been talking about her desire for peace in her life and how she can know what God wants for her.  So many times I would just barely remember a passage that I thought might provide some kind of answer for her, and when I opened to that passage, it said exactly what I wanted to say to her—and more.  It was as if certain parts of the Bible that I have known all my life and thought I understood suddenly made sense to me in a way they never had.  I now understand what Paul means when he calls the Word a sword, or what the Hebrew writer means by saying “the Word of God is living and active.”  All I had to do was open the book, and I would find that God had already told this woman all that she needed to hear.  She has told me several times of the peace and joy she is finding by faith.

I also now have a permanent roommate.  Ira Prilutskaya returned Monday from visiting her parents in Israel.  I know the landlords will be so delighted to finally have a tenant they can communicate with.

Please continue to pray for the work here, that more and more people will be exposed to the light of Christ, and that those who have already seen a glimpse will want to become more fully a part of Him and his body.   May God bless you and send his peace to you and those you love.