Local pastor reflects on recent mission to the Ukraine

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 26, 2013

My mission trip to Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, started when I was met at the Kiev airport by Alister Torrens, a missionary from Ireland sponsored by the Presbyterian Church in America.
He had invited me to stay for the night at his apartment in Kiev with him, his wife Sarah and two small children.
On Sunday we attended a small Presbyterian church in the city of Kiev, which is a thriving city of about 3 million.
The churches with their special onion domes are breathtaking. I was told that one statue of Lenin remains in the city since the Communist party still has some political influence.
Later Vitaly Shullgna, dean of Kiev Regional Bible College, picked me up and brought me to the school where I would be teaching and preaching. It is located in a suburb called Vyshneve, a few miles southwest of the city.
The Church of the Gospel, which is connected to the Ukrainian Baptist Union consisting of 177 churches, provides the facilities for the College.
I was shown my room and told that supper was to be served at 8:30 p.m.
Typical Ukrainian food is chicken, potatoes, mixed vegetables, mushrooms, rice, yogurt, breads and hot tea instead of coffee. A favorite drink is kompot, a mixture of a variety of fruits.
The students ranged in age from about 20 to middle-aged. Two of them had actually been soldiers in the old Communist Russian army before the fall of communism.
I lectured for five days, four hours daily on the book of Romans. The students were very attentive and enjoyed participating in classroom discussions of Romans as well as more general topics related to the Bible.
On Wednesday night, I preached at the church on the subject of prayer, which was based on the New Testament book of Ephesians 3:14-21.
During the afternoons, I walked for a couple of hours throughout the city of Vyshneve, which has about 40,000 people who mainly live in high rise apartments.
Many of these apartments are within walking distance of the train yard, and large groups of people hurry early in the morning to catch a train for work.
Ukrainians do everything quickly — walking, talking, eating.
They love their borscht, a soup-like dish comprised of a variety of vegetables. It is not uncommon for a small table to accommodate eight people lustily eating their meals. They told me that meals are a time for eating more than for talking.
Unemployment is very high, so it is considered a privilege to own even an old car. If a Ukrainian does drive, they must do so very carefully because the police look for an excuse to stop a driver and demand money be given to the officer in order to avoid a fine or ticket. Of course, in many instances the person stopped is innocent.
I heard many stories of bribery, especially within the government. Politics in the Ukraine can be most dicey.
The students at the College are sincere, friendly and interested in learning more about the Bible and their faith.
At the conclusion of my time there, we had a fine meal. Two students presented me with several wonderful gifts and thanks for making the journey from America to the Ukraine. They asked me to return again.
It was a wonderful trip and a week I will always treasure.

Dr. Jeffrey J. Richards is the pastor of New Gilead Reformed Church in Concord. He lives in Salisbury.