Jeff Richards: Mission trip to the Ukraine
Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 4, 2016
Jeffrey J. Richards’ mission trip to Vyshneve, Ukraine, May 20-29, 2016
Leaving Charlotte onboard a Lufthansa jet at 6:30 A.M. on 5.20 with a connection in Munich, I arrived in Kiev at 3:00 P.M. on 5.21. It was a pleasure to see again Vitaly Shulga who is always there on time at the Boryspil airport in Kiev, Ukraine, driving me to the Church of the Gospel after about a forty-minute scenic trip. The staff at the church which is also the facilities for the Kiev Regional Bible College, was friendly and accommodating, so immediately after arriving I was told that supper would be in just a few minutes. The food was abundant and tasty, prepared by several cooks on site: chicken, rice or potatoes, yogurt, Borscht, hot tea or kompot and various breads. I always enjoyed the three wonderful meals daily as well as our tea time break after two hours of instruction. Because the food was so plentiful, I made sure to exercise more than usual.
The five-day, four hours daily course which I taught was hermeneutics or methods of studying the Bible. I had ten students varying in ages; the course translator again was Katya Bochevar with whom I have worked four of the five times I have been to Vyshneve. She is young but very capable, understanding even many of the idioms in English. Only a few times did she give me a quizzical look which stated that I needed to rephrase my sentence.
I preached at the Wednesday evening service on James 1 and again Katya translated. The church has an exceptional youth choir of about thirty, I found the music inspiring and many of the selections I knew, at least the melody, but of course not the Russian words. I also had a devotional for the students and some staff members on Thursday morning, my message came from Romans 12:1-2. I brought greetings from ITEM at the Saturday morning graduation service and spoke on Daniel and his example of living each stage of his life fully for God. The service was very moving with several speakers and musical selections. Allister Torrens, a missionary from Ireland with the Mission to the World of the PCA, and I placed medallions on each graduand/graduate and spoke words of encouragement to them as they received their diplomas.
Each day I had some time to walk around Vyshneve meeting and speaking to people. Not too many knew English, but those who knew even some words were very eager to speak the language, and several asked me to help them learn some new words or asked me if they were pronouncing various words or phrases correctly. Young people especially want a return to the Ukranian language instead of Russian, though currently they use both languages. It is seen as “cool” if one knows even a little English. I was told that if one sees for example the name “cafe” instead of the Russian letters, this was a not-too-subtle signal that the place of business was more up-to-date.
Some of the students and I went to old Ukranian village outside of Kiev, where there were thatched-roof houses displaying how they lived before WW II. The site comprises hundreds of acres and is called the Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine. There are two Russian Orthodox churches which are still in operation, one of them centuries old. The youth we saw there are no different than in America as there were several zip lines with many eagerly waiting their turn.
I did not see any television the whole week. Maybe this was a good thing! Many though were very much up to date on their technology. I witnessed joy, exuberance, and gratitude from everyone: staff, teachers, pastors, and especially the students. Their lives are not easy, many come at a great sacrifice and distance. Some came as far as over one-hundred miles and will continue to do so until they finish the two-year course. I heard stories of how the war with Russia has made life most uncertain.
Every time I have gone to Church of the Gospel/Kiev Regional Bible College, I am reminded that this is a location where the Body of Christ is living out the true Christian faith in a vibrant, winsome, and appealing manner.
Dr. Jeffrey J. Richards lives in Salisbury and is pastor of New Gilead Church in Concord. His mission organization is Global Teaching and Preaching: globalteachingandpreaching.com