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‘A delightful and receptive people’ — an account of Dr. Richards’ seventh mission trip to the Ukraine

“Their lives are at times very austere, but one thing’s for sure — they are proud to be Ukrainian”

Kiev, Ukraine: Sept. 21-29, 2018

Arriving at the Charlotte Douglas Airport at 3:30 for a 6:30 p.m. flight to Munich, I flew all night, landing there at 7 a.m. on Sept. 22.
The layover was five hours, so we boarded at 12:30 p.m., and arrived at the Boryspil Airport in Kiev at 3:30 p.m.
This was my seventh trip to Kiev/Vyschneve to teach students and to preach. As usual, I was met by my friend Vitaly Shulga, who took me to the Kiev Regional Bible College, which is on the same campus as Church of the Gospel, a Ukrainian Baptist Church in the suburb of Vyshneve, a growing city of about 100,000.
There are many newly-arrived refugees who have fled the fighting with the Russians on the eastern border. Many new high rise apartments and condominiums are under construction.
I always get three large daily meals there, which are not quite what we Americans are accustomed to; but I have developed an appreciation for compot, borsch, hot tea, soups, an assortment of breads, and buckwheat especially. My plate always was served with at least twice the amount I usually eat, so I was diligent to walk and exercise for at least two hours every afternoon.
The Ukraine has some of the best soil in the world, so the meals had extra helpings of a variety of vegetables. Borsch is a type of soup, and they especially enjoy putting a large scoop of sour cream in the bowl. Yogurts and chocolates are also plentiful.
My accommodations were adequate, but sleeping on a cot is always an adventure. I actually found it refreshing that they had no televisions.

The first Sunday there was most unusual. All the Protestant churches decided not to have services but to meet on Independence Square, the area where the televised gun battles took place during the revolution in 2014. The turmoil lasted many weeks, resulting in a newly-established political order.
The major religion in Ukraine is the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which controls many facets of the daily lives of the Ukrainians.
The group I was with were Baptists. A very large crowd was on hand, perhaps 200,000 or more, to hear a televised concert, comprised of a 100-voice choir and a full orchestra.
Most spoke in Ukrainian, so I was dependent upon an interpreter. The music was heavenly, with such pieces as “Shout” and “Shine Jesus Shine.” The high quality of the soloists and musicians was amazing.
The event was the Second Thanksgiving Festival, which commemorates the harvest season but mainly the relative peace — for now — with Russia. Of course, there are still disputes going on with Crimea and the eastern section of Ukraine which borders Russia.
All the Ukrainians told me they no longer want to be connected with Russia, especially since the recent hostilities. Traditionally, they have had to speak Russian, but there is now a movement to speak only Ukrainian, though most know both languages. Because Ukraine has historically been isolated from the West, not too many speak English.
The architecture is always something to behold. Sophia’s Cathedral, the Opera House, the Motherland Memorial and the statue of the Apostle Andrew are breathtaking.
Kiev is growing; presently there are more than five million people. About 450 miles to the north is Moscow, which is roughly three times larger.

There were 26 students in my class, which was titled Christ and Salvation. Though this number of students might not appear to be large, it is very much so — especially in a post-communist country.
My interpreter, Natasha, did not “miss a beat;” she had a delightful personality and was most capable. She understood most of the content since she herself attends a Presbyterian Church, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America. Many there know about Charlotte, North Carolina, since a few of their family members and friends have moved to the Queen City.
The class met Monday through Friday for four hours daily. I also preached three times at Church of Gospel. The students are bright and knowledgeable about many Christian subjects. They love to debate and clarify fine points in doctrine. They know the Bible well and can readily cite where certain passages are found in both the Old and New Testaments. I was impressed that what they know and believe impacts their lives, which at times are very austere.
Though there are many wonderful natural resources in Ukraine, the every day lives of most citizens are difficult. The average monthly salary is between $100 and $300. The state directs the medical services, and I heard many desperate accounts of what such a system is like.
One thing’s for sure — they are proud to be Ukrainian. They can tell if someone is not from the country, and many times I was approached and told, in a nice way, that I was not Ukrainian or eastern European. They thought I was either from western Europe or the USA, but most thought America.

I was invited to come back again next year, and did not need any convincing to agree!

Dr. Jeffrey J. Richards lives in Salisbury and is pastor of Covenant A. R. Presbyterian Church, Statesville. His mission organization is Global Teaching and Preaching: globalteachingandpreaching.com

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