Live From the Ukraine 2007
Monday was a travel day back to Kiev. In the morning prior to leaving we cleaned our apartments, returned things to those who loaned us sheets and towels, etc., distributed fans purchased during our stay to those who have need, and stocked Mark & Sasha’s refrigerator!
One last trip around the city in Lonya’s van, we said good byes with that familiar lump in the throat. You feel and know you could stay here for a long time with these folks but…
Now we are back in Kiev and in all reality our mission is not complete, it has just started. What do we do with what we now know? We came as learners and are leaving as partners in Christ, friends across the sea, brothers and sisters in the Truth. How to get the Word out in an environment that does not want to be threatened by faith.
Our interpreters asked deep questions about what makes the evangelical faith different. It all rests in access to God. Through Jesus Christ, by his sacrifice we gained direct access to the throne of God. No middleman, no earthly priest, no person who can go for you. Jesus stands as our advocate with the Father. He is our Lord and Savior who paid the price for our sin. He alone has made it possible for us to have fellowship with God and all he asks is that we return the favor so to speak by giving our lives to him.
Without that exchange one cannot be reconciled with God. It is called being born again as Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3. Our translators wondered why then that the official “church” made it so difficult and you have to pay the priest to go to God for you and or do good ‘work’ for your salvation. Well there are a host of reasons and none can justify what the “church” has done over the centuries or what it is doing now by calling evangelical Christians a cult.
I encourage you, as I have always done, to go to the source, the Bible. Look for yourself and discover what it says about salvation, how it is gained and what your position is with God when you align with Christ. We become fellow heirs of Christ with all the rights and privileges of being part of God’s family. Check out the Gospel of John.
That is the uniqueness of the time we have had here. Deep and intense fellowship with like minded people who understand what is at stake. In Kiev I took the team to the WWII war memorial. It is gut wrenching. The purpose is to keep in perspective the things that matter most. People fight for land, power, and control. God fights for people.
In an earlier posting I mentioned God’s omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence. He owns it all, yet there is one thing God still lacks. Wow, what could that be? Answer: More souls in heaven. The battle belongs to the Lord and it is against the one who wants to steal your soul and corrupt your life. You may not believe it now but someday – you will.
The team has experienced incredible joy, laughs, many tears, heartbreak, new relationships, long days, sweating constantly, fantastic food, lots of walking, culture shock, chaotic driving that actually makes sense, renewed faith, healing, sorrow, and many more things that simply represent what life in Christ is about – being a servant.
God has a purpose for you. At Cornerstone we simply put it this way: to worship God, reach people, teach people, train people, and send people. Living for Him is the bottom-line, which is living with purpose.
Our thanks and prayers go out to everyone who has supported the team in prayer and financial assistance. You are a team member and have had a hand in the work that is being done in and through our pastors in Ukraine. The work is not easy, it is not complete, and it is vastly rewarding. What more could you ask of life.
7-22-07 "His Day - Everyday"
Our Sunday started out just like all of the days here. A fix your own breakfast followed by a devotion, except today Mark and Sasha are not here. You notice when a person is missing from your team that the whole team feels the absence, and today with two gone, there is a significant hole.
Every devotion begins with a song selected from one of eleven Pam chose for this team. With devotions morning and evening the fellowship is rich as each team member rotates in the responsibility to bring a message for the group. Our purpose is to praise and worship God. He has done so many things to carry this team through; we constantly recognize his provision and protection on this mission.
Everyday is His. As it is Sunday, we gather with the believers from the Simferopol church to enter into corporate worship. The heat inside the building is stifling so Pastors Sasha and Ron decide to move the service outside. There in the shade of the building we offer up our praise and adoration for the Lord who gave his all to save us from our sin.
You can worship God anywhere. He created all of the earth and everything in it. God is present everywhere, He is all knowing and He is all powerful. What makes us think that He can only be reached in a building on Sunday?
King Solomon spoke in 2 Chron 2:6 "But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him, except as a place to burn sacrifices before him? NIV And he went on to say in 2 Chron 6:18-19 "But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! NIV
Solomon questions whether God will really dwell on earth with men and be contained in a temple. Well, He did in Christ, and he does in you when you give your life to him. Gathering around in the shade of an old building in the Simferopol heat, God's presence was evident. Praise and worship to Him by believers who recognize that God, who is so magnificent the world cannot contain him, dwells in their heart.
That is the kingdom conundrum. God is so massive yet so personally present; so powerful yet so gentle; so knowing yet so caring just for you. Jesus is the hope of all the ages and these folks are discovering a new hope in this place. He cares, he cares for you.
This week's experiences are many. The pastors shared their hearts desire to reach people for Christ, their difficult moments in ministry and life, and openly said they always thought American's had "no problems" since so many American visitors reply with that statement when asked how are they. (Fine = no problems)
When they heard our report of trials and disappointments the fellowship deepened significantly; more so than any other time we visited. They saw us as understanding them better and being one in Christ. What a wakeup call. When we keep things to ourselves we hamper the body to help fill a need.
So the songs sung today in two languages were not only familiar as they went out, but important in binding our fellowship. Prayer commitments were shared; our team accomplished the goal of reaching the pastors and their wives to strengthen them; a concerted effort was made to determine how we can help their financial needs; and hugs and tears flowed today.
Worship is not a Sunday activity in a "church" building. It is what you do everyday that gives glory and honor to God. It all starts with the surrender of your life to God through Jesus Christ. You see, it is His day everyday.
PS Another song I think you will like is actually my favorite of all on this trip. "Who Am I" by Casting Crowns. In the abstract of God's enormity and power the song puts into perspective my plight, my significance to God, and the remedy of my sin. It is humbling.
7-20-07 "Hot Dog"
Wow ~ we have been enjoying some really hot, humid days and coming in from our tasks just wet. There is very little air conditioning here that reminds me of growing up in the valley. But the real hot stories are about our translators, the pastors, and Mark and Sasha!
Our translators have been doing a great job and asking questions about the Lord as we work. Pastor Maxim, who has been serving in Perevalnoya with his wife Tanya, has faced many challenges. The rented room for the church was suddenly "confiscated" and they were evicted. They had to move from their apartment because of mold and they were evicted on short notice from their second apartment. During the latest "move" Tanya was diagnosed with kidney stones. These two young folks have gone through a lot in their first year of marriage! Their attitude and faith remain strong.
We visited the Perevalnoya area and met in a member's home to share our personal stories of faith. The time together was electric with energy and enthusiasm for Jesus. The warmth of fellowship and encouragement had everyone in tears. The time in prayer can only be described as "One in Christ".
Late this afternoon we did the rehearsal for Mark and Sasha. We had an interesting time of communication, organizing, and coordination. Tomorrow is going to be the Big Day for them and because Mark is our computer guy, this will be the last blog from the team until we get home. Other items will be inserted later - post trip.
Prayer requests: Mark and Sasha, translators, understanding of Christ, the team's well being, the pastor's and the church's endurance while facing many challenges.
Hot Dog - It's time to go!
Signing off for now. Mark may have a few comments or a P.S.
May the Lord bless you today. In Him,
7-20-07 "Daddy, don't walk too fast"
It is not uncommon to get ahead of ourselves. The fast pace of life in the US becomes part of our nature. Ukraine is not backward or slow and they definitely have a quick pace as well. When we see society buzzing all around us, it is easy to do the same when it applies to our personal life.
How much can you pack into a day? The team has once again been on a fast track to do as much as possible in the short time we have. At this pace we continually turn to God to seek Him and follow His lead. God orders our steps, sets our pace, and provides our every need as we mentor the pastors and families.
Fractured families are everywhere in Ukraine. We have heard so many stories of alcohol snatching the men out of the family. One of our translators is from a single parent home. His story about his father describes the pattern that has affected the family unit with desires to retreat, escape and give up.
God's enemy uses every available means to distract, destroy, and dissuade man from God. We are in a struggle against a friendly, bold, and sneaky enemy.
The disciple Peter was a friendly enemy as he told Jesus that he would never let Jesus go to the cross. Friendly enemies tell us the wrong things though they are our friends. Well meaning people can be used for a wrong purpose.
Jesus had bold enemies; from King Herod who tried to kill him when he was a child, to the Pharisees who attacked him continually. Bold enemies speak against Christianity, the Bible, and Believers. It is Satan who uses people to do wrong. Jesus calls us to love these people even though they do wrong things.
There are deceptive enemies. Temptation is a sneaky way Satan uses to entice people from following God. Going too fast through life and relying on "self" opens the door to reacting against people whether they are friendly, bold, or sneaky instead of recognizing the battle is against the enemy of God. I don't like it when people are "used" but I must remember who is behind it.
The response to our work has been fantastic and it has been our joy to work with these pastors who face many spiritual battles. Pastor Dari said this was absolutely the best thing we could have done; we came just for them.
In moving too fast we tend to outpace our spouse, children, and those people who are close to us. We need to keep in mind that God wants to set our pace. He is our Heavenly Father (Daddy) who never walks too fast. The team encourages you to talk to God and walk with Him. He loves your company.
P.S. If you have opportunity check out this song the team often listens to: "Sometimes By Step". Lyrics & song by Rich Mullins
Pastor Maxim and wife Tanya were asked by authorities to move out of their apartment in the town of Perevalnoya. This little church is not welcome in the community. Signs were posted warning the community against the "cult". They said it was bad and harmful to children. The pastor had to move. So now the church will meet in a home on the outskirts of town. The problem is people have been poisoned against the pastor. He is discouraged and doesn't know what to do. Please pray for victory for him and his wife. Our team will go tomorrow to encourage the church and help them hold on to God for strength and boldness and not to give up.
Our teaching ministry with pastors and wives has helped us draw close to them and I believe has encouraged them in their work. We are getting to know our translator Dennis and have had good opportunities to tell him about the joy of the Lord and the difference God can make in his life. He like so many people are looking for the answer to the question... What on earth am I here for?
We are getting closer to the big day for Mark and Sasha. Pray for this couple and their great excitement. We are very excited also because Sasha will be moving to Lodi in a few weeks. Mark will bring her home when her visa clears and she can fly away to a new life.
We are all healthy and doing very well. We eat lots of great Ukraine food which includes borsch soup, lamb shish-ka-bob, salad of all kinds, and sweet deserts.
Thanks for Praying,
For those of you that do not know me, I am Mark's father. It is now Wednesday afternoon. Sasha and the ladies have gone out to lunch together... sort of a lunch/bridal shower.
As I recall the events of yesterday, I am reminded of how the Lord guides and profits us. Judy saved my life twice yesterday with her loudest voice... "CAR!" Pedestrians are not people here. They are moving targets. I am also learning how to be one of 20 people crammed on a van made for 10. All transportation, whether on foot or on public transportation is an adventure. On Thursday A.M. Pastor Ron, Pam, John, Lisa, Mark and Sasha continued their time with the local pastors and their wives teaching, training, and encouraging them.
Myself, Carolyn (Mark's Mother), Betty, Peter and Judy did crafts and played with the children of the pastors. Peter made some extraordinary "paper" airplanes. After crafts we visited the park and zoo. We enjoyed watching the children play and ride on various carnival type rides.
In the late afternoon many of us took much needed naps. In the evening the event that Mark and Sasha, her parents, and Carolyn and I had nervously been looking forward to finally happened. We met and ate dinner with Sasha's parents for the first time. The nervousness quickly disappeared as we were able to visit with each other (with Sasha translating). Both sets of parents expressed their approval and desire to see Mark and Sasha enter into a long lasting commitment, called marriage. Although her parents are sad that Sasha will be leaving her family, friends, and home, her parents are happy that Mark and Sasha will be together. We eagerly wait for the "Big Day".
I will close with what has struck me most about the people here, half way around the world, is that they are no different than the people in Lodi, Ca. Certainly their physical needs are much greater, but their spiritual needs are the same.
Pray for the local pastors and their families
God's amazing power is very evident on this trip. Our team came through customs in a very amazing fashion. We thoroughly prepared for the paperwork necessary to pass through immigrations and also customs. Our team practiced filling out all the required questions even before leaving Lodi. Everyone was nervous wondering what might be confiscated or heavily taxed. We prayed for passage without any problems. When we approached the baggage x-ray equipment the officials very quickly waved all nine of us easily through their surveillance. This is highly unusual and we were dumb founded. They asked no questions, did not look at our paperwork and examined not one single bag even though we must have carried over 30 bags between us. What a great relief God answered this prayer with an obvious miraculous response.
Today is Monday evening. We are back in our 3 apartments; one group on the 1st floor, a second group on the 4th floor, and a third group on the 9th floor of different buildings all rather close together. Our day started with devotions after a 7:30am fix your own breakfast. Breakfast was cereal, sausage, hard boiled eggs, sliced cheese, and juice or coffee.
Our first teaching sessions included John and Lisa, Mark and Sasha, and Ron and Pam meeting with the young pastors and wives. Ron focused on leadership problems, Moses, and God's miracles as well as God's Call to Ministry. Other members of our group took the pastor's children to the park, zoo, and playground.
All team members are healthy but tired from the long trip and still adjusting to the jet lag.
Pastor Mark and Sasha are most excited about their quickly arriving celebration on Saturday. The sparkle of love between them is explosive and everyone is rejoicing over this miracle made in heaven.
Each member of our team takes their turn in leading devotions. This morning Larry Miller spoke about the needs of the Simferopol people. He emphasized discovering what those needs are and focusing on meeting those real needs with God's answers. Monday evening his wife Carolyn lead in devotions and exhorted team members to set aside complaining and focus on praise and being grateful. She made special mention that our group is not complaining at all but the reminder is from God's Word to everyone
The weather is beautiful, the traffic is fearful and the sidewalks are filled with potholes and people everywhere. Wish you were hear! We are praying for you!
Greetings from Simferopol, Ukraine, in the name of Jesus. Our team arrived here Sunday afternoon greeted by our dear family and friends in Christ. The reunions have been exceptional and heartfelt. Olga, our doctor, friend, and interpreter met us at the airport where we picked up from where we left off last year. What a joy it has been to see everyone again!
Everybody and everything has a purpose. This year our team has two essential goals. Our purpose is to: 1) Encourage, build up, and strengthen our Pastors and their families. 2) To observe and participate with our Youth Pastor Mark and his fiance Sasha, the ceremony of their life commitment together.
It's no surprise to anyone to say that families are facing more and more difficulties and pressures as a whole. Secularism, immorality, financial demands from society, as well as the always present "me" syndrome invites us to seek pleasure, satisfaction, and escape. Jesus said, "I came to give you life... more abundantly". The families in Ukraine face the same challenges as we do in the United States. The difference is they do not have the available resources and mentors to teach and encourage them. We are prepared to just "Love" on these pastors and their families.
Mark and Sasha met briefly last year during our mission trip. To get the full flavor of how this all came about, I invite you to visit their web page.
Spiritual warfare is a reality that some people may not understand. There are battles constantly occurring all around us between the forces of good and evil. These battles affect us directly, and we are often used in such events and/or influenced by them. My point is there have been significant obstacles, hindrances, and events as of late in the lives of each team member, the pastors and their families here, and church as a whole. Standing up for what is right and doing work for the Lord is a magnificent blessing that also puts one in the line of fire. Before we left for this trip two of our members were lost from the team due to bizarre circumstances and a third attended the funeral of his wife only three days before we departed. None have complained and all understand what is truly at stake here; the souls of people.
Great or small, things are happening here that are precious to God. We know what we have to do and we are engaged in ministering to these folks and each other. Jesus said, "go" and the best part is he said, "I am with you." When you are doing the Lord's work, no matter where you are, remember - You are not alone! You can go and you can enjoy the work He has for you because he is there with you. That is why today as our work begins we "Go in Joy".