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God keeps on saving souls

Allo…

sergei Fed baptism“Some of the most distinguished theologians of the last 200 years served in small churches and never saw a lot of fruit for their labour.” This was something that was said during the sermon today. We know that a big church is not necessarily a healthy church. But it is also worth noting that God delights in using the weak things of this world to confound the wise. When He uses the weak to achieve impressive things, it brings Him even more glory. Easy, eh? Good logic. Scriptural. Visible. And it gives us normal people who like to see fruit, (and who recognize that we aren’t particularly gifted), more hope.

Last week, we had a couple of baptisms – a special Sunday. Two guys, who are both nice and easy to love, have for several months now been enjoying the freedom in Christ that comes from true belief. I’ve written about Zheka before. He’s in his late 30’s and was born into a violent family. As a pre-teen, he was so glad to go into government care. He’s felt all his life as if God had His hand on him and was calling him. He’s been over 18 months without drugs or alcohol now… and is unique in that he’s continually thanking and praising God. I like it… and love upbeat Zhenya!

Sergei’s father is a Pentecostal pastor. Sergei never really clicked into the faith of His parents. He rejected Jesus and never really cottoned on to speaking in tongues and the prophecy that went on. He found drugs though and in his mind, they became a worthy god for him to serve for many years. He came to us a couple of years ago and in the first week of being in the adaptation stage, went back to drugs. We decided to take him back at his bequest, and this time we noticed a fascinating change in him. He had a reverence for God and over time, developed a unique love for people. God gave him the gift of realizing that he’s wasted far too many years of his life in self-indulgent living. I found myself tearing up as he shared his testimony. May God use this nigh-on-toothless 35 year-old for His glory.

Elle is loving serving in the ministry to kids from troubled families. Here’s a bit from her:

Hey, everybody! Ellie here. Wow, the last month has been so much fun. As you may have heard we have started what we call the ‘Day Center’ for kids from unhappy homes. We eat lunch together, wash all our dishes from lunch (the kids really love that), play outside, and imagehelp them with their homework or tutor them in the subjects that they struggle with. There are five kids that attend, and it has come to feel like we are a little family. I especially work with Natasha, who is ten years old. Each day we write or draw in a notebook about her favorite part of the day. When we came to this moment in the day, the last three times she has said that it was when we read the Bible all together. There are so many moments like that where I just wish each of you could see their progress in learning or love of being in an environment where God’s love is so freely shared.

I woke up at about 1:00 a couple of mornings ago to a strange noise coming from outside. Not being able to understand what it was bothered me enough that I got up to look out the window… a dark night. I put on my dressing gown and tried another window in the house… nothing there. Something was nagging at my mind though, and I had to go outside and stood there for a few confusing seconds before it hit me. Fire! I ran back inside and grabbed the car keys and took off up the hill.  I found the source and stopped the car. A neighbour on a parallel street had already futilely thrown a few buckets of water on his flaming sheds near his house. There was no stopping this beastie though. The plastic siding on the house was melting like ice, but the wood underneath hadn’t caught fire yet. I yelled out, asking him if there was anything of value in the sheds. He exclaimed and took off into the house for the car keys… and managed to get the car out pretty much unscathed. I proceeded to make a number of runs into the sheds dragging out his tools and other things of value. The neighbour was in his underpants, but I wasn’t much better off. I was barefoot and in my dressing gown, (not a view of me that the neighbours have ever seen before)! On one of the runs, I managed to kick my toe on something and opened it up right properly. Unsurprisingly, the adrenalin looked after that… and we kept on going until the firetruck arrived. By the time the fire was out, roughly 10 neighbours had come out to check what was happening – including, (to my surprise), Ellie, who had heard the commotion. Sleep proved elusive after the excitement and I’ll be limping around for a couple of weeks, but as neighbours, we know each other better than ever before! I’m also interested to see if God will use this moment in saving the soul of anyone… or will I discover that it simply brings Him glory somehow in eternity.

Often when we go through an unusual experience, (especially one involving “loss”), the question gets asked, “What is God’s reason for this?” I put to you that it should really be rephrased thus: “Does God have a reason which requires a sacrifice from me?” When anything happens on earth or in heaven, God has a myriad of reasons for its occurrence. It’s very human to think that He only has one reason - perhaps even naive. I am confident that He is so mighty, this God of ours, who “works all things according to the counsel of his will,” that He has millions of reasons for the different things that occur. But my question, when I encounter an unusual experience should be, “What does God want from me?”

imageThis last Wednesday, we got a call early in the morning from Irina, a dear friend in the church, to let us know that her mother, a lady who loved the Lord beautifully, had just died. We whipped on our clothes and went over, walking in on two policemen – one filling out documents while the other cradled his French-manufactured machine gun on his lap, (a discordant sight, considering an 85-year old grandma had just died). We had the funeral after lunch and all in all, it was a day in which God was glorified. I was definitely encouraged by Irina’s faith and trust in God and His promises. And Pris and I have been blessed to be loved by dear Nadia Petrovna over the past six years.  (She won my heart before she started complimenting me on my eyebrows… but that’s something I’ll remember forever.)

Our ladies are getting excited about the ladies-retreat they have organized for mid-October. At last count, about 40 ladies will be attending and will be having a good look at our Father’s heart on the subject of “love”. How well do we love? I reckon I stand with the group in the “pretty average” category far too often. Climbing out of that group is a life-long challenge that I’d love to achieve… may God give grace, eh? I’m sure our ladies will benefit from the retreat.

imageWe finally have a van for the rehab center. A few generous “fellow-ministers” contributed to its purchase and we are so thankful to have it. It’s an older model (2004) but was restored by the former owner in hopes that he would be able to make good money for all the times public transport closed down during quarantine periods. That restriction only really bit us hard back in the early days when panic regarding Covid was still flowing in the synapses. So we get to use a nicely restored LT Volkswagen van for ministry purposes – mainly rehab. “Lovely, Lord! Thanks.”

Care to celebrate with us?  The lads found water!  Smile  They dug a well at the house eight of them are living in during adaptation.  First time to dig for all of them and God blessed them with water at the 20m mark.  Thankful lads!

And there we have it. An end to a long post! May God bless you.

Fulfilling our Roles

I wrote to my cousin, Chris, recently . image_40041759

I also wrote to my second cousin, Gordon – not something that happens too often.

Following that, the thought occurred to me that surely very few people write to a second cousin of theirs during their life!  I feel as if I’m pretty lousy at keeping in touch with people generally. I justify it by telling myself that I am “living in the moment with the people who are rubbing elbows with me”. The more likely reason can probably be found somewhere in my pride and self-centeredness. But whatever the reason, it’s good “hearing from” and “getting off” a letter to people you love and appreciate, yes?  Here’s another installment of what is, (truth be told), a far cry from a personal email, and yet surely better than… nothing?  Smile

 

IMG-0684We are well. In August, things slow down in Ukraine as people go on holidays. July/August are always the hottest months in our year… and August has done itself proud this year.

Our kids’ camp was a good’un. We used to do kids’ camp at the local hall. I wondered how it would be having it at the church building – would we have less kids coming? I need not have feared.

This year, Jemi led the kids in singing Scripture at the camp. It was classical! I loved it! The kids loved it. And it was so beneficial! I recommend it to all churches who are either doing children’s evangelism or discipling their own kids.  Sing Scripture.   That was a highlight for me.

The other highlight was giving the kids Samaritan’s Purse boxes. The joy and excitement was intense! Wow! Several of the kids came up to me afterwards and went through their box showing all the “specials” they received. If you’ve ever been involved in the Samaritan’s Purse drive, well done. If you will do it in the future, make sure you include a brief note of blessing and a photo of yourself. That will be icing on the cake.

IMG-0638Pris seems to be doing well pain-wise. It’s a nice gift. She is gearing up to teach a series to ladies with Jemi starting this month and will enjoy that. She keeps busy in a hundred different ways: cooking, visiting, helping plan different ministries, making sure the house keeps running, watching the series “Alone” with Elle and I… and a host of other things.  Considering the plans He had for my life, I regularly have the thought that God prepared the perfect counterpart for me to marry. 

We have been given the privilege of taking in a young mother with her two cute little kiddies. Her husband once again decided he loved drugs more than God and we sent him to another rehab centre. He chose a different course and has dropped off the radar. This young mother has probably less than $100 to her name, has gone through the wringer… but deeply loves God and His ways. Initially, we felt we just “had to” take her in. We quickly realized though that it is actually a real pleasure having them.  A pleasure… but one requiring sacrifice. Ksusha would love stable work and to be able to set up somewhere permanently with her children and we are praying to that end.

On Monday, last week, I took 18 of the men who have gone through rehab out to a spot on the river in a nearby town. They camped the night there and remembered what God has done for them as they fished, sang, swatted at the bugs and enjoyed God’s creation. At one stage, I had 12 men packed into/onto the car, plus the trailer on the back, going up and down winding tracks along the river. Thanks, Lord, for a versatile vehicle! This link will pop up a YouTube video of about 20 seconds duration showing our trip back:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7BSg1hSOksthe boys go

A few days ago, we had plans firm up for the kindergarten in the church building this year. We have no desire to expand this so that it becomes an elite kindergarten for the rich in the town. Rather, for both the kindergarten and the “school, we ARE KEEN to have the focus on teaching and discipleship for the children of Christian families. The Christian parents we know in our area are extremely interested in developments… and we keep on praying, talking and planning.

We are also continuing reaching out to the kids from families in crisis in Rzhyshchiv. Three days a week, people from our church will spend time helping them with homework and teaching them more about the Lord and His Word. These children could have an incredible future if the Lord has mercy on them and they follow Him. That is our prayer.

We are still working on the church building, (I do wonder when I will be able to stop saying that). We had a couple from Sydney give to this project recently and give things a much appreciated boost.  This week, we will be taking the long-awaited step of laying a heated floor. Sergei, a former… soldier, policeman, (and now police guard for some holding cells), is also a pretty handy builder and is heading it up. I’ll called in a “sickie” today, (flu bug), and didn’t go to church, but I’ll be with the lads tomorrow as we get everything ready to lay the cement.

1629902799115911Oh! We are just about finished changing all the lights out to power saving lights so that we can hopefully stop forking out big dollars each month for electricity. I’ll be very interested to see how things go on that head because we are about to start using the church building three or four times more often than in the past.

Thanks for your care and prayers. It’s always a privilege and normally a pleasure serving the Lord and His people in this neck of the woods. The old cliché is ever true: we are all cogs in a machine, fulfilling the roles for which we were designed. God has designed us to help you fulfill your role in reaching people in Ukraine with His wonderful gospel. Nice, eh?

Summer Days

193C4126-B603-4014-83AD-3EB03731DDBEShane on one of the last tripsIt’s been over a month since I posted… how did that happen???

Camp is done and dusted again for a year. We had about 100 people attend and once again experienced God’s blessing on so many levels.

The theme of the camp was “Glorifying God Through Suffering”. And God sure tested Shane and Jemi again and again prior to camp. The tentative joke was that next year we must have as the camp theme, “God’s wonderful blessings”. So many things occurred which fell into the “trials and tribulations” category. But still, God did bless in so many ways!

I am “boat-boy” for camps. I make several trips back to Rzhyshchiv to pick up or drop people/produce off. I also do daily water-runs in which I pick up about 400 liters of deliciously sweet water from a place down river. This year, Shane’s boat broke down on the Monday, (our big transport day). Thankfully, we’d just found a good 20-year old motor from Europe which we attached to our boat the day before and IMG-0323once again, the “old faithful Soviet relic serviced us for the entirety of camp. Admittedly, we still had some hiccups with the motor along the way… but God blessed, and we were eating the traditional end-of-camp meal in our kitchen by 6:00 Saturday evening with a working boat in the dock.

The four speakers at camp this year were used by the Lord to bless a lot of people. We also seemed to have a large group of people who were continually sacrificing all week to make camp run smoothly. And the weather!!! Perfect weather all week. Aaaaah…

Oh! I did come down with sunstroke mid-week… an interesting and unexpected experience which put me flat on my back for a few hours with tremors, a fever and a strong desire to not move an inch. It sounds absurd, but determining the cause was a tricky one. I hadn’t been in the sun for much. I’d been drinking a lot. I wasn’t overheated. Shrug. But for some reason, it was in God’s plan for me to be at half-strength for a day and a bit. For anyone interested in experiencing it for themselves… I’d advise a pass on this one.

It feels as if we’ve not heard of a covid sufferer amongst our friends/acquaintances for yonks. A few months ago, about 400,000 people were “active cases” in IMG-0331Ukraine. The last couple of weeks though, we’ve been at about 10,000. That’s a big decline. And even though masks are still in vogue… the attitude of 99% of people is “Jamaica, man.” We shall see what the future holds…

Pris is doing well. She felt like there was a definite positive response to the platelet-rich plasma injections she received and is keen to do it again in a few months to see if she will again experience improvement. We are so grateful to the Lord for the generosity of His people in seeing that we have money for these things. Suffering is good for our hearts in so many ways… but it’s also wonderful when God wills an end to suffering.

1622797723988401We talked a bit last night about the future of our kindergarten and school. We have a lot of challenges to overcome, but the expectation is that we will have a kindergarten in the church this year. I’ve learned that the biggest key to the success of any ministry is the people involved… and God has prepared some special people to serve in this area! I’m delighted… and excited to see things progressing.

Dima, one of the guys who left rehab back in late May is back with us again. May this be his last rehab ever! He and the other guys will be with me tomorrow as we continue work on the church building and grounds. I think there’s 12 men in the first stage of rehab right now. We are becoming more systematic in what we cover with the guys while they are in the first stage. For the first five years, we’ve primarily relied on intense Scriptural immersion and have generally managed to cover most important subjects. I think we’re heading in a healthy direction – even though I love the relational approach we’ve been known for.

We were due to accept a young 19-year-old this week. His father, a man who had gone through rehab before in another center, had been doing drugs with him. His father eventually went back to rehab a few weeks ago and the son was meant to come here. Instead, the son went to church on Sunday and convinced the father to leave rehab. A Christian brother went round to the apartment the next day to try to convince them to do God’s will… only to discover the father weeping over the dead body of his overdosed son. Agh! The poor man! It turned my thoughts to my own son and the special grace God has shown us. How grateful I am. And how much I feel for this father who is no doubt devastated at the repercussions of his sin.

May God have mercy on us.

Mundane windows

IMG_0132A mundane start to this blog:  Talk about windows.

The long-awaited window has arrived. I’ve been hoping to put a door and window in our kitchen for a few years and had kept my eye out for a second-hand one. I gave up on that thought earlier this year and decided to order one new. I had half-a-thought that I would get it in for Priscilla’s birthday, which we celebrated yesterday, but was tardy on the ordering and it only arrived today. It will change things up well when I do get it in though and the pull will definitely be there to get it in over this next week. I’m surprised…  I’m excited at the thought!

Pris continues the rehab for her back. As I type, we we are in Kiev for a strange procedure that the doctors have suggested we “resort to” on the off chance it may make a difference. (She is having her blood taken and treated so that the red blood cells are removed, then injected back into the places of her back and right side which are seized up.) We trust God and His perfect will and are hoping that it is to use this to give more relief.  (She should be out in about an hour, so I think I’ll have this finished and sent off by then.)

Life continues with regular unexpected experiences. A few days ago, our car served as a livestock transporter. Mitya and I picked up some more goslings for the two guy’s homes in the village and then brought back three sheep to be used as a lawnmower at Tolic and Natasha’s in Rzhyshchiv for the summer. The sheep were by far the trickier and smellier cargo. (Advice: if ever you transport sheep in a car, tie up BOTH front and back hooves.)  And if you just though that you’d never find yourself in that sort of situation, let me know when you’re coming for a visit and we’ll see what we can organize! 

God continues to show grace to the guys in the two rehab homes we have. However, after the last few weeks, it doesn’t feel as if things are going that well for us with the third stage guys. Three different men have been lured away by their weak flesh and the siren call of their old life. I think at least two of these guys are probably a part of God’s family, and if God chooses to show them mercy, there will come a time when they will seek God and His kingdom again. It’s still tough to see this happen though! The disappointment at losing a few guys who we loved is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that there are several men who are giving a lot of glory to God and encouraging us… but still.  I hate the negative goodbyes.

IMG_0129Once a week now, I am going out with one of the guys to talk with people in one of the nearby smaller villages. It’s been several years since I went out specifically and regularly with the intention to share the gospel with people and it’s been wonderful to get back into it. It goes without saying that we don’t do it for the warm fuzzies… but honestly, both of us return home feeling as if we can’t wait for next week!  We are praying that more people get the vision and start doing this in other villages.

We are well recovered from Covid… as is everyone in our church. Interestingly enough, the people who suffered the most were three men who were close to 50… me included. Sergei, “camouflage cap,” was one of the three and is a happy watcher when work is going on.  :)  This covid enemy sapped our strength, took away our sense of taste/smell, and gave us a heavy feeling in our chests as we felt the lack of oxygen. God’s mercy was evident though as none of us needed to go to hospital – something for which I’m deeply thankful.

imageWe’ve come to the end of our first term of taking in kids after school. Numerous people in our church have given of their time and resources to help from 5-7 kids with their homework several days a week and simply spend time with them. Jemi has done an excellent job of organizing everything and it’s definitely been wonderful for these kids. On Saturday, they went to the zoo in Kiev and according to Elle, loved every minute! Most of these children come from homes of local alcoholics and it is our prayer that God use this in their lives to draw them to Himself.

The kindergarten for church littlies has also had a good start. I’m not sure where God will take this ministry, but it will be interesting to see exactly how He plans on using it.

Oh! I meant to add at the end of the last post… “not really 1000 bottles”. Of course, not 1000 bottles!

May God bless you!