My first trip to this part of the world was in 2010 with Louis Smith (Michigan, USA) to a town in the west part of Ukraine called Ivano-Frankivsk. Louis, as well as Malcolm Stanley, Howard Pratt, Eric Fowler, and others have been coming to Ukraine for many years. One of the things I saw on my first trip was a very nice combination of God’s Word being preached and aid being given to help with some of the needs of the people. I returned with Louis the following year, and began going each year for six months at a time; visa restrictions kept me from staying longer.
In 2014 I was commended by my home assembly in New Lenox, Illinois to continue reaching others with the gospel and encouraging the few saints I had come to know. Early in 2017 I was able to get temporary residency, and though I must apply for renewal each year, I do not have to regularly leave the country.
The main reason for me to be here in Ukraine is to reach others with the gospel message, which has proven itself to be a very difficult task. This message is not very well received even in our own native lands, but adding the challenges of being in a foreign country, with major differences in language, culture, and history, makes a difficult task even more difficult.
For example, when I preach that salvation must come before baptism, some think that salvation is not complete without baptism. I know this confusion can happen anywhere but the language barrier makes it more difficult.
Along with the gospel message there is a need for Bible teaching. Some Christians have a basic understanding of Scripture but it is mixed with Pentecostal and charismatic confusion. The charismatic movement may be why many doors are closed to us: people see confusion and don’t want any part of it. I sometimes have to make it very clear that we are not part of this movement. Also, there are many who follow religious traditions viewed as being equally valid to or even above Biblical teaching.
Another reason for being here is to bring aid to the people of Ukraine; we send a big “Thank You” to those assemblies and Christians who have helped in sending aid and funds. This work could not continue as it does without such help. The value of the Ukrainian currency has fallen, prices have more than doubled since the war started in 2014, yet wages have remained the same or even less.
We try to help people locally with some of their practical needs, such as clothing, medical and utility bills, food, etc. We also bring aid to schools, orphanages, and villages. Along with this aid we are able to bring the gospel message to these institutions and villages. At the same time we bring New Testaments ordered from the Ukrainian Bible Society, and Bible texts and gospel tracts that we have printed.
We also visit hospitals in Ivano-Frankivsk and in other small villages. The government has cut funding in all areas due to the war in the east, and health care and medical departments have been affected by these cuts. We have been able to bring some needed supplies, and this has opened the door to speak about the healing of our soul, the life that has no end, and our great Physician (Luke 5:31).
On a typical Sunday, we take a van from Ivano-Frankivsk to Lviv to meet with the believers there. Some who come from Ivano-Frankivsk are believers in fellowship in Lviv; other adults and children come to observe. In the afternoon we make the two-hour trip back to Ivano-Frankivsk for an evening gospel meeting. Another gospel meeting is held on Tuesday evening. During the week, homes and institutions are visited and Bible studies are held with small groups of believers and unbelievers. We have children’s meetings and gospel meetings as the Lord opens doors in Ivano-Frankivsk and other towns and villages.
When I am outside of Ukraine I visit assemblies in neighboring countries. This summer I was in Slovakia for four weeks, where there are a number of assemblies, some very small and some large and healthy. During my first week there they held one of their larger annual conferences. The theme was repentance and the fruit of repentance (Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8). Though not everything was interpreted for me, the little I understood sounded very good.
Throughout the week I visited other assemblies and took part in their meetings. Most of the time we were invited after the meeting for something to eat before the drive back. At these times questions would be asked, and if an unsaved person was with us we would talk to them about their soul, God’s salvation, and the Savior.
My last week in Slovakia there was a summer camp for young people, where we took up the theme “What You Believe and Why.” Most at the camp were from an assembly and would profess to be believers but some were still searching for salvation. I thought the time there was very profitable and pray that God will bless the results in a way only He can do.
Romania is another country I travel to. Most of my time is spent in one town with a small assembly that needs encouragement and support. There are also two larger assembles in other towns that I visit from time to time.
My travels also take me to Moldova, one of the smallest – and poorest – countries in Europe. Moldova was once part of Romania, and in 2010 the official language was changed from Moldovan to Romanian. I spend most of my time here at one assembly, where I try to be of some help to the saints and in the outreach of the gospel. However, there are a number of smaller assemblies throughout Moldova that need help with teaching. Two brothers from the Brashov assembly in Romania, David Weir and Robert Beckett, missionaries from the UK, visit these smaller assemblies every so often for teaching and support, and we praise God for them.
Many blessings have been seen from helping people with practical needs, along with their greater spiritual needs. God has given help with each step; however, where God’s work is and God’s people are, the adversary is always nearby and would seek to stop any glory to our great God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Much prayer is still needed as we continue to lift Him up (John 3:14-15).