2 Tim. 4:2 – “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”
As we wrote in our previous blog, last Monday morning I unexpectedly packed a bag and was out the door within 15 minutes. When Jeremias, our friend from Germany, and his team of 4 Germans and 2 Ukrainians showed up at our door Sunday night, I was expecting a few hours of nice fellowship, overnight guests, and then to send them on their way the next morning. Never did I dream that God had sent them here to pick me up!!! When Jeremias suggested that I go with them, I first laughed it off and figured it was out of the question. But then he kept saying it, telling us how he really felt that God told him to come here and that it was for more than just fellowship. He kept telling me, “Krista, be spontaneous!” So, all evening I was praying about it and thinking about it, and I began to feel a stirring in my spirit and felt like God was saying, “Yes.” We woke up the next morning, sat down to eat breakfast, I ran upstairs to throw some clothes in a bag, we loaded up the vans, and hit the road! I was so excited to see what God could have planned for this unexpected (well, unexpected for me, not for Him) trip.
Jeremias comes to Ukraine to work with Chesed, a Jewish community center/social aid organization that has branches all over Ukraine and Europe. He has been partnering with them for many years, coming to help and minister to holocaust survivors. Chesed does what it can to help the holocaust survivors, but they don’t have much themselves that they can give. Chesed is an Orthodox Jewish organization, but they all know that Jeremias and his teams are Christians. And that is part of his ministry as well; letting these people know that we honor them, our spiritual older brothers, and recognize that our Savior was a Jew, and that Judaism is the root of our faith. Each home we went to heard about our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) and of our love for the Jewish people. We recognize that our words aren’t enough though, so along with our testimony of love, we also left some sort of material help with each family we visited.
Our very first stop was to visit Yevhenya, a lady who lives outside of a town called Uzhgorod (where we were heading). She was a very friendly woman and gladly welcomed us in. As we began to talk with her, she told us that she never leaves her apartment anymore because she can’t walk well, and so she is just waiting to die. One of the guys on the team asked her if she knew where she would go when she died. Her answer was, “Well, Heaven or Hell, those are the only two options. So, we’ll see when I die.” We then told her that she could be sure of her destination, shared about Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, coming, dying, and resurrecting for her, and asked her if she would like to put her faith in Him. I was concerned that she would scoff at us for suggesting that she, a Jew, put her faith in Yeshua, but she responded with a, “Yes.”!!! So, right then and there, we prayed with her and saw her accept salvation through her Messiah, Yeshua! Praise God!!! What a great start to our week that was!
From there, we continued on to Uzhgorod, arriving sometime late that evening. After staying up until 2:00 a.m. the night before and driving all day Monday, all I could think about was sleep. But, Jeremias had warned us that our host’s wife knows one way of showing love – cooking. 🙂 And sure enough, when we arrived, we had a full 3 course meal waiting for us. So, we sat down for another evening of food and fellowship….and again went to bed at around 2:00. But the evening had been such sweet time spent with new friends, I don’t think any of us minded going to bed late again.The next day we visited a number of people. One family we visited is no longer able to receive help from Chesed, because the ladies mother had died, and the daughter is no longer eligible to receive aid (unfortunately, the aid that Chesed receives from their sponsors isn’t enough to help everyone, so they have to have eligibility rules to limit who they can help). This woman lives with her husband, daughter, and grandson who is 3 yrs. old. They seem to be somewhat forgotten by others, so it was such a blessing for us to be able to visit them and remind them that they aren’t forgotten by God. No one had reminded Jeremias of this family, he just remembered them as we drove by their village, and decided that we would make another unplanned stop to see them. I am convinced that just as He did with us, it was God yet again reminding Jeremias of them.
This blog would be a novel if I told you of every family and person we visited. Each person was so special and a joy
to meet. We met a woman who shared her experience of spending 2 years in a closet during the holocaust, thanks to a neighbor who hid her and her family. For 2 years they lived in complete darkness, coming out only at night. Because of this, her biggest fear after the war was light. Every time a candle was lit, she would put it out because it scared her. We met a man who has lost both of his legs and can’t afford to replace his broken prosthesis. He has spent 15 years in his 3rd floor apartment, unable to get down the stairs to go outside. We met a man who has been named among the Righteous Among the Nations (this is an honor bestowed upon Gentiles who hid and aided Jews during WW2). He told us his story of hiding a Jewish boy, getting forged documents, putting the boy on a train to send him away to safety, and having Nazis come to his home that night to search his house after someone had betrayed him and turned him in as someone who was hiding Jews. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is! The Jewish boy did escape that night, survived the war, finished school and university, immigrated to Israel, and came back a couple of times to visit the man who had saved his life.
And the last story I want to tell you, is about a couple who was so shocked to see people who believe the way we do. This was the last family we were going to visit. The wife is Jewish, the husband a Ukrainian Gentile. They are both very intellectual people, and neither seemed to be very ‘religious’. We fellowshipped with them for awhile, and then one of the team members, who spoke Russian, began to tell them about our faith in Yeshua and how we believe that Judaism is the root of our faith. He and I both shared about our churches, and how we celebrate the Jewish Passover. The wife looked at us with shock and asked, “But aren’t you Evangelicals?!” We told her that yes, we are Christians, but we recognize that Yeshua was a Jew and that the very first Christians were Jews – therefore, to fully understand Christianity, we have to understand Judaism. We continued talking with them for awhile, her husband starting a discussion about whether or not God even exists, and then it was time to go. As I hugged them goodbye, the wife looked and me and said, “Thank you. I have never seen a faith like this. Your faith contradicts hate and war and is about love. I wish more people could believe like you do, then the world would be a better place.” Wow!!! What a compliment and proof that God’s love really does work!!
The sad part of that conversation for me and the team, was that people are shocked when they see people living by the Bible. We weren’t there representing different denominations, doctrines, or nations, or anything else. We were there representing God, speaking the truth that is in the Bible, and this woman was surprised by what we were saying! Shouldn’t Christians living what the Bible says be a normal thing? Shouldn’t Christians whose faith contradicts hate and supports love be normal? Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case in today’s world. We were just so honored and blessed that God would choose us to show this wife and husband His love!
For my part on the trip, I got to be 1 of 3 translators. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to translate as much as I wanted to – because apparently in that region of Ukraine, they speak a whole other language! Seriously, these older people were speaking a mix of Russian/Ukrainian/Slovak/Hungarian….all with their own pronunciation and accent. My brain was definitely on overload. 🙂 Sometimes we ended up with a translation line that went something like this – the local would speak, one of the Ukrainians on the team would translate into Ukrainian for me, and then I would translate into English for everyone else. Whew! It was so fun though and I enjoyed every minute of the trip. God truly blessed us and I felt like I had gained 5 brothers by the end of the week (the German team was made up entirely of guys. Aside from me, there was one Ukrainian girl). God really connected all of our hearts as we worked together to show His love to His people. Thank you for all of your prayers!
Please remember us girls in your prayers this week as well. Bria and Lindsay will be leaving this evening to go lead worship at a youth conference in Kyiv. I’m leaving this afternoon to go to a village in Eastern Ukraine with a team from our church, to lead a week-long VBS. We know we couldn’t do all of this without your support and prayer!
With a heart full of gratitude,