Visit to the Ukraine
It was with some relief, and thankfulness to the Most High, that we stepped onto the tarmac at Odessa airport on the very chilly, grey afternoon of Friday, February 15, after one cancelled flight, two delayed flights, and an enforced overnight stay in London en route. I was accompanying Rev Donald Ross, interim moderator of our Odessa congregation Kirk Session, and Mr Edward Ross, an assessor elder.
The purpose of our visit was to conduct the Sabbath and midweek services, including those of a communion season in the congregation; hold meetings of the mission field committee; attend to business in connection with the new mission centre under construction; have meetings with the contractor, Mr Tsarenko; and consult with our lawyer in Odessa. Inside the airport we had another problem – our luggage was missing and would not arrive until next day – but then we were heartily welcomed by our Odessa friends, Mr Igor Zadorozhnyy, the elder in the congregation, and Mr Dmytro Levytskyy, divinity student.
On our way to Mr Levytskyy’s home, we stopped at the new mission centre to assess progress. We saw a fine red brick building which is almost finished externally and is being fitted internally. The basement has storage rooms for Bibles, literature and humanitarian aid; the ground floor consists of a room for public worship, an administrator’s office and a garage; and the first floor has the living quarters. It is heartening that so much progress has been made and it is hoped that with further support from friends in other parts of the Church the project will be completed and commissioned in the not too distant future, God willing. The location of the building (on a conspicuous corner site not far from a large hospital) will ensure that it will be known by many, and we trust it will be a centre to which local Ukrainians will come to hear the gospel and from which numerous copies of the Bible and much Christian literature and aid will be distributed.
Mr Zadorozhnyy continues regularly to send out Bibles, literature and tracts from his home – almost 7000 pieces in 739 parcels during the past year alone – but the new facilities, although increasing his work, will make it easier. We are deeply indebted to Mr Levytskyy and Mr Zadorozhnyy for their conscientious and knowledgeable supervision of the construction of the new building, and to Mr Levytskyy’s uncle, a building contractor, for his sound and helpful advice.
On our arrival at Mr Levytskyy’s fifth-floor flat we were warmly welcomed by his wife Inna, who so kindly looked after us for the next 12 days. We are very grateful to them both for having made us feel very much at home and shown us such generous hospitality.
The communion season was a pleasant and profitable occasion, although we were a comparatively small company. We were encouraged by the addition of a new communicant to the congregation – an elderly man who has been attending for two years. He has clear recollections of the persecution his parents suffered on account of being Christian believers and Jews. As a result of Mr Zadorozhnyy recently giving a lecture on Calvinism and distributing copies of the Shorter Catechism to a class of students in an Odessa university, one of the university professors attended two of the services, and we had an interesting conversation with her. In the congregation we found the language barrier a drawback but we were grateful to have Mr Levytskyy’s invaluable interpreting skills. We felt something, I believe, of the blessedness of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace around the Word of God and the memorials of the Saviour’s death at his sacramental table.
Our friends in Odessa are very conscious of, and grateful for, the help they receive from the Church. Without that help they could not, as a mission, engage in so much work among their fellow Ukrainians, nor have the prospect of soon occupying a mission centre in which to worship and from which to operate. Mr Zadorozhnyy already has permission from the City Council for holding public worship in the meeting room in his home where they gather on Sabbath and midweek, and they hope that, when the same kind of permission is given for the new building, more people will gather with them.
It did not seem, when we met for our first service with them more than 12 years ago, that we would ever reach this stage, but the Most High has removed obstacles and opened doors. We have all been encouraged by God’s promise to the church in Zechariah’s day: ‘Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it’ (Zech. 4:7). May the Lord abundantly prosper our endeavours; only he can do so. ‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts’ (Zech. 4:6).
Taken with permission from the April 2008 issue of The Free Presbyterian Magazine.
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