This letter was written October 28, 1992. I had just returned from a mission/ministry trip to the Ukraine. It was a life changing experience for all of us who went. This was shortly after the fall of the communist soviet regime (U.S.S.R.) and open travel to and from the commonwealths of independent states had just begun. Because of the length of the letter, I am posting in this blog in separate sections of the letter for your enjoyment.
Dear Family and Friends,
When President Ronald Reagan referred to the former government of the U.S.S.R. as the “Evil Empire,” he had it right. The evil was the socialist regime, and for the most part inflicted on its citizens. Even visiting the old U.S.S.R. today the evidence of an oppressive government is everywhere in the lives of the people.
I was privileged to travel with a team of nine people to the Ukraine. Our group consisted of two businessmen, a school teacher, a physical therapist, a retiree, three staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ International and of course yours truly. Our purpose and goal was to bring and share the Gospel with as many people as possible. A great deal of prayer and planning had gone into the trip. It should be noted however, that time after time we sensed God moving and directing us in sovereign ways.
Our long journey of 28 hours of flying began on Oct. 7 1992 flying to the capitol of Kiev, Ukraine.
After being settled our first day, we all gathered to go over our route for the next few weeks. The plan was to zig-zag across the country with our final destination in the coal-mining district of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea.
On day two, we boarded a train to reach our destination, Donetsk, an industrial city of one million people. It took us 17 hours to travel the 500 miles due to the many rail stops along the way. A good friend had suggested that I try to take the 5,000-mile rail trip from Kiev to and through Siberia to the Pacific Ocean. After that long trip to Donetsk, I was not about to take a trip through Siberia!
Before sharing some of the details and results of the ministry allow me to set the scene in terms of the economic condition of the country. Prior to coming to the Ukraine, I had an idea of what it would be like. I had traveled to some other countries in the world, but nothing prepared me for what I experienced. Not anything in the Ukraine compares favorably with United States standards with regards to housing, buildings, or facilities of any kind. As far as modern conveniences are concerned, one would have to go back at least 60 years in the U.S. to match current day conditions in the Ukraine. Television would of course be an exception (for those who can afford it).
The average income, throughout the Ukraine is $30.00 per month. We met many professors at the university that earned an average of $20.00 a month. One dentist we met, with three years training in the U.S. only earned $10.00 a month. She’s understandably trying to emigrate back to the United States. Surprisingly the highest paid position in the Ukraine is the coal miner.
Fortunately, at the moment, food in the Ukraine is both available and affordable. I did not inquire about housing costs. Virtually everything else is cost prohibitive; goods and services, appliances and clothing. Even what we would consider basic item needs, carry prices far greater than U.S. prices.
For example in one home we visited, an English professor, I noticed that a scrub board in the bathtub served as the clothes-washing appliance.
Maintenance of buildings, roads, transportation facilities and all societal support systems has been severely neglected. Governmental lack of finances being the major reason. Even in the major hotels, there was deficient or inadequate lighting, a missing window here and there, or non-operative bathrooms. In addition, there was no heat wherever we traveled, be it schools, universities, hospitals, churches, homes and stores. Fortunately, we knew about this in advance and brought along our long johns.
Amidst the disparaging socialist oppression, the people were a beacon of hope. Since the fall of the soviet regime, a rebirth had begun in the faces of everyone we met.
Saturday evening Oct. 10, we attended church in Donetsk, The Donetsk Baptist Church. The meeting place was jammed with about 800 people. The women sat together on the right with their heads covered. The men looking very solemn sat on the left. There were few young people.
None of us will ever forget the incredible music offered by the full choir, singing in four-part harmony, a cappella. It was as though you could feel the soul or these poor people as they cried out to God for help. It was a Russian hymn, a translator told us afterwards, called “The People Crying Out to God.”
That evening I was informed that I would be the speaker the following morning. A visiting pastor from the Russian Baptist church of Chicago would be my translator. I did not sleep too well that night as I wrestled with what the Lord would have me share. However, God was gracious. He had me share from John 13:34-35.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The service, like all their services, ran for three hours. A typical service includes 6-8 hymns, preaching by 2-3 pastors, a number or bible readings and greetings from representatives of other churches at the close of the service. Requests for prayer are brought to the pastor throughout the service.
Following the service, we were treated to a delicious meal the women of the church had prepared. It began with l huge bowl or borsch. In the Ukraine, it always is served heated. The bowl was three times the size of one of ours and it was filled to the brim with veggies, meat, and beets. Truly delicious! I was afraid that with the large serving of borsch and many slices of rye bread I wouldn’t have room for dessert… if they served one. About that time, the women brought out cold meats, cheese, and tomato slices. This was followed by the entree; a huge serving of mashed potatoes with meat and gravy heaped on top. In addition, yes, they served dessert.
A Bishop of all the denominational churches in the area conversed with me at the table through a translator. He was very inquisitive, and asked many questions. The next day I learned he was with the KGB.
Before the fall of the soviet regime, Churches were either registered or non registered with the former communist party. Registered churches would have KGB on staff or at least are a member in the church. Non registered churches (underground) had been persecuted and most of those churches had their pastors sent to prison. It should be noted however, that while there is a cessation of government control of basic freedoms the future for the church in Ukraine is very unpredictable.
While we were there, we visited a non registered Pentecostal church the following Sunday. They are now free to worship openly and we noticed much more liberty and freedom in the service. Again afterward, we were treated to a fine meal.
– to be continued