As a republic of the former Soviet Union, the people of Ukraine lived under the forty-year domination of a communist system that worked relentlessly to destroy the church and any belief in Jesus Christ. With the fall of communism and the break up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine suddenly found itself free to determine it’s own future.
In the midst of that new freedom, the Gospel of Jesus began to flourish. Tens of thousands began to give their lives to Jesus. The result is a growing church in Ukraine that is filled with first generation Christians. These are people who have no history of a cultural Christianity. They were taught from birth that there is no God and that their first allegiance is to the communist party and the state. Now they are learning what it means to love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. They are learning what it means to be the church. They are learning what it means to be a fist generation church that is in many ways a spiritual teenager.
During the past week I was able to meet some of the most remarkable members of that adolescent church. At a missions conference outside Kiev for three days I was both a teacher and a student. I taught them about a God who at His heart is a missionary who sent His son into the world to seek after us so that we could find our fulfillment as worshippers of Him. I also taught on how the local church, and every member of it, needs to see itself as called to that mission. What I learned was far more rich in many ways.
I learned again that God is a sovereign King who will do what it takes to reach us with His love. A young woman named Marina who was raised in a very poor Jewish family in Ukraine taught that to me. She told me of being in young teenager with not much more than rags to wear and the embarrassment it caused her. One day she cried out to a God who she was not even sure was real and asked for just one set of new cloths to wear to school. Ask she literally finished her prayer a knock at the door announced the arrival of four large boxes being delivered from America. For the first time ever, relatives who immigrated a few years earlier, sent gifts to her family. Included in the boxes was not just one new outfit, rather an entire wardrobe for young Marina. Suddenly she knew there was a God. Three years later she was one of 22 students chosen from more than 700 to spend a year as an exchange student in America. She ended up living with a Christian family who demonstrated the love of Christ. In short order she was added to the family of Jesus. Today she is a missionary to her mother country helping start churches all over Ukraine.
Nadia, one of our translators, reminded me that worldly success means nothing when you have the chance to serve the poor and broken in Jesus name. She too is in her late 20’s and came to faith in Jesus out of a non-Christian family. She has a Masters Degree in English at a university. It is a secure life that many in her country dream about. But Nadia dreams only about serving Jesus. She is more than willing to give all that up for Him. She tried to spend a year in India among the poor, being the hands and feet of Jesus for them. However God seems to have other plans. She was recently turned down in her visa application. Many would have taken that as a sign to keep her comfortable and secure God or been discouraged and given up; not Nadia. She kept her eyes open for another door to serve and give her life away. Now it looks like God may be leading her to serve orphaned and vulnerable children in Swaziland and other parts of southern Africa.
Nine out of every ten Christians I met in Ukraine are first generation followers of Jesus just like Marina and Nadia. A majority of them have been following Jesus for less than 15 years. That includes most of the pastors and church leaders as well. Truly the church in Ukraine is in many ways an adolescent still trying to figure out who she is and what she will be when she grows up. But in the midst of that teenage search for identity there is an inspiring freshness that is in many ways far more spiritually mature than much of the church in places like America and Great Britain.
They are not “experienced” enough to know that they should not be so excited and sold out for Jesus. I for one hope they never are.