Here is an excerpt from our most recent Challenger publication.
In October, BIEM’s newest secretary, Lauren, traveled to Ukraine with members of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Lebanon, Indiana. Here she shares impressions from that trip.
I can honestly say this trip has been the answer to a long-held dream. I went to Ukraine for the first time when I was twelve, and have dreamed of going back ever since.
While I loved many things about this trip — the Ukrainian countryside, traveling, and don’t get me started on the food!—as I look back over my pictures, the people stood out the most.
When I boarded the airplane for this trip, the only people I really knew were Sam and Amy, my coworkers from BIEM. I will admit I was nervous about spending a week and a half with strangers. But God removed that fear immediately. The Lord gave our motley crew great unity. I got to watch our group take care of each other by carrying bags, deciphering names of food, and sharing hair-doing skills.
Our group was made up of ten people from Indianapolis, a couple from Canada, and Sam and Amy. The youngest member of our group was Derek (age eleven). I was next youngest; everyone else was over fifty. One of the couples from Indy was also blind. While in Ukraine, we were accompanied by Eugene (BIEM’s Ukrainian director) and Igor, who served as our drivers. Church planter Lyosha was our interpreter.
Our main purpose for the trip was to participate in widows’ and orphans’ services in a number of the different churches BIEM supports. Some of the services were held in local orphanages or boarding-school facilities. We also had the opportunity to visit two of the Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation centers run by BIEM personnel or local pastors. In the process, we did a lot of driving. We stayed in Bilogorodka, just west of Kyiv in the Second Baptist Church of Bilogorodka, pastored by BIEM’s Director for Ukraine, Eugene Buyko.
Our trip was punctuated by excellent meals, great conversations, and so much laughter. As I look at the pictures, I can almost hear the laughter. I know very little Russian and Ukrainian, but every once in a while I would get the jokes.
Since we spent most of the trip traveling hither and yon, we spent a lot of time in the two vans. Combine bad suspension, bumpy roads, and a fully European driver, and it makes for some exciting adventures. I rode in the blue van, driven by Igor Fomichov, one of BIEM’s church planters. Igor and our interpreter Lyosha (another church planter) shared many laughs throughout the trip. And anytime that Sam, Eugene, Igor, and Lyosha get together, laughter is sure to ensue.
And the people. The people are beautiful, from the impulsive hugs of little children to long, broken conversations in the van. We met widows who were so grateful for a simple bag of groceries. We met kids who were excited for gifts and love. I got to reconnect with the wives of several church planters, whom I have met over the past year, when they have visited the BIEM office.
And their stories. Over the course of the trip, we got to hear testimonies from several BIEM church planters and other Christians. From Vitaly Yurchenko surviving being in the affected zone on the day Chernobyl exploded, to Igor Fomichov’s dramatic transformation from a life of drugs and crime, I am so grateful for the grace of our Lord, who sees value in all people, the broken, the prideful, the scared, the disabled, and the criminal.
I have no pictures of one of my favorite parts of the trip. On Friday night, after a long day visiting the Philadelphia Rehab Center in Fastiv, plus the Velykоpolovetske orphanage (an hour away from Fastiv), and finishing with a widows’ service at the River of Life Baptist Church in Fastiv, we were finally heading back to Bilogorodka. It was probably 9:30 at night, and we had an hour and a half drive over fairly bad roads. I was sitting towards the front of the van, chatting with Lyosha and Igor, when Igor asked whether I can sing. Igor’s English is about equal to my level of my Russian — very limited. But many hymns have been translated into Russian. So we sang. We sang all the verses of all the hymns we could remember, and when they knew the songs, the Ukrainians joined in. We sang all the way back. There is something about worship that is beautiful in any language, even if you don’t understand what is being said.
I returned home with a renewed love for a country on the other side of the world, for a language I barely under- stand, and for people I call my brothers and sisters in Christ. Please pray for these families as they reach out to their communities to impact lives for Christ. Please pray for the continued influence of the connections made through the widows’ services. For many of the widows, it was their first time in church. While many of the widows we interacted with were older, a number were younger women, widowed by the conflict that continues in Eastern Ukraine. And please pray for us who went on the trip, that God would continue to teach us and mold our hearts through this experience.
Throughout the course of this trip, over 700 widows and orphans heard the Gospel and received help. Pastors of the churches involved report they have gained regular attenders from these meetings. May the Lord work in hearts to save souls and make them church members!