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News on my trip to Ukraine

November 25 2014
November 25 2014

It has been more than a month since I returned from Ukraine, and my vision for a blog post about my trip quickly evaporated amidst the array of activity waiting for me upon my return. But as they say, it’s better late than never. So, here goes.

After two weeks away, I returned from Ukraine on October 21st. While there I was able to speak at two different ministry conferences. The first one was focused on mostly American missionaries serving in Ukraine. The second conference, held in the beautiful city of L’viv in western Ukraine, was for national ministry leaders. This conference was especially encouraging because it was attended by many twenty-something ministry leaders. Tying these conferences together was the common theme of leading amidst the many challenges ministry to God’s people presents.

A recurring comment I heard from those who attended was how encouraging it was for them to learn that their experiences of ministry challenges were not unique. No matter who we are or where we’re from, I think it’s common to think that if we are experiencing difficulty in ministry, then we must not be called, something is wrong or that we are failures. So often we think that ministry leadership is only for the “successful” and “strong.” Yet, it is this sort of thinking that is wrong and betrays the very Gospel we proclaim.

Paul wasn’t being sentimental when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). He was telling the truth. Ministry leadership is not so much about having all of the answers and “conquering” every challenge. Rather, it is about knowing the One with all of the answers and who is sufficient for every challenge. If we are to be sustained in ministry for the long haul, then it will be as we are continually saturated with God’s grace, recognizing that it His grace that qualifies and His strength that enables us to persevere.

Part of what God used to drive home these truths was the opportunity Tara and I had to share from our own stories about ministry challenges. After almost twenty years of ordained ministry, we now have lots of rich material about ministry failure and weakness! We were able to discuss the challenge of church planting in a new city, the demands a growing church placed upon our marriage and family and how conflict, confusion and loss are unavoidably part of the journey every Christian leader travels.

Many were surprised by how candid we were; they had never heard ministry leaders speak so freely about their struggles. Yet, if we’re paying attention to the Scriptures, the ministry leaders revealed there are far from "experts." It seems the Bible goes out of its way to accentuate the inadequacy and foibles of those called to lead. Whether it’s Abraham, Moses, Miriam, David, Mary, Peter or Paul, they all have significant stories of weakness and struggle.

This message, though, was not just about encouragement in the midst of ministry trials. It was also designed to inspire and strengthen those called to lead. The Presbyterian Church in Ukraine has now existed for almost twenty years. It has churches in most of the major cities of the country and a seminary in Kiev. Recently, however, it has experienced the loss of many of its first generation of pastors and ministry leaders. This has highlighted the need for the church to identify, train and install new ministry leaders, if an entire new generation of Ukrainians is to be reached.

Of course, making this challenge more difficult is the political instability caused by the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine. While there, we heard a lot of talk about this.

Surprisingly though, the talk was not all-together discouraging. In fact, the events in Kiev’s Maidan (central square) a year ago were incredibly encouraging to most Ukrainians. Formerly, they had not believed that the nation could organize itself to such a degree and stand with such conviction for freedom. It gave hope to many that Ukraine could stand against corruption and become a unified, free nation in Europe.

Now, as the conflict with Russia wears on, this confidence is in danger of wearing thin. For this reason, it is important that those of us here keep the Ukrainian nation and church in our prayers. Ukraine doesn’t just need political and economic stability. More than anything, Ukraine needs the Gospel. Ministry leaders are needed, now more than ever.

So, please pray for our missionaries, Doug and Masha Shepherd and Heero and Anya Hacquebord, who labor faithfully amidst daily ministry challenges in L’viv. But, also pray for our country leader, Jon Eide in Kiev, and team leader, Bob Burnham in the port city of Odessa.

Finally, I want to encourage you to consider participating in Redeemer’s short term project to L’viv next summer to assist with an English language camp for Ukrainian college students. This camp has proven critical to church planting efforts in L’viv and provides an excellent opportunity for a westerner to make a big difference in short amount of time. Please contact Victor Martinez for more information.


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