Newsletter – Ukraine 2002
We went to Ukraine because we love Jesus and wanted to be obedient to our Father. This team that traveled with me, was made up of Sam Shaw, our puppet director from Northern Ireland along with Nola and Summer Kilgore, from Sanibel, Florida. His love enabled us to stand in dark places and be strengthened when we were tired.
It was love that greeted us at the airport as we exited customs. Our equipment, stage, people puppets and curtains, were lost (temporarily) by the airline, so we had no way to do the puppet shows. Thankfully, we were able to borrow equipment from some of the teams that we planted in the past several years. However, initially I was very frustrated with the situation. Then, we saw our friends patiently waiting for us and were overwhelmed at the love that they poured on us. Their welcome was warm and comforting, refreshing our hearts.
As we traveled in the villages, we felt as though we had stepped back in history 100 years. Everywhere were horse and mule drawn carts, chickens and geese walked across the road and cows either roamed free or were tied out in grassy spots on ropes. The roads were terrible, with holes the size of small lakes, but we always had fun in the van. Many times they sang in English in the back of the van and the same song in Russian in the front. Sasha, our driver and pastor friend, would add trumpet sounds with his kazoo. I loved listening to this unique praise music.
The weather was cold and rainy, but even that was a special blessing for me.Normally, the farmers burn off their fields during this time of year and the smoke causes me a lot of problems with my asthma. Due to the rain, it was too wet for them to burn the fields, so my asthma was much better.
We were in six different villages in the first two days on the trip. In four of these villages, we were the first Americans and Irish that they had ever seen. More, this was the first time that they had ever heard the Gospel Story. Can you imagine?
The teachers and directors were especially pleased that someone would come and talk to their children and do a puppet show for them. The children got very excited at the puppet shows and more excited as they watched Sam juggle. They sat in quiet amazement as they listened to Nola and Summer, sing together.
For two days, we worked in areas of great superstition and darkness. The villagers were very involved in old world witchcraft. If you have a new baby or have a new cow, you must get a blessing from the local witch. Many new believers struggle with separating completely from this practice.
In these places, we have had 3 incredible days of shows. Our schedule has took us to 2 small towns and 6 villages whose names we cannot spell or pronounce. God opened doors that amazed us. Even though these places were known for having many witches and there was great darkness there. Most of the children and adults that we spoke with have never heard the Gospel. They knew nothing about God and the sacrifice of His Son.
The few who know anything about God were in the Russian Orthodox Church. They could not tell you anything about Jesus’ sacrifice, because their understanding was rooted in a belief in good works. They may know His name, but they do not know why He came. They live in the same darkness as those that listen to the witches, because they do not know Christ as their Savior.
At a village church, Sam preached on the Good Samaritan, Nola and Summer sang, I shared about the puppet ministry and we were able to share in 3 puppet shows. At one, the wife of the school director came up to me after the performance and said, “I have such joy. Never have I heard such words. Never could I have imagined such things.” I asked her if she would like to ask Jesus to be her Savior. She said, “Yes” and prayed right there in the school. Praise God!
At one show, government officials came and we were not allowed to pray with the children, but at the end of the show, they suddenly left and we allowed to pray with the children. We saw a little boy pray out loud to trust Christ and two teachers who stood beside a pastor, invited Christ to be their Savior at the puppet show. It was awesome!
Each week was full of incredible blessings, disappointments and lots of time spent on roads that were mostly holes. We didn’t know the time of day or the day of the week or even the names of all the villages that we visited. We did know that our friends were praying. Everyone had a cold, yet all of us always felt strong when we stood in front of the children.
One show was in an orphanage for children that had been abandoned because of their physical condition. They all had extreme medical problems. Many had withered limbs or twisted hands and were in wheel chairs. Some had no legs and others no arms, others suffered from what appeared to be cerebral palsy and one boy had been horribly burned. They were so excited that we came and they smiled through the entire program. It is something very wonderful to be given the privilege to tell the children that someone wants them. We spent a lot of time hugging each child, trying to show them the love of Jesus. We also visited all of the wards that were full of children that could not come to the show.
After the program, Oksana talked to a little boy who pushed himself around on a flat cart. She told him, “You have very beautiful and kind eyes, and I believe that someday in heaven, we will run races together”. He replied “Da” (Yes) , and raced off on his cart. When we returned to the car, we wept, but they did not see us. It is a rule with the puppet team, that you never cry in front of the children, because then the attention is on you, not on them. They need all of our love and care so that we can tell them that there is a Father who wants them.
Not everyone was so glad that we came. At several schools, we were forbidden to present shows, because of the objection of local Russian Orthodox Churches. However, many were very excited to see us. At one show, the director was so moved by the program that she told us that she wanted to attend a Bible Study as soon as one can be organized.
At another show, I was presented with flowers to honor me as a teacher on Teacher’s Day. After watching that show, a local kindergarten director begged us to come and present a show at her school. The only day that we could come was Saturday, when there was no school. So, she immediately sent word through the village, telling the children to come to school on Saturday. She even arranged for someone to feed us. Then, we met with her and she listened to the Gospel. Finally, she offered the use of a heated room to the children’s club that we had started last year. Praise God! We left there about 11AM and drove 11 hours towards Russia. No one complained because we were so delighted with God’s providence.
We had many programs in schools all over the area and even presented the Gospel at a home for mentally handicapped children. We were privileged to have a show in a House of Culture that the Communists used to tell people that there was no God. We stood in the same place and told the children that they were created by God.
As the work that God trusted us with was almost finished, we saw that our Father had blessed us beyond all my hopes. We trained 3 new puppet teams the last one located in Sumy, at a church that was begun some years ago as a result of puppet ministry in the area. They were so excited to have puppet equipment of their very own.
We finished our trip by sharing in 4 orphanages, at a shelter for homeless children, and working in the local church. Twice we heard children praying out loud asking Jesus to be their Savior.
We met a lady who came to us and wept as she told us about her little boy Sergey who is 8 years old. He ate something that made him sick. Then, he began to have slurred speech and loose his memory. The doctors said that they do not know what to do. This is often their response. Pastor Sasha, Oksana, Anna, and I offered what comfort we could, then we prayed for her and Sergey. As I knelt at her feet, her tears soaked my hands. Her heart was broken.
To those of us that God allows comfort and good medical care, I hope that we will think of this mother’s pain. We have so many blessings. If our children are sick, there are good doctors for them. I keep thinking of our Father’s words, “Of whom much is given, much is expected”. I left that visit wanting more than ever to tell the children who have no hope that there is hope.
At the shelter, many of the homeless children were very small. Two girls seemed much older than they actually were. All of their eyes had a haunted look. As the puppet show began and they started to smile, all of us shared in their joy. Best of all, we told them that there is someone who wants them and cares for them.
God showed us great mercy as we were all very tired and made many small mistakes in the program. I told the children that Zacheus was tall, very tall. Still, at the end of the program the 5 ladies who worked there came to talk to us, thrilled with the program. For almost 30 minutes God gave me a chance to share with them the source of our joy, the Lord Jesus.
When I came home, a big part of my heart was still in Ukraine. I know that it is the same for Nola, Summer, and Sam. The faith and love of the Ukrainian people always challenge me to love Jesus more. This trip was especially used by God to give me a desire to serve Him with deeper commitment and more passion.
I was wonderfully blessed by an older lady, in a remote village, who had attended one of our puppet shows last year. She came again this year to greet me and she told me that she had prayed for me every day this year. I was so humbled by her faithfulness. Then, she thanked me for the Sunday School that the puppet ministry helped to start last year. Her grandchildren attend it and are learning more about Jesus. She was so happy for them, because she had not come to faith until she was very old.
While in Ukraine, we worked with men who had endured persecution under the Soviets, because they loved Jesus, some even served time in prison. We also worked with a man who was part of the Soviet military and at one time believed that there was no God and that Christians should be persecuted. Some years ago, he came to know the reality of Jesus Christ and today serves as a pastor with some of the pastors that were persecuted. God’s grace made these former enemies friends.
In one city, we met a dear lady who has worked with orphans for the past 18 years. We learned so much from her. She told us that when a young person leaves the orphanage system, he or she is usually very poorly educated. For that reason, they have little hope of employment and 70% end up in prison. Christ is their only hope.
MINISTRY OPPORTUNITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If these words have touched your heart and you would like to take a team from your church to Ukraine, we have several opportunities that we would like for you to pursue this summer. There is a village with no church that is ready to have a church and a building is available. There are children’s summer camps that you could lead in places where the Gospel would be a new story.