Happy New Year! We hope you and your family had a joyous Christmas celebration and are as excited about 2016 as we are. We wish all of you could make a visit to Odessa someday to meet the people with whom we’ve been involved, but aside from this newsletter it’s likely that many of you will not have an opportunity to know them (at least in this life. 🙂 ) To give you a glimpse of a few of the friends in our lives, we thought we’d share some “snapshots” from over the last several months.
One close friend is Misha Gubin, whom we met a year and a half ago through a mutual friend. Misha was in the Maritime Institute and wanted to sharpen his English skills so he started attending English club — but his interests soon included spiritual matters as well. Many questions about God led to some long talks and late walks around town, until about 9 months ago Misha made a profession of faith in Christ. He currently serves on a ship and is out to sea for 7 months at a time. None of his crew members are believers, however, and the lack of fellowship is a challenge. Please pray for Misha’s faith to stand strong and rooted in the pure Gospel, since many false doctrines threaten young believers in his situation.
You’ve likely heard us speaking about Vasilisa before. She was an infrequent visitor to our church for years, but after a crisis in her family she began spending more time in our home. Over the last year she has grown steadily in her faith, and when she accepted a job in China last summer, it was put to the test. She continued her weekly Bible studies with Andrea over Skype, and soon found herself taking steps to share her faith with co-workers, seeking reconciliation with family members and attending a church fellowship near where she worked. She’s back in Odessa now, and we are seeing many positive changes in her perspective – she desires to submit her life to God for His kingdom. Please pray for her continued growth and that she will resist temptations.
We’ve known Andrei Angeli (otherwise known as “Angel” – with an “a” like “ah” and a “g” like “guy”) for many years now – he’s been in the church since he was a teenager. After working in Italy for a year, however, he returned to Odessa unsure of his faith. He immediately began helping with our English club outreach, and started meeting regularly with Bob and other men to discuss theology. We saw that he began to grow spiritually and he now meets regularly with our pastor, who is preparing him to become a leader in the church. We need many more men like Angel, please pray that God would continue to work in his life and send more future leaders our way.
“Catacomb Kate” is how we refer to one of Andrea’s intermediate students at summer English camp, because one way she supports herself and her 10 year old son is by taking part in “Search and Rescue” operations in the catacombs of Odessa (consisting of about 800 miles of intricate tunnels!) During the week of English camp Kate read in a Bible for the first time and asked to take one of the English copies we offered as gifts the last day. Since then, though they’ve only been able to meet sporadically (due to her 3 part-time jobs), Kate has expressed interest in going through an overview of the Bible and talking about what it means to have a relationship with the God of the Bible. Please pray that she and Andrea could consistently meet and that her search for truth would be genuine. Pray that Andrea would not only share her passion for these truths, but also her life and encouragement with this struggling single mom.
Many of you have heard us talk about Leo and Lena Kolker because Lena is the director for the Springs Christian Counseling Center here in Odessa. We’ve known them for nearly twenty years and watched as they’ve raised their son, David, who is now attending a university in Poland. Leo became a believer after hearing the gospel presented on a World Trans Radio program. Soon after becoming a believer, he became involved with Jews for Jesus and while in Moscow for a conference, met Lena, who was from Belarus. Since that time, he became a translator for Christian literature and did most of the translation for many of the Christian materials we published in Russian. They both are an integral part of our Christian community here.
They are currently in Birmingham, Alabama (their first time in the U.S.) attending a missions conference at Covenant Presbyterian Church. Less than an hour ago (about 7am Eastern time, Tuesday, January 19th), I received a Skype call from them – they were very distraught. They had just learned that in the last couple of days, during a large snow storm here in Odessa, their apartment was broken into and they were robbed. Among the things stolen was a large amount of money that they had saved for their son’s college education – about $15,000. That’s the equivalent of losing approximately 2 years worth of wages. Needless to say, they’re in shock and are asking for prayer. Please pray for this situation, and for Leo’s recently widowed mother who first discovered the burglary.
Year in Review
It’s hard to sum up 2015, so in true Burnham form, we thought we’d show you a few of the highlights in a slideshow. For those of you that really want to see more, you can always peruse our Months in Review. By clicking on this link, you can choose any month from nearly the last TEN YEARS and see what the highlights are! In August 2016 it will be exactly ten years that we’ve published our “Month in Review” – can you believe that?!
Plans for the future
It’s a new year, and like many others you’re probably taking stock of where you are in life and where God might lead you this year. It’s a good practice to have, but we know that even with our best plans, our Sovereign King often has a totally different plan – and that’s okay! Our joy comes from knowing that whatever He brings is for the best, even though it may be very difficult.
We’ve been planning, too. Actually we’ve spent the better part of the last six months doing this and in December we invited two of the founders of our ministry, Dave Smith and Dal Stanton to return to Ukraine to join us for for a strategic meeting. We took a hard look at what God has done in our church-planting ministry over the last 20 years, where it is now, and where we believe He is leading us. The vision is indeed exciting, because politically, socially, and geographically we’re located directly between Europe and the former Soviet Union, and we believe God will eventually use the church in Ukraine to impact both!
From the beginning, our MTW team has always been about establishing Reformed Presbyterian churches that are healthy, growing and able to reproduce, but to establish something that will persevere for the long haul requires persistence and determination, especially with a fledgling denomination taking root in a culture bereft of grace-based, Christ-focused communities. While the seven churches here in southern Ukraine are all at different stages of growth, none of them have quite reached this level.
Ukraine has four major cities that lead the nation in size, culture and universities: Kyiv (north), Odessa (south), Kharkov (east), and L’viv (west). Strategically, we have church plants in each of these places, but the majority of our churches (more than half) are here in the south, with Odessa as the hub. Our goal is for this denomination to grow and spread to every one of Ukraine’s 24 “oblasts” (regions). We believe this begins with developing leaders and nurturing our existing churches to the point that they are indeed spiritually healthy, financially stable, joyfully growing as they reach out to their communities with the good news of Christ, and reproducing as Ukrainian believers expand to new cities as church-planters.
This is our commitment and goal in the next phase of church-planting.
So how will we do this? In three ways.
- First, alongside Ukrainian believers, we’ll continue reaching out to those in our communities, casting a broad net to not only grow our congregations, but find those who will become our next leaders (which is currently one of our biggest needs.) This includes English outreaches, seasonal outreaches, and special events in the church, along with mercy ministries.
- Second, as we discern the individuals God is raising up to be future leaders, we will spend in-depth time discipling them – having them in our homes, modeling how to graciously lead others, teaching them Biblical truths, and helping them to grow in following Christ.
- Third, we teach and train our congregations how to effectively reach out to those in their community, leading by example in genuine, effective ways (through both word and deed); preparing them to begin new churches.
For the sake of space (and attention spans :-)) this is obviously very truncated. This summer, however, our family will be returning to the States for our Home Ministry Assignment (HMA). During that time we’ll be visiting our supporting churches and individuals throughout America, sharing more about this next phase of ministry and how you can be a part of it. We’re looking for people to join our prayer and support team as well as those willing to come to Ukraine who have a passion for Christ, who are humble, who are teachable, and who desire to be a direct part of God expanding His Kingdom in a very strategic part of the world. Please be praying about how God could use you!
Thank you for your love, encouragement, and support for us as we bring the good news of a Savior to Odessa, Ukraine. God’s blessings upon you throughout 2016.
Bob, Andrea, Abigail, Emily & Iris Burnham