Back in the groove

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “There’s nothing permanent except change.” While we can debate this (after all, the Word of God stands forever!), it can’t be denied that change affects all of us; it has certainly been part of our lives over the last 15 months!  We’ve moved households four times (renovating one of the homes in the process), left friends on one continent, made (then said goodbye to) new friends on another, started and left new schools, and traveled across the U.S. visiting churches and raising funds. Now we’ve finally begun to settle back to the life that God has called us in Ukraine. This cycle happens every four years, so you’d think we’d become accustomed to it, but it’s still a difficult adjustment, mentally and physically.  While we greatly miss loved ones back in the States, it feels soooooo good to be settled again in one place and doing what we love most – taking the good news of Christ’s love and reconciliation to the people of Ukraine through the establishment of His church. The last time we gave a full update was back in June (sorry about that), so this newsletter will catch up our news since then.

“But you just got here!”

We heard that a lot during our last few weeks in the States. We first made a trip down to Pensacola to say goodbye to friends and family, and then, the Sunday evening before we left for Ukraine, we had a get-together at a local park in Lawrenceville, GA to say thank you and goodbye to many of the people with whom we grew closer during our Home Ministry Assignment.

We could fill this page with stories of all the people who helped us unpack and pack up and haul our suitcases to the airport, let us live with them for weeks on end, found needed furnishings for our temporary home, organized folks to help us clear our overgrown property, and many other necessary things.  We can’t imagine making it through this past year without the help of our Restoration Pres church family and our broader church family scattered across the States.  Thank you again, and thank God for providing for all of our needs through His people!

“No dogs allowed”

When we arrived in Odessa, we rented a temporary flat (about 350 sq. ft. with a micro kitchenette!) while we looked for a new place. We could have moved back into our old flat where most of our belongings were already stored, but our former landlady neglected to fix some major issues there, including a structurally unsound floor, which (in the words of a commercial inspector who measured the sagging floor), “should have been condemned!”  Still, we’d lived in that apartment longer than any other place in our almost 20 years of marriage, and it felt like home.

We had our hopes set high for a new place, and wanted to find a three bedroom flat with two bathrooms and an office.  Many said we would never find it because larger apartments were being renovated into money-making hostels.  Three realtors confirmed that there were only four other flats of this size available in the area.  We felt like Goldilocks after looking at them all: “This flat is waaay too fancy (and expensive), this one has no functional flow and dizzyingly busy wallpaper, this one is waaay too dumpy (but cheap!)….” But the last one was juuuuuuuust right.  It was even the same price as our old flat. The only problem was that the landlady was very firm on her “no animals allowed” policy.

Battling jetlag and feeling discouraged, we returned to our tiny rental place and prayed for wisdom and God’s provision.  Do we jettison the animals? (“Noooooooooo” cried the girls!!)  Do we return to our condemned home and hope the landlady will agree to remodel?  Do we live in the dumpy flat?  Within a week we had the answer when the landlady of the “just right” flat changed her mind and agreed to not only let us live there with our dog — but also with our three cats!!  We’ve loved having folks over – this apartment is great for hosting.

Andrea is all smiles after we signed the contract allowing us to live in this fantastic apartment. Thanks to our wonderful landlady, Irina (middle) and office manager, Laura (left).

Catching up

The first month in-country was spent moving and unpacking, and reconnecting with those in our church and community. The ubiquitous boxes and piles of things did nothing to dampen the bright smiles of our guests, night after night after night. We had a steady stream of guests from Izmail, Odessa, Kyiv, America and Israel, coming to tell us about all that happened while we were gone.  It also gave us many opportunities to discuss what we believe God is doing now and where He is leading us.

Anya Dudkina with her two good-lookin’ boys!

Pastor Sergey Betin from Belgorod-Dnestrovsky.

Team goals

Meeting with and praying with our team and Pastor George was also at the top of our agenda upon returning to Odessa.  When we first arrived in 1995, there was no reformed church here at all.  In the last 22 years God has allowed us to take part in establishing a dozen Reformed churches, a particularized Presbyterian denomination (to my knowledge the first and only one in Ukraine’s history), a denominational seminary, and a host of ministries, including a medical clinic, crisis pregnancy center, a Christian counseling group, Christian publishing house, Christian day school and more.  So what’s next?  What lies on the horizon for our team? Quite a bit!

I.Maturity of the church

Pastor George is concerned that our local church congregations still don’t fulfill their role as active members of the Body or church family.  While many folks are growing in spiritual disciplines like nurturing their relationship with God through prayer and Bible reading, the majority of our churches are comprised of first generation believers, who, culturally, find it difficult to take responsibility for their church brothers and sisters in love.  Reaching out to unbelieving neighbors and entering into their messy lives for the sake of the gospel is also deeply counter-cultural, especially after the horrendous abuses under 70 years of Socialism.  While George and Bob often teach on the example of the early church and a Christian view of family, the concepts are still only slowly sinking in. We believe that we must live this example before church members and bring them along with us whenever possible, for the practice to take root.

II. Reaching the next generation of Ukrainians

For the last few years we’ve worked alongside MIA Ministries and have used ELEVATE English Club to reach University students (as well as other ages!)  The groups range from 50 to 80 people each week, and give us opens doors to challenge them and share with them a Biblical worldview that brings light and life.  We’ll continue being a part of this ministry, and are expanding to work with young teens in the north Odessa community.

III. Preparing the next generation of American missionaries

We won’t be in Ukraine forever, and there is much work to be done, so teammate Robin Price and Bob have been working to develop a mentoring program for Americans (especially college and seminary students) who are considering missions.  We hope to begin next summer and are encouraged by the support we’ve already received from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.  Please pray for the Lord of the harvest to send more workers!

IV. Building the church (literally!)

Through supporters like you, God has graciously provided all the funding we need to purchase our building and do the renovations, but now the actual work begins!  That is, as soon as we finish the legalities for transferring the ownership of the land.  It’s not a difficult process, just a bit drawn out.  We hope to begin construction on Covenant of Grace church in the next few months.

Please pray we would be able to accomplish all these things, and should the Holy Spirit guide in a different direction, that we would have the faith and courage to follow where He leads.

MK School Retreat at the dacha

While the two of us were busy getting back into ministry, the girls jumped back into their “missionary kid” school, led by David and Jill Martin.  Each September the school hosts an overnight camping trip for grades 7+ at the Martin’s “dacha” in a village outside the city.  On this occasion, Bob was able to speak with the students about how they identify themselves, and what it means to “clothe yourself with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27-29)  After some incredible discussion around the campfire on the topic, all the adults realized that struggling with your identity may begin in your teens, but it’s alive and well throughout most of the rest of your life! It is necessary for us to return often to Scriptural truths.

 

LEAD

Every three years Mission to the World hosts a world-wide event: bringing all the leaders from around the globe to one location to discuss issues pertinent to the different fields of ministry.  In September, Bob traveled to Athens, Greece for this three-day meeting, and stuck around a few days longer to meet with the other Europe leaders from MTW for further discussions regarding our strategy.

Legal aliens

Ask most missionaries and they’ll tell you that the time and energy it takes to maintain legal status in their host country is often staggering, and that is definitely the case for us.  Each year we have to reapply for legal grounds to stay in-country, and it seems that each year we always receive it at the last minute! Thank you, God, that we have our necessary documents again and are able to remain here legally before the eyes of the government, with the freedom to openly speak about the good news of the Gospel.

When life gives you tomatoes…

In Ukraine, when something is in season, you buy a lot of it and preserve it!  Throughout the year Andrea and Vika get together to can whatever is in season; strawberries in May, other berries in July, peaches in August, and apples in October.  Tomatoes are in September and we now have jars and jars of spaghetti sauce, tomato puree, and salsa!

Ukraine Team Retreat in the Carpathians

Each year our Ukraine teams from Odessa, L’viv, Kherson and Kyiv meet for three days of teaching, fellowship and fun.  Dr. David and Dr. Tasha Chapman joined us this year and gave vital research to help us determine and avoid pitfalls to longevity in ministry and fruitfulness.

Leadership Seminar

On the heels of our team retreat, Bob remained in L’viv for our semi-annual Presbytery meeting, and then our annual seminar for Ukrainian leaders.  The Chapmans continued to teach our national leaders how to avoid burn out and have a longer, more fruitful ministry.  Please continue to pray for our leaders to grow in their maturity and relationship with the Lord.

A License to Preach!

With Bob being asked to preach more regularly, it was time to go before Presbytery and request licensure for preaching – which is required by our denomination. He was granted approval to begin this process and will be examined at the next Presbytery on issues of doctrine, Bible knowledge, and the Book of Church Order. Please pray for Bob that this would be an enriching time for him as he prepares.

 

Serving our crisis pregnancy ministry, the “Life Care Center

For nearly 12 years the “Life Care Center” in Izmail has been investing in the lives of young women and families, and helping them to choose and nurture the beauty of life.  One of Bob’s favorite things is to travel to Izmail (about 5 hours by train) and spend time getting to know these families, encourage them, and help them to capture this time with a free photosession (once they complete all their parenting and health classes.)  To date, he’s held about 115 of these sessions.  Pray that this ministry would continue to reach many and save lives, spiritually and physically.

Month in Review (MIR)

It’s been a couple of months since we’ve published our Month in Review through photographs. This compilation has some of the more interesting events from July until now.  If you’re unable to view it on this page, you can click here or here to see them.  Make sure you click on “show info” to see the captions, and if you’re interested in seeing any of the MIRs from the last TWELVE years (!!!) click here .


Created with flickr slideshow.

 

Thanks to all of you who have been supporting us with your love, friendship, prayers, and finances!

We consider it an honor to partner with you in advancing God’s Kingdom.

Bob & Andrea and the girls

 

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