Hello praying friends,
We feel an urgent desire to communicate with all of you before entering into one of our most extensive evangelistic outreaches of the year: our annual Christian English Camp! The Spring months have been going well, and were full of opportunities to engage more closely with many new people. However, we have become aware of a general shift in Ukrainian’s worldviews, especially as we discuss deeper issues during Elevate English Club each Saturday.
In the past, about 50% of our participating school and college students, young and middle-aged adults demonstrated little understanding of Biblical Christianity, but more than 75% of them have, at the very least, grown up attending Orthodox church services once or twice a year and have heard of Jesus. Throughout our 20+ years here, Odessa would have, at least, been considered Judeo-Christian. But a new influx of folks attending our English Club has revealed that philosophies from all over the world have taken root in Ukraine, adding confusion to the humanist philosophy still taught as fact in local schools. After one Saturday presentation in which we discussed things that we fear, we asked the question, “Do you fear death?”
Several people at each discussion table responded that they did not fear death, because when they die in this body,
“I’ll just be reborn as another person and live that life, until the next death and reincarnation.”
Another young woman said,
“I don’t really think about death being frightening because once I die, I just cease to exist.”
During another English Club discussion session after a lesson titled Balancing Work, Rest and Play, we asked, “If you knew you’d have only one more week to live, how would you spend it?” A guy in his early 30’s gave us his totally serious answer:
“I would rob a bank, buy all the hard drugs that are most dangerous and experience their effects, since I know I am going to die anyway!”
At the beginning of April, our English lesson presented 10 Hard Evidences for Jesus’s Resurrection, since Ukraine was about to celebrate Easter. (It was surprising that many of the 45 students attending did not understand the reason why Easter is celebrated – as a commemoration of Jesus and His resurrection) Our discussion topics were naturally going to be more weighty and my oldest daughter and I were eager to facilitate the dialogue with 8 people around our table, including a young woman attending Club for the first time. We asked, “What system of belief do you follow, or use to guide your life, and how do you know it’s true?” I, personally, was taken aback when NONE of the 8 followed the same philosophy or belief system, and only one of the 8 expressed that they considered themselves to follow “some being, much like the God of the Bible, but without the need for organized religious meetings (i.e. church)!” The young woman, attending for the first time, told about what she believes with the following explanation:
“Well, everything around us is made of atoms, which are energy, including all material things and even our brainwaves or thoughts are pulses of energy – as science shows to be true. So, I would say that energy guides my life – and I can influence my path in life by how I think – whether positively or negatively. In my experience, if I want something or need to make a decision, I ask my Energy and it answers me by changing my circumstances.”
A man (in his late 20s) sitting at our table, shocked all of us when he stated,
“Nothing that we can see, or touch, or experience is reality – because there is no reality. In fact – how you see and interact with the world is completely different from how I do, because it is all just in your mind and is an illusion built to keep you thinking you are living. Your consciousness or soul is on another plane and when you ‘die’ you just cease to exist as a part of this illusion of reality. I know this is true because nothing we experience here can really be quantified the same way for all people – it’s just a matter of perspective that is unique to each one of us.”
While there have always been people in any large city that adhere to different worldviews, it certainly appears that there is a growing trend of espousing ideas that are bizarre departures from traditional religious beliefs — the more incomprehensible, the more readily accepted. Thankfully, in most of the discussions detailed above, we, and our ministry partners and church-planting pastor were able to share the Biblical worldview regarding fear, life and death, God and mankind, so that those who are actively searching for truth to hold onto can knowledgeably consider the claims of Christianity.
For instance, through English Club we have struck up a friendship and have had an on-going dialogue about spiritual matters with a Lebanese man in his late 40s (living and working here in Odessa as a physical therapist) who is, by blood, a Druze. Druze is a somewhat secretive, mostly Arabic-speaking, people group that identify themselves as Unitarian, but believe that “god” is within everything natural, and that humans will be reincarnated. They consider their spiritual founder and chief prophet to be Jethro of Midian (Biblical Moses’s father-in-law) but were also greatly influenced by Greek philosophers and Gnosticism. Our friend has read some of the Bible in its original languages. He has many questions about Christian interpretations of Scripture.
We have a great challenge before us, and we need your prayers! For five days next week, June 11-15th, we’ll have daily opportunities at our Christian English Camp to go deeper with these students and explain why our hope is in Christ Jesus. Everyone coming knows that, in addition to the quality English language lessons they’ll receive, this is an evangelistic camp where they’ll have the chance to discuss Christian doctrine and reasons to put their faith in the God of the Bible. They have all agreed to do their best to listen to our perspective, and we have encouraged them to test the source behind what they currently believe. Please pray that we would treat each of them with genuine love, listen well to them and faithfully introduce them to God through Jesus. For several weeks we have already been praying Ephesians 4:17-24 (shown below) over these campers. Please join us in asking God’s Holy Spirit to open their eyes and ears to truth. Our in-country team is smaller this year, and we have only a pastor and his wife able to join us from America. Please pray for their safe travels (they fly tonight!), his Bible talks each evening and all of the logistics that each teammate is responsible to accomplish. Please also pray that we (the leaders of this camp) would love and serve one another in a Christ-like manner. Already we’ve had some unexpected conflicts among our leadership team members, but we realize that the genuine, living example of Christians resolving conflict peaceably and loving each other well is one of the best apologetics we can give!
Thank you for your prayers and support, we couldn’t be here without you!
Bob & Andrea Burnham
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24