Bible Retreat Weekend

The weekend of May 5-7 we traveled to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine with 48 young adults and university students for a weekend of Bible study, prayer, singing, fellowship, and hiking. This was the third annual weekend Bible retreat we have conducted through a grant from the Zondervan Foundation.

For much of the world, May 1 is Labor Day.  This was an important socialist holiday across Eastern Europe and the Communist bloc. May 9 is Victory Day, commemorating the end of WWII. The week and weekends that these days fall on are spring holidays from school for students and therefore, an ideal time to attract students to come for a weekend away to the mountains. The heart of spring is a lovely time to spend in God’s creation among the vibrant spring flowers and landscapes of the Carpathian Mountains. We have been encouraged by the number of students who have returned from previous years and it has also been wonderful to see new faces this year. Many of the students are young adults who we regularly see and have spent time with in English camps, English classes, and Bible studies. This weekend is a unique opportunity to reinforce and grow in our relationships with them. However, many are students we do not know, and it is an excellent occasion to meet and form new relationships with them.  We praise God for the hints of change we can see in their lives and we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to work in their lives and change their hearts.

Possibly the biggest surprise for us in organizing this weekend is the diversity of those attending. Originally, when the retreat weekend was still nothing but an idea, we thought it would be attended only by Hungarian university students who are among the Hungarian minority populations of western Ukraine. God has blessed the Bible retreats the past three years in ways that we could not imagine.  One of them being the great diversity of the students.  The majority remain minority Hungarian students of Transcarpathia, Ukraine.  However, we also welcomed six Nigerian students who are in western Ukraine attending medical school, two German students volunteering in western Ukraine with a German organization, and six Ukrainian students from Kyiv brought by three Navigator missionaries.  The Navigators are a U.S. based mission organization with a ministry in Kyiv and we have been blessed to partner with the Navigators for the past three years. This year three Navigator missionaries brought a group of six young adults and joined us for the Bible retreat and served as small group leaders. This was a small foretaste of what heaven would be like with so many people from so many different cultures and walks of life joining together to praise God and study the Bible. Using English as a common language, it was remarkable to study the Bible and praise and glorify God among such a diverse group of believers.

We broke up into four small groups for the weekend and had morning and evening sessions studying the Trinity.  We studied and discussed God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We hope and pray that the discussions and Bible studies on the three Persons of the Trinity encouraged the faith and understanding of the attendees and for those who are not Christians that it would show them who God is and why we need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We pray that the Good News of Jesus Christ and the Gospel were faithfully proclaimed and we hope and pray that the seeds that were planted in open hearts and minds will continue to grow and flourish.

If for some the message of the Gospel and Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on the cross was something they had never heard. We hope that this weekend was an encouragement to all and a calling to all to give their lives to Jesus Christ.

Photo Credit: Maksym Diachenko

Roma Kindergarten Outreach

DSC_1128Working among the Roma, more commonly known around the world by the misnomer, Gyspy, brings both joys and frustrations. Often times we find ourselves frustrated with feelings that are far from Christ-like; judgmental and exasperated, annoyed or even angry. Many times, in a week, sometimes several times a day, Roma come to our door asking for money or food. Some have let themselves into our house uninvited. Then there is also theft. This past February, a bag of chicken that I had placed outside to thaw was taken from our front porch. Apart from feeling frustration towards these people who ask with such a demeanor that can be perceived as entitlement, there is also in us a sense of helplessness at the overwhelming neediness that these people possess.  We are often left feeling lost as to the best way to help them.  It raises many questions: How can we help the Roma without hurting them? How can we minister to their seemingly insurmountable needs, both physical and spiritual? Is true change possible for them? Sometimes in frustration I even wonder, is this possible?  How can you help someone change their habits and their life when it seems the entirety of society and culture is against them? Sometimes Roma come and beg for handouts while seeming totally unwilling to take personal responsibility to alter their predicament.  Can the Roma rise above their current poverty when it often appears that history, prejudices, racism, and stereotypes are stacked against them?  Some Roma do. Why don’t the majority?  Incidences such as begging and theft can leave a disagreeable taste in one’s mouth, and cause a sort of ungraciousness, bitterness, and an attitude of indifference to well up in us.  We need reminding that the Roma are image bearers of their Creator, just as we are, and no less so.  Their most basic need is also ours.  They stand in need of Christ and His redemptive work on the cross on their behalf, just as we do.  No amount of money, aid, or welfare is going to change their situation.  Only Christ can change the Roma, as only Christ can change us.  Both a humbling and infinitely hopeful thought! DSC_1042

Only Christ can change the lives of the Roma giving them hope, not only for today, but for eternity as well, yet how will this happen if they don’t know and believe in Jesus? I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 10:14-15.  The local church in the last decade has begun many ministries towards the Roma.  Some have succeeded, others have not.  Many in the local community have a heart for the Roma, while many others look upon the Roma with scorn.  The success of these ministries often seems to wax and wane.  One such ministry near us is a local Reformed Roma kindergarten and Christian after school center.  Young children come in the morning for kindergarten, and older students come after school for help with reading and school work.  Most Roma are illiterate and most do not go to school.  Those who do go to school, go inconsistently.  Percentage wise there is a very small amount of Roma children out of the total population who are coming for the kindergarten and after school program.  DSC_1135

It has been a blessing to us to be able to go to partner with this local outreach in a few different ways. Once a week we go with students from the local Peterfalva Reformed high school to lead a Bible lesson and prayer, singing and a Bible memory verse, activities and crafts. Our team includes Eric and myself, as well as 7-10 high school students. Interest was high among the students in the Reformed High school and we had to divide the 30 or so students into four different teams to take turns going.  About 20-25 Roma children wait eagerly for us to arrive. Students take turns leading the Bible story followed by a couple of questions as to what the story teaches us. The children are eager to recite the Bible memory verse and to answer the questions. To see our students from the high school bending near to these little ones, intently speaking or listening to the Roma children is really beautiful to see, and a sweet reminder of what it can mean to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  DSC_1158DSC_0893

We hope that the time spent together can help to bridge the gap between the different cultures and societies.  We hope the Roma children will hear the Word of God through this program, but we also hope that the Hungarian students who come with us will see the Roma children, who, though often dirty and shouting, are children of God made in His image.  We hope and pray that God will lead these students who go with us into lives of loving their neighbors and that they will see the Roma with new eyes, and a mission field, if you will, right in their own neighborhood. Please visit the photo gallery for more photos.    DSC_0868