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My Mission Journey: Gail

Grace Lutheran Church in Falls Church, Virginia, sent a Mission Journeys team to Ukraine this summer to assist with four separate Vacation Bible School (VBS) programs hosted by WELS’ sister synod, the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). Gail Kelley was a member of the team and shares her experience: 

Our trip to Ukraine started with a conversation on possible evangelism or mission trips our congregation could participate in, somewhere with a culture different than our own. We were looking for an opportunity for our members to visit and serve with fellow believers in another culture, as well as to learn new evangelism ideas for our own community in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Within a year, God opened the door to an incredible opportunity–the chance to visit and assist the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) with four separate Vacation Bible School’s at several local congregations.

We gathered up a team from our congregation and were blessed with many prayers, financial gifts, and words of encouragement from members who could not travel with the group. Four of us headed to Ukraine in June with a few other WELS members from other congregations and began the trip of a lifetime!

Our group split into smaller teams and headed out to the four different VBS’s over the course of two weeks. Each volunteer taught English lessons, Bible lessons in Ukrainian (with the help of local translators), a craft lesson, and music. Each town and congregation we visited was very different, but it was quickly evident that we were all united in the most important way–through our shared faith and love for God’s Word and his people!

The first Sunday in Kiev we attended church with the Bishop of the ULC. The Bishop pointed out several photos on the wall of the church’s lobby. These photos were taken during the early 20th century and reflected one of many vibrant, growing congregations hosting many festivals and worship services. The Bishop explained to our visiting group the history of the church in the past century, and the terrible trials they endured throughout the second World War and Soviet era. The Bishop also pointed out a large wooden cross hung on the wall, covered in a beautiful, traditional Ukrainian embroidered cloth. This cross was hidden in a congregation member’s home during a time when religion was strictly forbidden throughout the country. The Bishop explained that corruption and bribery are current trials the country is facing; asking our group directly what they would do when presented with a bribe and fighting persecution. Recognizing and understanding the depths of the trials the ULC has endured for the sake of the cross was incredibly humbling and filled me with a new sense of awe regarding God’s enduring promise to “never leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Meeting various members of the ULC and experiencing their hospitality and deep faith was humbling and inspiring in so many ways. And then of course there were the children and translators we were working with–all so very special and many eager to learn about Christ and his message (both in Ukrainian and English!). Most translators were not ULC members and spent the week translating lessons, Bible stories, and prayers for our group. I pray that the conversations we had and Bible verses we reviewed planted a seed in many hearts!

One of the many miracles from trips such as this one is the personal growth and impact on the volunteers–our entire group agreed we came back to our homes learning much more and growing in our faiths in more ways than we could have imagined.

Lord, give us the strength to stay courageous through trials and fix our eyes on your cross (Hebrews 12:2)!

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Hold up the prophet’s hands!

Dear Friend,

Do you remember the hymn verse, “If you cannot be a watchman, standing high on Zion’s wall, pointing out the path to heaven, offering life and peace to all . . . You can be like faithful Aaron, holding up the prophet’s hands” (Christian Worship, 573)?

The reference is from a famous battle recorded in Exodus 17. As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites were winning their battle against the Amalekites. When Moses grew tired and lowered them, the Israelites started to lose. The solution: Aaron and Hur held Moses’ hands up, and the victory was won.

Isn’t it interesting how God brought about that victory? He gave Aaron and Hur the opportunity to participate, to play an active role in accomplishing his mission. God still works that way today. WELS sends missionaries to spread the gospel in this country and all around the world, and each of us plays a supportive role. With our prayers and with our offerings, we get to hold up the prophet’s hands.

One way we can assist our home and world missionaries is by supporting the humanitarian aid projects that they use to meet community needs, build relationships, and open doors to sharing the good news about Jesus.

Here is an example: In Toronto, where 50 percent of the population is first-generation immigrants, Hope Lutheran, a home mission congregation, is using a humanitarian aid grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief to welcome newcomers with love and compassion. In November, a young family showed up at church because they couldn’t find the address they had been given for another building. They had fled from a Muslim country after converting to Christianity. They had no food, clothing, or medical insurance, and were emotionally alone.

The members of Hope were able to assist them and welcome them to worship. The family cried tears of joy as they attended their first Christian worship service. Over time they were all baptized and now attend worship regularly. The mother shared, “We came here with no family and now we have Christian family with you!”

This past year special humanitarian aid gifts enabled us to hold up the prophet’s hands with $357,403 to support additional projects such as:

  • Medical equipment and supplies for health clinics in Thailand, Pakistan, India, and Nepal
  • Fresh water wells for people in India and Zambia
  • Food and medicine for people in Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Albania, Mexico, and Indonesia
  • Financial aid for WELS Central Africa Medical Mission
  • Mosquito nets, sewing classes, and textbooks for higher education level students in Nepal

Dear friend, please consider a special offering to fund new humanitarian aid projects for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Thank you for your prayers and ongoing support that hold up the prophet’s hands!

In Christ,
Pastor Robert Hein
Chairman, WELS Christian Aid and Relief
wels.net/relief | facebook.com/WELSChristianAidandRelief

Proclaiming the Good News in Ukraine

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) is experiencing renewed focus and enthusiasm for evangelism. The ULC pastors brainstormed ideas for doing outreach in their respective communities.

Church in Kremenets

The program they developed is a three evening program that involves music (both instrumental and vocal), Bible study, prayers, a worship service at the conclusion, and time for mingling and fellowship. The first three of these programs have already taken place at congregations in Kiev, Krements, and Ternopil. Many visitors attended! Local church members and pastors are excited about the results and rejoice that new people are hearing the Good News of Jesus. The next step? Friendship evangelism workshops are being scheduled to help the churches become more welcoming, and for training the pastors and church leaders to carry on programs of evangelism. We pray for God’s continuing blessing on their outreach efforts.

Church in Kyiv

This June, WELS members will once again help five congregations conduct Vacation Bible Schools. The WELS Mission Journeys program is becoming more involved with planning and scheduling these mission trips. Both the Ukrainian churches and our volunteers have been blessed with this cooperative effort.

Please pray for the ULC pastors. They are faithful to their calling, preaching God’s Word and administering the sacraments. Pray for the members of the ULC churches as they support the mission of preaching and teaching Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Pray that the Lord will bring many more people in the Ukraine to know and follow the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ!

Written by Pastor Roger Neumann, Europe Administrative Committee Liaison to the Ukrainian Lutheran Church

To learn more about world mission work in Ukraine, visit wels.net/ukraine.

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25 Years of Grace Renewal

The public history of the Ukrainian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession was interrupted in 1939 when World War II had begun and the Red Army occupied western Ukrainian lands. Some pastors, like Rev. Theodor Yarchuk, became martyrs at the hands of communists. Other faithful men, like Deacon Stepan Chermkhivka, were persecuted and finished in GULAG concentration camps in Siberia. The sheep were scattered among the fields stained by the red blood of Ukrainian Christians, pastors, deacons, and teachers. Some Ukrainian Lutherans were able to escape to the west. The pure gospel voice of the Lutheran church has been silenced in Ukraine for almost 50 years and two generations of people. Other Protestant churches like Baptists and Pentecostals were allowed in the Soviet Ukraine. The Lutheran church, on the other hand, was under the strictest ban.

But “the Lord is gracious and compassionate” (Psalm 145:8). On Easter of 1993, two public Lutheran worship services took place in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Ternopil. Pastors from WELS  (Melvin Schwark, Roger Kovaciny) and ELS (John Shep, Jay Webber) were first preachers and teachers of theology of the newly organized Lutheran congregations in Ukraine. The Lord has promised, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not returns to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My Word that goes out of My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10, 11).

The Word of the Lord accomplished what the Lord has desired. The Lutheran Church in Ukraine has been raised by the gospel of Christ back to life. In two years the Lord has blessed his church with faithful seminary students and deacons who also became missionaries to other parts of Ukraine. Soon Lutheran congregations were founded in Kremenets, Sevastopol, Simferopol, Lviv, Zaporizhia, Radomyshl, and Kharkiv. Old Ukrainian Lutheran churches in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lazarivka in western Ukraine, as well as an old German Lutheran church in Ivanivka (former Johannestahl) in southern Ukraine were reborn.

The Ukrainian Lutheran Church has been blessed to be reborn as a confessional Lutheran church body. Fellowship with WELS and ELS has been very fruitful in establishing good, solid, pure Lutheran doctrine in Ukraine. Not all churches have this blessing. Even among those who call themselves Lutherans we find very little Lutheran doctrine and practice. Often we can find none! We are so privileged to be in fellowship with those Lutherans who are Lutherans not only by name, but also by their teaching, their confession, and their practice. We have still a lot to learn. And we are willing to share our knowledge of the Lutheran doctrine with others.

Luther’s Small Catechism has proven to be a true gem that has brought to light of the gospel a former Baptist congregation in Tokmak, a city in southeastern Ukraine. When a young deacon of the congregation had read Luther’s Small Catechism and then shared it members of the congregation, they realized the teaching was Biblical and they wanted to know more about Lutheran doctrine. Now the Grace of the Christ Church is a member of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and shares the precious Gospel with people in that area of the country.

2018 marks the 25 anniversary of the renewal of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church.

The ULC has decided to give this year a special title – 25 Years of Grace Renewal. “Because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved… By grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast”, writes St. Paul in his letter to Ephesians (2:4, 5, 8). With joy we proclaim this message to Ukrainians. It’s true – the history of Ukrainian Christianity is long and reaches back to the 10th century. But as in times prior to the Lutheran Reformation, the pure gospel doctrine of justification by grace through faith is darkened by many different false teachings. But now the light of grace is shining more brightly in the country of Ukraine.

It is a joy to see children and adults baptized. It is a joy to see both children and adults in our Catechism classes. It is a joy to hear the pure gospel preached at our congregations and see how Ukrainian Lutherans share the message about Christ crucified. It is so refreshing to commune with other brothers and sisters the true body and blood of our Savior in his Holy Supper. The ULC Vacation Bible School, in partnership with WELS pastors and members, attracts several hundred Ukrainian kids. Our annual Youth Forums unites our teenagers, young Christians around the word of God and the mission of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, to reach out to as many people with the gospel as possible.

We do have challenges. We are a small church body, and we live in a country engaged in war. Some of our churches were left in the occupied territories. Our economy is weak. So often it is difficult to make ends meet. We have only five church buildings throughout Ukraine. The majority of our congregations have to rent their worship facilities… and because of this they are limited in many of their activities. Yet we are optimistic because we have the Lord’s promise that he will always will be with us and he will take care of his church. He does take care of us through his means of grace. We are optimistic because we have faithful and supportive brothers and sisters from WELS. Most of all, we are optimistic because we have God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory in Christ. He himself will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:10, 11).

Written by: Bishop Slavik Horpynchuk, Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) 

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