Eurasia News & Political Landscape Update

There are many moving pieces and events unfolding across the countries of Eurasia. Our ministry closely monitors the news and political landscape in the region and its potential impact on our ministry. We have compiled an update of some of the highlights from recent months to share with our friends and supporters, so that you can be informed about how to pray for us and learn more about the challenges–and encouragements–our ministry is encountering in the field. Please reach out to us with any questions, by either calling our office 630-462-1739 or emailing us at info@missioneurasia.org.

The Ukrainian Conflict

An elderly man in eastern Ukraine receives a life-saving food pack through our “I Care” Refugee Assistance Program

Recent months have not brought any significant positive outcomes to the war in Ukraine. The front lines remain where they began this summer, and small but frequent ceasefire violations continue to undermine the credibility of the Minsk II ceasefire agreement. However, despite the stalled Minsk II agreement, there is potential for an eventual diplomatic solution in Ukraine, as Russia has called for a UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. What this means for our ministry is that there is still a great need for humanitarian aid, healing, and relief in eastern Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in the war zone where they are struggling to survive with limited access to basic necessities such as food, electricity, and clean water. This is why we remain committed to continuing the relief efforts of our “I Care” Refugee Assistance program as we deliver food packs, clothing, supplies, and copies of God’s Word to the people in crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Anniversary of the Reformation 

Thousands of Christians flood the streets of central Kiev to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation

Despite the many challenges that continue in Ukraine, an encouraging celebration happened in Kiev in September when between 150,000 and 500,000 people gathered in the central square to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and hear from Christian motivational speaker Nick Vujicic from Australia. Those in attendance represented all of the Protestant confessions in Ukraine: Anglicans, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Mennonites, Presbyterians, and Charismatic Christians. The gathering was a positive and hopeful reminder of existing religious freedom and the strong presence of Christianity in Ukraine. This central square in Kiev where the Reformation celebration took place is the same location where, many years ago, communists would force people to demonstrate and propagate socialism, atheism, and communism in their country. The fact that today this square was the site of a celebration of God’s faithfulness is proof of God’s incredible transformational work in Ukraine. To learn more, read Sergey Rakhuba’s interview with Mission Network News.

Yarovaya Law and Religious Freedom 

The package of laws known as the Yarovaya law continue to restrict religious freedom across Russia. These laws forbid many types of religious activity, including evangelism, Scripture distribution, and public religious services unless registered with the local authorities. Certain religious groups have been labeled as “religious sects” and can be prosecuted as terrorists would be. Implementations of the specific provisions of the law vary from region to region. This summer, some Christian children’s camps have been raided or shut down for various reasons, ranging from public health concern to lack of parental permission. You can read more about religious freedom restrictions in Russia in the 2017 report on Russia from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Reading God’s Word at a summer Bible camp in North Ossetia, Russia

Despite these challenges, our leaders and School Without Walls students and graduates in Russia continue to proclaim the gospel without fear and work to support the strategic ministry of local evangelical churches. Praise God for His protection and blessing on our summer Bible camp program this summer, where 24 camps in Russia took place that impacted more than 1,790 children and youth with the gospel! We truly saw His hand at work over the summer, guiding and protecting our ministry and staff in Russia.

 

Zulfiya’s Story: Rescued from Drug Addiction

Zulfiya is one of our current School Without Walls students in Perm, Russia. Today she is thriving, growing in her faith, running a business, and leading an NGO that cares for homeless people in her community. But before her miraculous transformation, drug addiction stole 18 years of her life. She shared her story with us of how God rescued her from her addiction and led her to get involved in School Without Walls: 

“I could have died from drugs, and lost my husband and son and parents,” shares Zulfiya. “I never would have lived to see another day full of joyful laughter, the blue sky, and warm sun. Drugs stole 18 years of my life, and took my family and everything I held dear from me.

“There was one day in my life that changed me from a young girl into a lonely, miserable creature living in the basement of an apartment building. I would come there alone to shoot myself up and would stay the night there because I had nowhere else to go. I had no hope for the future.

“One night I heard voices of unknown men and I was scared for my life. That was what made me realize that I actually still wanted to live! I realized, ‘I’m a mother – I have a son. I’m a wife – I have a husband. I have parents who care about me.’ I couldn’t wait for morning to get my life back in order. I had always believed in miracles but thought they wouldn’t happen to me. However that changed – I went to a rehabilitation center and there I met Christians who told me about Jesus. I am a Tatar, and my people are Muslims who don’t want to have anything to do with the “Russian God,” as they call Him.

“But when my Christian friends told me that Jesus died for my sins and loves everyone, I experienced God’s hand on me and made a decision to accept Jesus into my life. I had never heard any of this before, and learning that Jesus had shed His blood for ME was mind-blowing! I read in the Bible that I am His beloved daughter and that He has forgiven all my sins. I realized that I had been believing a lie, thinking that I was useless and headed to the grave. But I learned that there was One who had come to save the worthless and the disillusioned – Jesus! And my life began to change and continues to change to this very day.

“God changed my life radically! Thanks to Him I now run an NGO called Do Good, through which I work with others to feed the homeless. God put it on my heart to serve people in the same situation that I used to be in. I also a run a business which helps provide jobs for people in the same trap of hopelessness that I once found myself in, and  I use the opportunity to tell them about the salvation available to them in Jesus. This year I started School Without Walls, and it has been enormously helpful. I have particularly appreciated the NGPLI events which showed me how I can minister to people through my job.

“I now know that what is most valuable is our lives and that we can only live them once – we only get one shot at them. I now know why I live and what I need to do. Thanks to Jesus I am like a child again, just in love with life!”

Give to support the incredible work of young leaders like Zulfiya who are being trained and equipped for effective ministry through School Without Walls: 

 

Tatyana’s Story: New Life Through God’s Word

Tatyana, who lived in Gorlovka, Ukraine with her husband, Vitaly, and their two daughters, never dreamed that war would ever come to her homeland. After the fighting broke out in Ukraine, Vitaly felt called to defend his country, so he joined the army and left to serve in the war zone. Two weeks later, Tatyana learned that her husband had been killed in the fighting. She was shocked and couldn’t bear to break the news to her children, Nadya and Alina.

After receiving the news about Vitaly’s death, Tatyana and her daughters fled to the village of Granitnoye in the Donetsk region, where Tatyana’s mother lived. For the first four months after the move, Tatyana couldn’t find work, so she helped her mother with the household chores. Her family only survived because of the help they received from School Without Walls (SWW) students, who brought them humanitarian aid and warm clothing for the winter.

“Realizing that my life was falling into an abyss of hopelessness, I decided to read the New Testament that the SWW students gave me,” shared Tatyana. “I got so caught up in what I was reading, that I couldn’t stop! I also started praying for peace for my country, and prosperity, not only for my family, but throughout the world. And then God started communicating with me through the positive changes He brought about in my life. I believe that He will take care of us.”

After a while, Tatyana’s family started adjusting to their new home, and Tatyana got a job at a local shop. As of right now, they aren’t planning to return to Gorlovka until the war is over. “I am not the kind of person who is content with the bare minimum,” Tatyana shared. “I value freedom, and I want to be able to talk with anyone that I want whenever I want. I feel good where I am free, where my family is safe, and where there is no war. Many people from Gorlovka weren’t able to leave, and it makes me sad to remember that they are trapped there. But, I still want to say thank you for not forgetting about the people who are suffering and struggling to survive because of the war. In times like this, it is so necessary to preach the gospel to those in need, and it is especially important that young people like you keep doing this.”

SWW in Russia: Turning Challenges into Creative Ministry Opportunities

As Russia continues to escalate religious freedom restrictions in the country, our young Next Generation Christian leaders in Russia and the rest of Eurasia are becoming more creative and strategic in how they share the Good News.

Just last week, the Russian Supreme Court rejected an appeal of a previous ruling that labeled Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist group” and banned their activity. This is part of a larger trend of the Russian government cracking down on religious minorities in the country, particularly evangelical Christians. However, when we talk to our School Without Walls (SWW) students and graduates and national Mission Eurasia staff, they are sober-minded about the growing threats to religious freedom, but they are also resolute and filled with a passion for sharing the love of Christ despite increasing challenges. “We serve God and not men,” many young believers are saying.

Our Next Generation leaders are always on the lookout for innovative ministry opportunities outside the walls of the church. Already, they are preparing special Scripture resources and outreach initiatives for summer 2018, when the FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia. The FIFA World Cup is the largest single-event sporting competition in the world and attracts millions of spectators. Our national Mission Eurasia staff and leaders see this event as an exciting opportunity to share God’s Word with thousands of hurting people. Russia’s religious freedom restrictions are creating challenges, but they are also inspiring many new opportunities for ministry.

In light of increasing challenges to traditional evangelism in Russia, and other countries of Eurasia, our Next Generation leaders have found that personal friendships and connections with classmates, coworkers, family, and neighbors are the most effective way to share the gospel. This is why initiatives like School Without Walls and the Next Generation Professional Leaders Initiative (NGPLI) have never been more vital or more timely. The informal, flexible structuring of the SWW program is designed to train and equip young Christians for creative, strategic ministry in any context: workplaces, universities, neighborhoods, schools, rehab centers, war zones, and of course, churches. And our NGPLI events bring together thousands of Christian leaders from hundreds of vocations and empower young professionals to be an example in their workplaces so that others may learn about their faith and be open to the gospel message. Many of these professional leaders are in positions of great influence—doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers—and they are able to model the Christian life in contexts where the church alone cannot reach.

Please continue to keep our SWW students and graduates and national Mission Eurasia staff in your prayers, particularly as they plan for their outreach at the FIFA World Cup next year. We are taking these new challenges very seriously, but we have also been amazed at all the doors God has opened in the midst of these restrictions. We eagerly anticipate the great things He will do through the faithful witness of believers in Russia and Eurasia in the coming months and years!

2017 Summer Mission Trips Update

Mission Trips to Ukraine

Playground dedication in Korosten

In mid-July, two teams of dedicated believers from the US and Canada traveled to Ukraine for short-term service trips with Mission Eurasia. One team was led by Wally Kulakoff, Mission Eurasia’s vice president of ministries & church relations, and the other was led by Nick Tishenko, the executive director of Mission Eurasia Canada. Each team served at a summer Bible camp and helped construct two playgrounds in impoverished villages–one near Korosten and the other near Zaporozhye. Working alongside national Mission Eurasia teams and School Without Walls (SWW) students and graduates, these teams sacrificially served the local communities with the love of Jesus and helped support the outreach efforts of nearby churches.

Over 250 children and their parents–plus city officials from the town–attended the dedication of the playground in Korosten, which will provide a fun, safe place for children to play and a gathering site for the local church to conduct outreach and connect with hurting families. At the playground dedication, the team handed out copies of Scripture and Christian resources to the children and families and invited the children to attend a summer Bible camp happening later this summer. Several parents signed up their children for summer Bible camps, and others are planning to send their children to Sunday school at a local church.

Scripture distribution at the playground dedication

After the playground dedication event, many parents from the village shared with our team their gratitude and excitement about the new playground and what a blessing it will be to their families. Even the city officials expressed their gratitude to our team for their service. One mother shared, “We have never seen our children so happy! You have done something absolutely unbelievable for our village.” During the dedication, a local news team  arrived to film and broadcast the event and interview members of the mission team, providing them an opportunity to share the love of Christ, whose message of salvation is the reason they traveled to Ukraine to serve on this trip.”

Please join us in praying for each of the children and families who came to visit the playgrounds and received Scripture or an invitation to church or Bible camp—may God continue to water the seeds of faith planted in their hearts! And may He continue to use these playgrounds to His glory for many years to come. We are so grateful for these dedicated, faithful teams from the US and Canada who served alongside our national staff members, local churches, and Next Generation leaders to share the love of Jesus with these children and families in desperate need of the Good News.

 

ShareWord Global Trip to Moldova

Sharing Bibles and copies of Hope magazine at a girl’s camp in Moldova

This July for the third year in a row, a team of Next Generation leaders from our dedicated, faithful ministry partner ShareWord Global in Canada traveled to Moldova to serve at summer Bible camp alongside our School Without Walls (SWW) students and graduates. ShareWord Global provides hundreds of thousands of copies of God’s Word for outreach in the countries of Eurasia, and on this trip the ShareWord Global team distributed Scripture, prayed and cared for the children at camp, and shared the love of Jesus with many young lives. Together with our SWW students and leaders, they impacted nearly 1,000 children and youth who came from some of the most vulnerable and challenging circumstances. It was such a blessing for us to see these young Christian leaders from Canada use their vacation for an eternal purpose: sharing the Good News with a hurting world!

At one of the camps, the team served a group of 100 at-risk girls, many of whom were orphans or affected by human trafficking, which is a major threat to vulnerable children and youth in Moldova. During camp, the ShareWord Global team and our SWW students shared their testimonies of faith and led the girls in Bible lessons, worship, fun games, and relay races. Each girl was also given her own copy of Hope magazine, a beautiful evangelistic resource we designed and printed in partnership with ShareWord Global.

The whole team was deeply touched by meeting these girls at camp. “I remember the girls’ eyes very clearly, because it looked like they were constantly searching for attention and care,” shared Nona, one of the members of the ShareWord Global team. “We could tell that they were hearing everything we taught from the Bible for the first time.”

 

Team members from ShareWord Global serving at summer Bible camp

One of the young girls at camp named Marina shared her story with the Bible camp leaders: “My father died when I was 4 years old, and after his death, my mother forgot about God and started drinking and smoking. This was very difficult, but I know that God helped me get through it. I’m so glad I could come to camp! I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible for me to receive God’s Word. I’m so happy to finally have my very own Bible to read!”  

Travel With Mission Eurasia

We would love to bring you or your church on a short-term mission trip with Mission Eurasia! This January, we are taking a team to Moldova to help distribute Gift of Hope Christmas boxes to children in orphanages, hospitals, schools, and more. Come enjoy fellowship with Christians from across the world and help us share the love of Jesus and the true message of Christmas with hundreds of children in need. You can learn more about the Moldova trip and other upcoming trips here.

2017 Next Generation Christian Leaders Scholarship Recipients

 

Mission Eurasia is proud to announce the selection of our 2017 Next Generation Christian Leaders Scholarship recipients! The Next Generation Christian Leaders Scholarship (NGCLS) is an annual scholarship awarded to full-time college undergraduates or high-school seniors planning to attend college. The scholarship is intended to encourage recipients to pursue ministry in Eurasia and develop innovative ministry initiatives in the region, and applicants must have experience with Slavic culture and speak Russian or Ukrainian at a conversational level.

This year Mission Eurasia will award a total of $32,500 in scholarships to seven recipients. The NGCLS has already had a positive impact on the academic studies and ministry initiatives of our past recipients. We are so excited to see how this year’s scholarship recipients use their talents, educations, and abilities to further God’s Kingdom in Eurasia and beyond.

These seven bright young men and women are each dedicated to Christ and His church and committed to a future of serving the people of Eurasia through practical, gospel-based ministry. We are pleased to introduce you to this year’s outstanding NGCLS recipients:

1. Joanna Bantseev—Joanna is a second-year NGCLS recipient currently majoring in nursing at Liberty University. Her family originally hails from Russia, where they were involved in ministry through their home church in Siberia. During school breaks, Joanna regularly returns to Russia, where she serves on both the youth leadership team and evangelism team at her home church. After her college graduation in 2020, Joanna plans to return to Russia and use her nursing degree at a local hospital to “help those who are broken and hopeless find hope through Jesus Christ.”

2. Lyubov Draga—Lyubov will attend Central Piedmont Community College in the fall as a freshman where she will major in music. She grew up in a Slavic family that has been extensively involved in ministry to the Slavic people. Lyubov has experience in missions to Ukraine and has worked with Ukrainian refugees in Italy. After graduation she would like to work with children in the Slavic Christian community using her music degree.

3. Aleksandr Glavnik—Aleksandr will be a junior this fall at Wheaton College, where he is majoring in computer science. He is a third-year NGCLS recipient. After graduation, Aleks plans to use his degree as a communication tool that can help spread the gospel effectively in the former Soviet Union/Eurasia. Click here to watch Aleks describe how the NGCLS has impacted his studies.

4. Emile Rose Petruk—Emile will be attending Moody Bible Institute in the fall where she is majoring in Bible and pre-counseling. She has been involved in evangelism to Russian-Jewish immigrants in her community, volunteered with Jews for Jesus in Israel, and traveled on mission trips to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. After she graduates in December 2018, Emile would like to use her counseling degree to help suffering people in Eurasia find healing and guidance.

5. Mark Kapran—Mark will be attending Temple University in the fall as a freshman majoring in biology. He is involved in a number of different ministries, including translating church services from Ukrainian and Russian to English at his home church. After he graduates in 2021, Mark hopes to attend medical school, eventually returning to Ukraine to help the country heal physically and spiritually.

6. Vitaly Sukhanov—Vitaly will be a junior this year at Wheaton College where he is majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry. He serves as one of the leaders at a local Russian church in Villa Park, IL, where he helps with youth ministry, teaching, and evangelism. After his undergraduate work, Vitaly hopes to attend medical school and become involved in medical missions in Eurasia.

7. Ashley Edwards—Ashley will return to Wheaton College as a senior this fall, where she has majored in philosophy and biblical studies and theology. She spent much of her childhood and youth in Russia and Ukraine with her missionary parents. As a result, she is fluent in Russian and comfortable with the Slavic culture. After graduation, she plans to return to Eurasia to write apologetic works in philosophy and theology while evangelizing the unreached and helping disciple new believers.

Congratulations to the 2017 Next Generation Christian Leaders Scholarship Recipients! May God continue to guide them and bless their lives and ministries.

Check out our interview with Aleksandr Glavnik about the NGCLS:

March 2017 Prayer Requests

Thank you for keeping our ministry in your prayers this month! 

1. Please pray for an upcoming three-day evangelistic event that Church Without Walls (CWW) in Pinsk, Belarus is hosting at a local university.

2. Praise God for 15,000 copies of the Gospel Without Borders New Testament that our School Without Walls (SWW) students in Russia recently received and are planning to distribute during their various ministry efforts!

3. Pray for God to be at work in Avdeyevka, Ukraine, where the recent escalation of violence has left thousands of people with limited access to food, water, heat, and electricity in the midst of freezing temperatures.

4. Pray for CWW in Pinsk and Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus, as they are still trying to register with the local authorities.

5. Please pray for our various ministry initiatives in Vladivostok, Russia, including a local youth center, outreach to students at local schools, summer Bible camps, and SWW.

6. Pray for our ministry efforts in Container Town, a very poor area in Armenia, where our SWW students are sharing the hope of the gospel with those in need.

7. Praise God for the Christian Education Resource Network, which Ray and Cindy, our missionary partners in Ukraine, are using to encourage and develop Christian education in the nation!

8. Please pray that God would provide for the various needs of God’s Family Church in Minsk, Belarus, including a new person to lead their youth ministry and a building in which they can hold services and conduct ministry.

9. Pray for our SWW coordinators in Russia’s North Caucasus as they find the balance between ministry work and family time.

10.  Pray for Venya, a pastor with Living Israel, our ministry partner in Israel, as he and his family feel called to move to the city of Beer Yaakov and plant the city’s first church.

11.  Please pray that Ukraine’s Minister of Education would implement much-needed education reforms that will benefit Christian schools in the nation. Several Christian school directors have been invited to participate in government-level discussions about this very topic, which is very exciting!

12.  Pray that the young people who participated in recent evangelistic events in Kazakhstan would continue to pursue the Lord.

13.  Praise God for a group of young people from Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus who will be participating in a short-term mission trip to Kenya!

14.  Pray for our ministry team in Vladivostok, Russia to continue growing their relationships with unreached people through our Grace Café and other ministry initiatives.

15.  Please pray for three upcoming SWW sessions in Khovd, Ulangom, and Ulistai, Mongolia.

16.  Pray for Alex, our international director for SWW, and Denis, our director of NGPLI, as they travel to Uzbekistan for a roundtable event for young Christian professionals.

17.  Pray for our international SWW coordinators as they participate in a ministry-planning meeting on March 17-18 in Irpin, Ukraine.

18.  Pray for an English as a Second Language program that CWW in Pinsk, Belarus is using to share the gospel with non-Christians.

19.  Please pray for upcoming Next Generation Professional Leaders Initiative (NGPLI) events that we will be hosting in Russia.

20.  Pray for several of our ministry leaders in Armenia who are also serving in their churches and pursuing advanced degrees.

21.  Praise God for our ministry team in Russia’s North Caucasus as they expand our SWW program and form new partnerships with local schools!

22.  Pray for Christian teachers in Ukraine who will be completing the third session of a four-part Christian Education Resource Network training program in late March.

23.  Please pray for the leaders of Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus as they continue planning new ministry initiatives, while also supporting their congregation.

24.  Pray for two upcoming NGPLI events in Tajikistan that will help young Christian professionals learn about sharing the gospel with Muslims.

25.  Pray for our ministry team in Russia’s North Caucasus as they continue sharing the gospel with the unreached, despite the challenges they face.

26.  Pray that our SWW students from Armenia would be able to reschedule their trip to Georgia, where they hope to conduct musical outreach, after having to cancel their original trip.

27.  Praise God for a new church that is being planted in the village of Ardon in North Ossetia, Russia!

28.  Please pray for SWW students in Kazakhstan who are working with the deaf community, as they are experiencing challenges with local police.

29.  Pray for Hafis, one of our SWW coordinators in Russia’s North Caucasus, as he is trying to register his home church with the local authorities.

30.  Pray for Christian schools and teachers in Russia who are facing challenges due to the anti-missionary laws that were passed in July.

31.  Please continue praying for our “I Care” Refugee Assistance Program in Ukraine, where millions of people are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.

Olenka’s Testimony: Serving Orphans in Ukraine

Olenka graduated from School Without Walls (SWW) in Rovno, Ukraine in 2009 and is now using what she learned as a SWW student to minister to orphans through an organization called Circle of Friends. She organizes a team of 100 volunteers from around Ukraine to reach 1,000 orphans on a monthly basis.

“SWW had a big impact on me as a young Christian,” shares Olenka. “It was SWW that made me want to get involved in ministry to orphans. Without SWW, my life path would look completely different.”

Olenka and her team visit orphanages in the Kiev area on a weekly basis and travel to orphanages all over Ukraine 3-4 times a month. “For me, it’s important to build long-term relationships with the children. Continuity and consistency are important to me in my ministry. You can’t expect to make a difference in the life of a child you only see once or twice a year. My goal is to become family to them. We fight to find a place in their lives and hearts.”

Circle of Friends also helps provide medical care for orphans, find adoptive families, and assist orphanage graduates in applying to college and in finding jobs. Orphanage directors and staff are also extremely grateful for the help they offer.

This ministry has started to show long-term results. Andrei grew up in an orphanage, and he came to Christ thanks to the influence of young Next Generation Christian leaders who regularly visited him and the other children. Now he is 26 years old, and he is active in ministry to the homeless.

“My personal mission is to help orphans discover their God-given potential,” shares Olenka. “With each visit, we tell the kids that God made them special and has a calling for each of them. The Great Commission is my greatest motivation to serve, and I see my work with orphans as a fulfillment of it.”

If you would like to help train and equip other enthusiastic young Next Generation Christian leaders like Olenka to transform their communities throughout Eurasia, you can give online to School Without Walls here: