Due to events of late: the invasion of Ukraine by Russian Separatists Rebels, and the downing of the Malaysian transport plane, Ukraine has been on everybody's mind. The news media had been totally focused on the country since the shooting down of the transport plane and the killing of nearly 300 innocent, unsuspecting people. A horrible tragedy!
There is so much being said people grow weary hearing it. Especially because of the speculation and sensationalism involved in some of the reports. One doesn't know what to believe. We don't want to further trouble you with repeated phrases and speculation, but we do have some recent news which comes from sources other than the news media.
I have a couple of personal friends who have been missionaries in Russia and in Ukraine for a number of years, Tim Johnson and Grady Brian. And I recently had the opportunity to visit with a man whose organization is involved in distributing Bibles to schools and individuals in Ukraine.
This gives me a different perspective on what is happening. I hadn't heard any news from my friends for several years. Grady left Texas in 1992, soon after he graduated from college and traveled to Sumy, Ukraine. After a few years in the mission field he married a girl from Kiev and they did mission work in this area for a number of years. They have four children who have spent most of their life in Ukraine. They are currently at his parent's home in Norton. They have plans to go back to Ukraine in a few weeks.
They are aware of the imminent dangers as a result of the unrest, but so far have been spared injury.
Tim Johnson began traveling to this area in 1990. He moved to and lived in Kiev for some years but is now back in the United States to stay. He still goes to Ukraine a couple or more times a year to check on and evaluate the needs of the work.
Obviously my concern is for my friends, and the safety of the many other Christians and Christian missionaries who are over there during this troublesome time. My concern is for their personal safety and also for the Christian mission work being shut down.
A few days ago we had an opportunity to visit with Ben Mereness, the Regional Development Officer out of Amarillo for a group called Eastern European Mission, (EEM), who are headquartered in Dallas. Their main concern is distributing Bibles free of charge to schools and universities in Ukraine.
This effort began over 50 years ago, and for many years was involved mainly in smuggling Bibles into Russia. But as the political climate in Russia changed, this area, including Russia and Ukraine, became more receptive to missionaries and to receiving Bibles. As one lady put it, "We have been smothered by atheism for 70 years and it is wonderful to be free.
EEM is one of the mission efforts the Westside church of Christ helps to support.
This group has been involved in providing free Bibles to the people in their native language, and then the schools began asking for Bibles. There has been considerable consern for the safety of the workers who are coming and going or living over there. The Program Director Darryl Willis wrote the following note: "For those of you who have been wondering about the Malaysian Airline which was evidently shot down and crashed over Ukraine. This took place in the East near the Russian border. Our teams are in the far west and none of us will be flying over that region upon our return. The civilian airspace has been limited in the Donetsk region as it was. I am not certain about all the details or who is responsible.
"I just wanted to give everyone a heads up that the teams are OK and while everyone should be affected by the tragedy itself, our teams are NOT in harms way or having any difficulties as a result of this sad situation. Physically we are far removed from this region." Willis asks for prayers for those who have been directly affected, and prayers for Ukraine and for peace.
The Johnson's and Brian's are not directly connected with EEM, although Johnson has worked closely with them at times. All of these families have ministered in Kiev which has been a trouble spot, but Mereness reported it has seemed to have settled down of late. We trust these families will be OK.
I don't want to bore you with a lot of statistics, but something worthy of notice is going on at this very moment. Because of the work of EEM, nearly 14,000 schools and 3,000,000 students can study the Bible, every day, in their schools. Since 1998, EEM has been putting Bibles and biblical literature in public schools in both Russia and Ukraine.
From 1998 to 2010 they put Bibles in 7,250 schools which will be available to 1,511,000 students in Russia.
From 2008 to 2013, they placed Bibles in 5,624 schools, available to 1,279,000 students in Ukraine. They also placed Bibles in 507 libraries where the kids can check them out and take them home for mom and dad to read.
Now, in 2014, in the midst of the turmoil of the rebellion, EEM placed 507 Bibles in schools in Kerson in reach of 102,000 students.
They were asked for and sent Bibles to 27 Universities, which will be in reach of 24,000 college students.
They sent Bibles to 630 schools in Zaporizhzhya, for 64,000 students and 940 schools in Ternopil for 151,000 students.
In spite of the rebellion, the killings and plane crashes, people are still asking for and receiving Bibles.
As an example EEM reported recently the "Lipovetsky Kolegium" school, located in the town of Lipovets of the Vinnitsa region, requested Bibles and Biblical Literature for their 315 students. They asked for more than 1,000 books, EEM was glad to report they fulfilled their request. The school plans to use the Bibles and Biblical Literature as follows:
* Every teacher and staff member will receive a copy of each book to encourage them to know the Bible.
*40 copies of each title will be used for the Christian Ethics classes (these copies will be kept in the school). Did you catch what this means?---- Christian Ethics will be taught in schools in a former communist country.
*105 students from grades 1 through 4 will receive a copy of the Children's
* 210 students from grades 5 and above will receive a copy of the teen's Bible.
Lipovetsky Kolegium sent an official request letter a portion of which is translated here. "...Since September 2012 "Foundations of Christian Ethics" has been taught to students of grade 1 through 11. We have a program for teaching the subject to grade of 1 to 11, but we are provided with the courseware only partially. Namely, we have a small number of textbooks for grades 1 through 5. While preparing for lessons on Christian Ethics, other teachers use the textbook "The Law of God...." EEM was thankful to supply their need for Bibles.
EEM Director Darryl Willis pointed out, "We did not create this opportunity. It was clearly God's hand that opened the door. It is essential for our efforts to be bathed in prayer and in God's word. If we are going to teach, live and distribute the word of God, we need to be immersed in it as well."
It was pointed out in their brochure, in many cases, the Bible and Biblical Ethics are being taught in the same schools where Communism was formerly taught. How I wish these subjects could be taught in our schools in America, today.
Ukraine is a dangerous place, no doubt. The June issue of Gospel Tidings on page 8 has a picture of Children and staff of a Christian Children's Center which is run by a church in Slavyansk.
The night after the children were evacuated, the building of the Children's Center was strafed and bombed with mortar fire.
The missionaries and missions are bracing to help these children and the many exiles who are streaming from the eastern section from where most of the trouble is coming, to the less troubled western section.
Pray that EEM and other efforts to spread the word of God to weary and troubled country will be successful, and the people will find peace.
If you wish to hear more about this, you can call Leo Copeland at 432-758-5731.