Although Ukraine has a long history of Christianity, 70 years of Soviet atheism and the recent influence of post-Christian Europe have made it a country with an interesting mix of spiritual interests.
Many grandmothers here still hold to the traditional Christian faith—often visiting the Orthodox church services with its candles, painted icons of the saints and sing-song liturgy in an old form of Russian.
Many middle-aged people, meanwhile, remember their scientific Soviet education and don’t put much stock in the teaching about a Creator.
But many young people have spiritual interest—some lightly holding to the traditional Christian faith, while others are trying out Eastern religious practices in search of deeper spiritual meaning or seeking an identity in an ancient pagan religion from Ukraine’s past.
This is where OMS has been led to invest its efforts in evangelism and church planting among the more spiritually open young people.
The OMS team in Kyiv (Kiev) has been working among university students and young adults, seeking to make disciples who want to gather in small groups called Life Groups and to reach out to friends and family with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It’s an exciting adventure, and it’s been a joy to see God raise up young leaders called Encouragers, who have taken responsibility to lead Life Groups, to share with their friends about Jesus, and to help organize special outreach events at Christmas and Easter.
But the biggest evangelistic event of the year is our English camp ministry. We recruit teams of native English speakers from North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand to help lead the camps. And then we invite pre-Christian, but English-speaking, Ukrainian university students to participate.
Camps are a great way to see God work through ordinary Christian people who come together to just show the love of God.
We’ve had farmers, cell phone store managers, school teachers, small business owners, pastors, university students, architects, veterinarians and many others participate as teachers in our camps each summer, and God has used them powerfully.
They didn’t have to speak Russian or Ukrainian. They didn’t have to be theologically trained experts. They didn’t even have to know the ins and outs of English grammar. They just needed to be in love with Jesus and willing to let him love Ukrainians through them.
And he does. One of the most common student responses we get at the end of our camps is how much the Ukrainian students loved the atmosphere of the camp.
“I loved the busy schedule and the great atmosphere of cheer and faith,” wrote 17-year-old Sasha at the end of the 2014 camp. “I loved everything, but maybe 10 days isn’t enough!”
Lola, also 17, agreed. “Our sincere talks with some people were better than anything. I felt a lot of pain inside, but such amazing people here helped me to overcome all the bad feelings inside of me.”
On the last night of one recent camp, one girl stood up at the final banquet and said that she came to camp empty in her soul, but she said her time at camp had changed her. She said Jesus had filled her heart, and she was going away full.
But Ukrainians aren’t the only ones who are changed—so are the native speakers who come to help lead the camp.
“This was an amazing experience, and it helped me grow closer to God as well as to make many new friends,” wrote a bank teller from southwestern Nebraska.
“It’s an awesome way to minister to others!” wrote a university student from Pennsylvania.
“I learned a lot from the entire experience, and my faith has definitely grown as a result of the camp,” wrote a businesswoman from New Zealand. “This is one of the best (if not the best) camp I have been to.”
We have a few spots for women left at our two camps this summer if you would be interested in joining. Or you could start planning for next summer. It’s a great opportunity to stretch yourself and to grow in your relationship with God. Not to mention that it’s a lot of fun!
And if you can’t come to the camp, don’t worry. You can pray. We need more prayer warriors for Ukraine and financial gifts for the camper scholarship are always welcome.
By Randy Marshall, OMS missionary in Ukraine