Seeing a life change right in front of us
By Lidiya Tokarets
Last summer I went to Portugal and Greece for three weeks on a short-term mission trip. Slavik Gladysh (Fresno Pacific University staff member) led our group of 12 people. Before we left, we went through some training sessions with Mark Thompson, the short-term missions coordinator of MB Mission. These sessions helped us to prepare for all types of situations we might have and also united us and brought us closer together as a group.
In Athens, Greece, we did a lot of evangelism out on the streets, inviting others to the local church and talking to many different kinds of people. Some did not want to talk, but there were many who were very interested in what we had to say and asked questions. It was amazing when we actually saw a change in a person right in front of us.
I remember a specific instance in which this happened. We walked up to a group of ladies and just casually began talking. As soon as Christ was brought up, one of the women didn’t want to hear about it and encouraged her friends to leave since we were going to talk about religion. She tried to convince them that we had nothing important to say, even though some of the ladies wanted to hear us out. Being outnumbered, she was forced to stay and listen.
After a long conversation and prayer for the women, it was this very same lady that thanked us for talking to them and praying. It was a real eye-opener for me to see God work in such a mysterious way. This was the very same lady that tried to pull her friends away from us. But it turned out that she was the one that was changed and saw Christ in a new light.
It felt like a typical visit and yet through it, God was able to open up her heart to hearing more about him. God can use something as simple as a conversation with another to bring someone closer to him. This experience made me realize the importance of encouraging one another, praying with one another and just engaging in conversation about spiritual life with others.
Those three weeks in July were a time of great learning experiences and a lot of spiritual growth. It truly was a blessing to have the ability to be able to share God with people halfway across the world. God opened my eyes and showed me what it means to be a servant, to follow him and to trust in him completely. One of the biggest things I learned was that there is a great need for evangelism everywhere, including our own country. It is important to be a servant and bring others to Christ, not just overseas but in our own local community as well. We need to view our very own neighborhood, school and workplace as a mission field and get involved in sharing Christ with those around us.
Lidiya Tokarets is a student at Fresno Pacific University and attends House of the Gospel, an MB church in Fresno, Calif. Slavik Gladysh, who is the mission department director at Pacific Coast Baptist Association, organized the summer trip to visit Slavic churches in Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece. Europe is home to more than 5 million Ukrainian, Moldovan and Russian immigrants and less than 1 percent of these people are Christians.
More About Reaching Europe Through Slavic Immigrants
U.S. Slavic leader shares ministry vision
By Slavik Gladysh
This summer a group of 12 people—mainly from Fresno, Calif., but some from Slavic Christian Center in Tacoma, Wash., and Los Angeles— visited Slavic churches in four European countries: Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece.Europe is a temporary and permanent home to more than 5,000,000 Ukrainian, Moldovan and Russian immigrants. Less than 1 percent of these people are believers; most are Orthodox or atheist.
These people come to the European countries most often for jobs and in hope of making better money only to be disappointed by the high living costs and low wages. Many young women are brought to work as prostitutes. They come without families and without friends. Many end up living like homeless people under bridges and in abandoned buildings. Eventually, they find fellow countrymen and become friends. Consequently, these people gather in certain spots to chill, hang out and share stories.
Our group went with the goal of meeting local churches and their leaders, to encourage them and to help them invite people. To our surprise we observed that there are only a very few Russian-speaking congregations currently in Europe. They are young, small and not very strong. The leadership often is inexperienced and untrained. Some pastors are new believers who accepted Christ as their Lord just a few years ago. It is difficult for these churches to accomplish the big task of reaching so many Russians in Western Europe.
My goal as mission department director is to spread the vision for our U.S. Slavic churches to do ministry. In order to reach this mass of Russian/Ukrainian-speaking immigrants, a network of Russian/Ukrainian-speaking mission-oriented congregations should be planted in carefully identified strategic areas of Western Europe.
Every city with a significant number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union should have a Russian/Ukrainian-speaking congregation. These churches should be united by a common vision for the evangelism of Russian/Ukrainian-speaking people as well as the native people of the country. These new churches should be connected to each other in order to provide support and encouragement.
We had many opportunities to go out on the streets and share with Russian-speaking people about God and Christ. Many of these people were open to conversations and willing to listen. At the end of our conversations we would invite them to the local Russian/Ukrainian church.
Opportunities for Missions
Evangelism: Local church leaders do not have enough time to go out and evangelize on constant basis due to lack of time because they have to work.Any short- or long-term support of the local leaders is welcomed. Once these church pastors and leaders have only just a few more hours a day they will have a better opportunity to go out and evangelize people.
Mission Groups: Groups can also minister in camps for children, music and leadership development. Programs should minister to church members as well as newcomers. Most people in these churches are new believers and can learn about Christian life and beliefs.
Group size matters a lot because locals do not have space to accommodate big groups in homes. Bigger groups will need to consider some other accommodations: hotels, seminaries, etc. Anyone going must rely on self-support or cover own expenses. We estimate trips to cost $2,600 per person. Locals have a tough time supporting themselves, and they will not always be able to take in someone into their homes, feed them and arrange transportation.
- Music: A few congregations expressed a willingness to accept some sort of a music group who would have an evangelistic approach. They mentioned renting some sort of a hall and inviting Russian-speaking crowds.
- Camps for kids: Many of these churches have no experience organizing a kids’ camp of any kind; they need special help with programs.
- Leadership Training: Because many of the believers in these churches are new, they do not understand many truths that we have a good knowledge of.
Slavic people in these countries are open to listening. Their hearts are prepared to hear the good news. However, not only Slavic people need to hear this good news. Europe today is a story of the “Prodigal Son” who hasn’t returned—yet. Walking the streets of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece, we saw very few evangelical churches. Europe, at one time a center for the spreading of the good news, is in needing of hearing the Gospel themselves. Today God has given us this opportunity to preach to Europeans through Slavic people.
Slavik Gladysh served for five years as the mission department director at House of Gospel Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Fresno, Calif. He is currently director of the mission department at Pacific Coast Slavic Baptist Association and also works as a financial aid counselor at Fresno Pacific University.