By Alfie and Julie Mossé in Odessa, Ukraine
“Watch! I’m about to carry out something new! And now it’s springing up — don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the wilderness and paths in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 (International Standard Version)
We’d spent about a decade in Ukraine teaching in classroom settings when a former seminary student and good friend, Andrei Polyulax, came to us with a request. He had moved back to the south side of Odessa, near Victory Park, and he wanted to plant a church in that area. He already had the beginnings of a team and asked if we would help.
Andrei wanted to start a church in a rather unconventional way for this culture. He envisioned a place where unbelievers felt comfortable, loved and willing to be vulnerable – a less formal, more relational church plant where believers would meet unbelievers in their world and the gospel could be given as a gift of love in relationship. We also had a huge desire to see this sort of Christian community fostered, so we committed ourselves to work with Andrei in the neighborhood where he grew up.
The Victory Park neighborhood contains an interesting mix of universities, growing businesses, new apartment buildings and cafés. There are lots of students and young professionals in this neighborhood, along with elderly people and families. Our familiar part of Odessa seemed positively small town compared with the hum of constant activity in this more cosmopolitan part of the city.
We decided that the best way to meet new people in this community would be through an English club at one of the local universities. At one point, we had students from Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Chad and East Asia. We also started a Russian club and weekly fellowship times called “Matthew Parties.”
The political unrest that started in late 2013 opened the door to many spiritual conversations. We talked about hope in Jesus as opposed to hope in government. We talked about stability through salvation in Christ as opposed to making a heaven on earth.
We are privileged to serve with a team of people who want to love Jesus with all their hearts, are committed to bringing the kingdom of Heaven to every possible person and seek to be dependent on the Spirit to do this work.
But it is tough at times. So far, we have many people seeking to know more about Jesus, asking questions and becoming our friends. But to date only one has trusted Christ as Savior through this ministry. She is a young doctor with a husband and little daughter. Please pray for her. She is full of newfound joy in Christ and has a thirst to become more grounded in the Word. She also has a vision to reach out to her patients and her family.
Residents of Andrei’s neighborhood face overwhelming uncertainty in life — lack of employment, difficulties in marriage and family, health problems, as well as the dragging war in the eastern part of the country that has brought a flood of refugees to Odessa and has taken the lives of thousands of young people.
So people come. Students, computer programmers, biologists, managers, lawyers, tour guides and translators — they all come to learn English and more about God. They come to form friendships. Some come to find family.
We have something for them almost every day of the week. In addition to English classes, our team conducts a Bible study in English and Russian, where, currently, we are team-teaching through the Gospel of Luke. Usually about half who attend are not yet believers, but come with plenty of questions, and often hearts heavy with the difficulties of life. We sing, pray, listen and discuss together. We share the Gospel often. We sense that people are more open, but we are waiting for and asking the Lord to bring them into the Kingdom.
Sometimes this kind of outreach seems painstakingly slow, with little result that we can measure. It does feel like wandering through the wilderness or persevering through the dry land of a desert. We are all truly thirsting to see people trust Christ and experience forgiveness, freedom and healing.
Even in this time of waiting, every week, without fail, we are encouraged by our friends who come, who ask so many questions, who welcome our prayer for them. We believe we have created a place, as Andrei envisioned, where they feel comfortable, loved and willing to be vulnerable. These snippets show us so:
“English club is a safe place for me. I feel accepted here.”
After discussing Jesus casting a demon out of a boy, we asked the group if they believed it was real history. One of our advanced students said, “It could be. I’m not sure. I’m a lawyer and I think I don’t have enough information. I think I should maybe investigate this some more.” Another time, he wrote: “With you, my understanding and meaning of Jesus become deep and wide!”
A discussion question was, “Do you believe that Jesus did all that was necessary to reconcile you to God?”
“I want to believe,” one woman answered.
“What is stopping you?”
She said that she was not sure, maybe her upbringing or her background.
“I now know that I am a sinner and I need a Savior,” one man said. “But, I don’t think I can love my enemies. Please be patient with me.”
And so we have a primary prayer. It is that God will call people in Odessa’s Victory Park region to Himself, that He will do a new thing in each of their lives, and make a way in the wilderness to establish a growing, disciple-making community in Christ whose goal is to proclaim Him and present every person mature in Christ — an oasis of His beauty on the road that leads to life.
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