On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, my roommate and I hopped on the train to visit the nearby (3 hours) city of Vinnytsia. Vinnytsia is a city of about 369,200, which is comparable to the population of Colorado Springs or St. Louis, Missouri, or half that of Boston (approximately). Imagine living in Chicago, a large-populous-smelly-dirty city, for three months, then visiting a city like St. Louis, though I have never been there. This is what it was like for us. We went from the capital city of Kyiv to a city approximately seven and a half times SMALLER....and we enjoyed our trip!
|The red dot is Vinnytsia, and the pink region is the Vinnytsia oblast. Kyiv is located along the Dnieper river--look for the smallest sections on this map!|
If you’ve ever heard any missionary stories about the work of the Church of the Nazarene in Ukraine, you probably have heard of Vinnytsia and Pastor Roma. The Vinnytsia church has planted many daughter churches within the local oblast (state/county area), as well as many drug/alcohol rehab centers. Pastor Roma, along with Vitalik (whom I will mention in a moment), are former addicts who have found new life in Christ.
We spent the weekend with Natasha T, a student at the local Teacher’s Training College, who gave us a tour of the city, translated for us, and helped us navigate public transport. On Saturday morning, while the weather was still somewhat nice, we walked past an Orthodox church AND a Catholic one, through a mall, and then arrived at Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square). Kiev also has a Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where the Orange Revolution occurred a few years ago, but this one consisted of a lovely park, water/clock tower, and a WWII memorial. We also noted how nicer the city seemed--no rattletrap tramvai (streetcars), not many street dogs, not as much pollution, and not as much second-hand smoke!
|Natasha and I at lunch on Sunday|
In the afternoon, we traveled to the village of Selische, where we visited the House of James. Vitalik and his wife Natasha are house parents to 9 kids who were formerly street children or whose parents are unable to care for them. We played with the kids, got a tour of the house (my second or third, but Amy’s first), had lunch with the family, and then enjoyed conversation with Vitalik and Natasha. As a younger man living in Kiev, he was an alcoholic, and actually stole $1,000 from some former missionaries. Today, he is house father to nine, and pastor of the Selische Church of the Nazarene. What an amazing change Christ has made in the life of Vitalik in the past decade or so, and through Vitalik to the children in this house!
|Vitalik, Natasha, roommate Amy, and I at HOJ|
While in Selische, we also visited the men’s and women’s rehab centers. A few of the men had only been at the center for one or two months, but already they recognized that true, lasting change is only possible with Christ’s help—not a vaguely-described Higher Power. On Sunday at church in Vinnytsia, a handful of the church members shared how God has worked in their lives. A few of them were graduates of the rehab centers—they were very honest about this fact and did not try to hide their past struggles from their church family. How often do we hide our struggles from our church family, having selective amnesia about our struggles before we allowed Christ to triumph over the sin and darkness in our lives?
Read more about House of James 1 & 2 at http://houseofjames.org/.