by Steve Hale
The travel on this trip was about as efficient as possible. The roughest travel was between Nashville and Atlanta. We were able to check our luggage all the way through both directions. We were able to get straight to Krasnoarmeysk and save three days travel (via Kiev). On previous trips (prior to last year), we had to travel through the capital. Reguired were: (1) 1 1/2 days to get in and out of the city; (2) $600 in and out fee; (3) $200+ for the shuttle flight on an Air Ukraine “cropduster” to Donetsk.
Instead of Kiev, we took an Austrian Air flight out of Vienna to Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. This was much better stewardship of time and money. Daniel Baucom and Charles Hughes lost luggage when we arrived, but Austrian Air found it, and delivered it to the hotel in Krasnoarmeysk! From Dnepropetrovsk, it is only about a three hour van ride to Krasnoarmeysk.
Almost a crushing blow even before left was the fact that we were issued business visas instead of religious visas. But, for whatever reasons, we had positively no trouble from the government this time. Last year, they sat on us the whole trip. This time, they were probably the most helpful ally we had.
A new mayor (Nicolai Petrovich) took over in March, the former vice-mayor. He’s a very good and decent man, and used his office to help us all he could. He assigned the Deputy Mayor as our official liaison. The Juvenile Officer was assigned as our escort and legal protector. Many advertising and speaking opportunities were afforded us.
My guess is that because the Minister of Religion in Donetsk has signed-off on our trip, the government considered all our enterprise absolutely legitimate. The mayor certainly did more than his part to give us a hospitable and eventful visit.
The Mayor’s Schedule
Monday, April 20, 1998
Today, Katie Vandever and I went to School #2, and spoke to a wonderful class of first graders. They invited Katie back to teach them the Bible the next day, which she did.
This class is called the Class of Joy. The teacher is remarkably sharp, and the children well-disciplined. Here, these young people are taught English as a second language.
The rest of our group went to the city’s museum. They had a T.V. interview, and were treated like royalty. A framed certificate I presented to the mayor was added to the museum.
Tuesday, April 21, 1998
Today, our group went to the School of Music. Being sick with a fever, I asked Wilburn Baucom to speak here, and he did a wonderful job. We answered a wide range of questions, primarily dealing with the differences between us and the Russian Orthodox Church. Other questions had to do about the culture in America, and business. As at all other times, we took this opportunity to invite everyone to our afternoon lectures.
Wednesday, April 22, 1998
Our first visit today was spectacular! 300-400 people were gathered into the auditorium at the Regional Nursing Home. I spoke about “Who Is Jesus,” and the message was well received. The head of this enormous complex (with 660 residents) invited us to start a worship service here. Roman is going to get that organized.
This is one of only two such nursing homes in the Donetsk Oblast. The other one is in the provincial capital of Donetsk. The Director, a very impressive woman and authoritative woman, was justifiably proud of the work done here by her staff. With very humble means, the home was clean, and the residents seemed to be happy and content. The residents here hold wonderful potential, because most of them are cogent and anxious to learn about the Lord.
At 2:00, we went to School #12. We have studied extensively with two of the prominent teachers at this school, Irene and Natasha, but have yet to convert them. They asked us to come and participate in their anti-drug seminar. The seminar was well prepared, and done completely in English. We were asked to comment about their fight against drug and alcohol abuse, which we gladly did. Wilburn, a former addict now gospel preacher, gave a gripping account of how Christ turned his life around. It was wonderfully received. After the program, the staff had a splendid tea prepared for us.
Thursday, April 23, 1998
Today, we were to go to a coal mine and preach, but the coalminer’s strike stopped this. Instead, we went to an orphanage. This was a heart-rending experience. Brethren, these poor children have nothing! Few things have moved me like seeing their tired, suspicious little eyes watching our every move. There are 225,000 orphans in the Dunbass Oblast, and only 10,000 are in homes like this. The rest are street children.
Our group gave $1000 to help these orphans. The money went through the mayor to insure every penny would go to the children. Saturday morning, the Deputy Mayor and the Juvenile Officer met with me, and gave me a detailed list of where the money would go. Further, receipts would be brought to the Deputy Mayor to insure the money was not mis-managed. I was very impressed with how quickly the mayor moved, and to the lengths he went to insure the money was wisely used.
At 2:00 P.M., the Narcological Hospital had a competition at the House of Culture. A packed auditorium (700-800) had people standing in the aisles. School #12 won the competition, which was skits, plays, and debates on avoiding drugs. At the end, I presented about 6000 syringes we brought the hospital in the fight against drug abuse. Of course, I also invited everyone to our lectures.
Friday, April 24, 1998
At 10:00, we went to the House of the Pioneers. Something like our Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America, these young people are taught various crafts and outdoor skills. Following our visit, we were once again treated to a fine Ukrainian Tea.
At 3:00 P.M., we went to the Mayor’s Office for a final presentation. The Mayor gave us gifts and his personal thanks for our visit and mission. This was followed by another Tea.
It was here we presented the Mayor with $1000 for the orphans. He was very moved by this.
The Mayor opened unbelievable doors for us, both in the community, and on T.V. He was our best helper during the campaign.
The Church And The Campaign
The campaign was very difficult. In spite of the fact that we had no interference from the government, attendance was humble. We averaged maybe 30 a night for the lectures. When compared to two years ago, attendance was as high as 200. Why?
I don’t know. The campaign was well advertised all over town on information boards, and on T.V. We were on the news every night of the week, thanks to the Mayor’s many kindnesses. We were in the community working constantly, thanks to the Mayor’s extensive schedule.
The church at Krasnoarmeysk has had more than 50 baptisms through the years (21 in ’94, 25 in ’96, 3 in ’97, 2 in ’98, and a number locally via Val Chrenchenko, Vitaly Schebina, and Roman Ledyayev). About 20 are meeting regularly, and this was strengthened by our presence and teaching. All of us worked hard, but the brutal truth is that interest was way down from previous years.
Our team was very good. Joyce Anderson was her usual perky “can do” self, and did a beautiful job teaching the ladies. She was a wonderful influence on her interpreter, Natalie. Katie Vandever taught many children, and had some straight talks with the ladies in the congregation about bringing their friends to Christ. Katie’s interpreter was Helen, the secretary at the School at Gorlovka. Helen is a tremendous worker in the church, and an outstanding intepreter.
Charles Hughes worked very hard, and he and Victor (the preacher at Gorlovka) were a particularly effective evangelistic team. Daniel Baucom quietly worked with Denis (his interpreter), and was particularly good with young people. Wilburn Baucom is just outstanding at this work. Roman, our young preacher at Krasnoarmeysk, served as his interpreter. Wilburn is a very talented and compassionate man. He was just a great blessing.
Vito (Vitaly Schebina) served as my interpreter. We had some good Bible studies, but certainly not at the pace we’ve had in the past. Vito’s searching for his future, and we got to spend some quality time together.
A number of people, like Nina and Oleg (baptized in ’94) were strengthened and brought back to the church. Their son, Sasha, was baptized into Christ by Roman. Also baptized into Christ was Era, a young teenager taught the gospel by Charles Hughes. Charles baptized her into Christ.
We found some possible properties to purchase, but were warned by Victor, the preacher in Gorlovka, that the authorities would up utilities to an almost unbearable amount. The reason, according to the authorities, is that if the church can afford to buy a property, it can afford the other increased costs of business.
To our surprise, the church did not really want property. They felt it was too much of a responsibility at this juncture.
Given this, we paid rent for a year (through May of 1999), and Roman’s salary (through December of the year). The church here at Mt. Juliet had been so generous with “walking around money,” I was able to do this without touching the monies allocated to buy property. All of this was returned to the “one time” budget of the mission committee ($3000).
Two were baptized into Christ, and at least two more restored. In addition, about six others are very close to obeying the gospel. Much good seed was planted and cultivated. A wonderful relationship is certainly ongoing with the city of Krasnoarmeysk. Our team met every obstacle with optimism and perseverance. I was sick with a fever for two days, but our team did not even slow down. I’m tremendously proud of them, and their determination. I’d gladly return with any of them anytime, anyplace for another effort like this one.
I told city officials, brethren, and our team that I would not be returning to Krasnoarmeysk next year. I’ve promised my family a year’s reprieve from going overseas. Instead, we hope to participate in a stateside mission together as a family in 1999.
The church at Krasnoarmeysk has now had four trips made to it with the gospel. We have in place a fine young preacher, and have helped them with his pay, the rent, and a standing benevolent fund ($550). We’ve taught fundamentals about the church to the ladies and the men. In my opinion, the time has come to see what the church can do on her own for awhile. Unless the church has an interest in reaching-out herself, a thousand such trips would do little good.
I would like to ask the elders and the missions committee to leave the monies left in the Russian Fund alone, and roll the leftover amount into our budget for next year. This should be adequate for the church in Krasnoarmeysk for 1999.