Youths complete mission to Ukraine


July 31, 1993|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,Staff Writer

They traveled more than 5,000 miles to the Ukraine to teach others about Jesus, and they returned home counting their blessings.

"I didn't think we would get anything from them, but they showed me what being a servant for God really means -- being thankful and more appreciative for everything you have," said Lisa Gootee, 16, of Parkville.

She was one of 11 teen-agers and four adults from the interdenominational Rock Church on Cromwell Bridge Road who preached Christianity for two weeks in Kiev, the capital of the former Soviet republic.

"The whole trip was life-changing," said Nick Chaillou, 15, of Stoneleigh. "When I got back, I looked around my room and realized that Ukrainians don't have everything I have. I won't complain about mowing the lawn or cleaning the bathroom anymore."

The Towson mission team joined more than 60 other teen-agers and adults from 14 Rock Churches along the East Coast in Kiev from June 21 to July 2. In groups of 10, the evangelists performed pantomime dramas, sang, passed out literature and counseled Ukrainians.

"Our theme in all of the presentations was that happiness and fulfillment isn't in money, democracy, alcohol or smoking, but in a living relationship with Jesus Christ," said youth Pastor J. P. Wilson.

Dressed in costumes, teams went to different parts of Kiev, set up their sound equipment on street corners and performed their 20-minute dramas. In one of the dramas, Jesus and the devil are in a boxing match. The devil knocks Jesus down, but Jesus rises up again and starts to fight back. The drama symbolized the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, Mr. Wilson said.

With translators, symbols and hand gestures all helping, the language barriers seemed to vanish when the young Americans talked with young Ukrainians.

"I didn't have any problems communicating with the kids," Ms. Gootee said. "Our actions spoke louder than any words we could have said. They watched our skits and learned. We grew like a family and we all cried when we left."

After the first day of evangelizing in the streets of Kiev, the group found Ukrainians receptive to their messages.

"Here, in the United States, people look at you and then keep on walking, but there, I thought I was going to be mobbed handing out Bibles. Young and old people gathered in crowds to hear our message," said Melissa Wilson, 23.

A mission team last year established one Rock Church in Kiev, a city of 2.8 million. This year's group helped establish four more interdenominational churches during its two-week stay.

Seventy-six percent of Ukraine's 52 million people are Orthodox, while 13.5 percent are Ukrainian Catholic, 2.3 percent are Jewish and 8.2 percent are Muslim or Protestant.

"Whatever their religion, Ukrainians were overwhelmed and excited to hear us preaching," Pastor Wilson said. "They are open to anything right now because they haven't had any religious options before."

Ms. Gootee said she was impressed with how willing the Ukrainians were to contribute money to the church: "They gave everything they had to the church, even though they had nothing."

In February the Baltimore mission team collected and sent to Ukraine $300,000 worth of medical supplies, $100,000 worth of new clothing and 10,000 pounds of food.

Although the mission team had planned to give the supplies to needy Ukrainians during their stay, the Ukrainian church members had distributed the goods before the team members arrived.

"There was such a need for the things we sent over that they couldn't wait any longer," Mr. Wilson said.

Six weeks before their trip, Baltimore Rock Church members took a Russian class to learn basic vocabulary. At a four-day "boot camp," they learned discipline, how to approach people and talk to them about Christianity and a bit about the cultural and social differences they would encounter. Each person raised $1,300 by seeking sponsors or working at part-time jobs to pay for transportation, lodging and food.

Bob Rhova, 19, of Timonium earned $1,250 from the University of Maryland by acting as a human guinea pig. He spent 12 days, three of them vomiting, in the hospital, after being injected with shigella, a bacteria that attacks the intestines.

Although Mr. Rhova gave his body and time to science, he said that he feels that the Ukrainians gave him much more.

"All I had to do was go to the hospital, but I learned how to be bold from them," Mr. Rhova said. "We learned to not complain about what we don't have and not to think about self so much, but to become more responsible by giving."

And, although they didn't particularly like their hosts' favorite Ukrainian dish -- chicken with a creamy brown sauce -- the students adjusted to the cuisine.

"I did complain about the food the first few days we were there, but when I stepped back and watched the people, I realized they were serving their best," said Starylynn Beckhaus, 17, of Parkville.

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