Missionary to carry message of hope to Ukrainians

April 03, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Covenant Community Church, which meets in Columbia, has been an anchor for David B. Barkley most of his life.

He has spent nearly all his Sundays there with his family, was baptized there at age 13 and graduated from the church's school last year.

"I grew up there," the 19-year-old said.

Today, that connection takes a new turn, as Mr. Barkley prepares to sail away.

In two days, Mr. Barkley leaves for Kiev, Ukraine, where he will spend three to five years performing voluntary mission work for Youth With A Mission (YWAM).

He will be one of 35 missionaries in Ukraine for YWAM, an interdenominational Christian missionary group for young people that has 8,000 permanent staff members and more than 20,000 short-term staff members at 450 locations in 120 countries.

During today's 10:30 a.m. Easter service at Kahler Hall in Harper's Choice, where the Covenant Community Church's 200-member congregation meets, church elders will "lay hands" on Mr. Barkley and say prayers for him before he leaves.

"He is a leader . . . and an example for other young people in our church, and we'll miss that," said the senior pastor, the Rev. Randy Reinhardt.

The service promises to be an emotional one.

"His mom will cry, probably," said Mr. Barkley's father, David G. Barkley. "Three years is a long time. We're a close family, so we'll miss him a lot."

Mr. Barkley noted that his youngest son's grandfather didn't have the funds to become a missionary during the Depression and that an ulcer prevented the young man's uncle from becoming a missionary.

While taking a break in his family's Freetown Road home from packing winter clothes for the bitter Ukrainian winters, the young volunteer recalled that he once shied away from the idea of missionary work, disdaining it as "weird."

"This is the last thing I wanted to do," said the younger Mr. Barkley, an aspiring sound engineer.

But he stumbled upon his mission last summer after he failed to get a job as a sound technician with a Christian musical artist.

Soon after, a woman he knew at a church in Tennessee telephoned him and asked whether he wanted to be a sound technician on a two-week outreach trip to Kiev.

He accepted, and while there, he enrolled in YWAM's Discipleship Training School, staying for five months.

He also did outreach work in a Muslim region of the former Soviet Union near the Chinese border.

Mr. Barkley returned to Columbia in February, eager for missionary work in Ukraine. He found support from church members, who helped him raise $3,000 for his trip back to Ukraine.

Members also have agreed to raise about $300 a month to pay his expenses while he is overseas.

Mr. Barkley said he is excited about what he calls important work, despite the sacrifice of leaving his family and community behind.

"When you give up something, there's always a reward to make up for that," he said.

Mr. Barkley will be traveling to a nation that split from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Many of its 53 million people live with poverty and soaring inflation, and stand in long lines for food, clothing and other basic commodities.

"They are a people who have been so oppressed and have come to the conclusion that nothing offered in the last 70 years has worked," said Bill Blatz, YWAM's Ukrainian national coordinator, in a telephone interview from Long Island.

"When we were giving Bibles away, you'd literally get mugged and have to retreat to the hotel before getting hurt."

Although there was a large underground religious community in the Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church is the main formal religious institution in Ukraine, Mr. Blatz said.

He said that YWAM missionaries have met with some resistance from the Orthodox Church in Ukraine and that some of the visa problems YWAM staff members experience are the result of pressure from the church.

"There's still a bit of a hassle," Mr. Blatz said. "The Orthodox aren't real happy about losing what they call 'converts' to other denominations."

But YWAM manages a rapport with members of the Orthodox Church because of its three-year effort to bring food, clothing and other supplies to the Ukrainians, he said.

"It brings a real sense of fulfillment to be able to meet someone else's needs, whether spiritually or physically," Mr. Barkley said.

And, though he is leaving his family and putting college on hold, Mr. Barkley said he benefits, too, because he gets to travel and meet different people. Whenever he longs for his family, he said, he can write letters, fax notes and telephone them when the rates are low.

The sacrifices are worthwhile, he said.

"Their life looks like a tunnel with no end. . . . I'm trying to give someone some light, some hope," he said of the Ukrainians.

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