Each year, the various clusters of the International Mission Board gather for an annual meeting. It is a time for the missionary personnel to visit with one another, organize some work for the year ahead, and worship together. I have had the opportunity to speak at two of these meetings. One was the Black Sea Orthodox Cluster that includes the counties of Romania, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. During that trip, I was introduced to Joel Ragains who started the Church Planting School at the Kiev Theological Seminary (KTS) with his wife Mary Ellen.
Recently I traveled to back in order to spend a week teaching at KTS. Joel and Mary Ellen have served there for a decade. They were joined three years ago by Dan and Lori Upchurch, who served previously for ten years in Belarus. It is a place where some great people are learning to do hard work in a tough place.
The vision for the Church Planting School is to train church planters for Ukraine and the region of the former Soviet Union. They are now training men from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Armenia. It was a great pleasure to teach twenty students from their pastoral ministry and church planting tracks for the Small Group Ministry class. After some reflection, I wanted to share a bit of what I learned.
What I take for granted
It is a relatively common occurrence when I’ve traveled overseas to return with a renewed sense of gratitude. In America, we lose the sense of just how much we have. The periodic experience of another culture is a pointed reminder of how blessed I am.
One day in class, I gave an assignment for the students to complete over the next 15 minutes. At one point, as they worked quietly, I began to whistle, which is a pretty common habit for me. The class suddenly looked up at me quite curiously and then they all grinned. My translator Sergey explained to me that a superstition existed that if you whistle around a person indoors that you might “blow their money away.” All of the class had a good laugh about my social faux pas.
It was a good reminder to me that their culture, other cultures, and my culture all have strange superstitions and beliefs based on nothing. It is one more motivation for the church to remember our role of shining light in dark places. In other words, every where we go, the gospel needs to be applied.
Why I love the Cooperative Program
The Cooperative Program is the reason for the existence of the Southern Baptist Convention. Our churches are organized for the basic idea of pooling our money together for the purpose of global mission work. I’m happy to be an SBCer and for my church to give toward the CP in order to support friends like Joel, Mary Ellen, Dan, and Lori.
The genius of the BF&M
The confessional consensus of our convention is called The Baptist Faith and Message and it is written as a series of articles. One of the lesser-known sections is Article XIV entitled Cooperation. It describes how members of New Testament churches should work together in carrying out the missionary work of the church.
I recalled this article because of how KTS was formed and now operates. It was founded in 1995 at the direction of the All Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists and the vision of KTS president, Anatoly Prokopchuk. Now, personnel from five different mission organizations work along with President Prokopchuk and the other Ukrainian leaders to prepare leaders for the church. I am reminded and always happy to be a part of the global mission of the church that operates from every church and to every place on the planet.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The work that I did of teaching a class was a short mission trip but serves as a gateway for many others to engage in helping churches in the Ukraine and beyond. The Church Planting School is constructed for the students to attend two-week classes a few times a year over four years. The team at KTS has written the material that must be taught and then pastors or professors travel over to instruct the class… and add in some of our own material. It gives American churches an opportunity to connect with church planters in this region for potential partnerships.
If you would like to know more about connecting with KTS, zap a message to me through the Contact page. I’ll be happy to connect you with my friends in Kiev. And now that you have reached this point of the post, let me ask you to do one vital thing for the church planters in that region of the world… pray for them. All but one in my class is bivocational. Most were married and have children. They need our support. Pray that God will continue to work through their church planting efforts and raise up an army of leaders who will shine the light of the gospel throughout that region of the world.