April 2020 Newsletter

by | May 25, 2020 | News

Several JEEP ministries and churches have been considerably impacted by the recent COVID-19 crisis and ensuing regional government responses. Some churches are unable to gather for worship at all; others are under severe restrictions, and, like U.S. churches, have had to adapt as best they can to online worship (sic). Following is an update regarding the several JEEP ministries and churches, including any up-to-date information regarding the COVID impact on them.

Policy & Status

The Joint Eastern European Project (JEEP) was founded in 2011, as a partnership between three churches in Anselm Presbytery. Presently, the Executive Committee (EC) consists of representatives from several sponsoring churches in North America. The JEEP EC is comprised of John Unger (Chairman) and Pastor Stuart Bryan, Trinity Church, Coeur d’Alene, ID; Pastor Jack Phelps and Deacon Derrick Honrud (Treasurer), Covenant Bible Church, AK; Elder Matt Dau (Secretary), Reformation Covenant Church, OR; Pastor Mike Kloss (Vice Chair), Redeemer Church, WA; Pastor Gregg Strawbridge, All Saints Church, PA; and Pastor Garry Vanderveen, Christ Covenant Church, B.C. (PCA). Additionally, Pastor Bogumil Jarmulak of Evangelical Reformed Church (Poznań, PL) serves as advisory member to the JEEP EC. Churches in Eastern Europe served by JEEP agree to submit regular financial information to the EC, in order to remain qualified for assistance. The majority, but not all, of the CREC churches in Europe have come under the JEEP umbrella. Participating churches are located in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Belarus.

In February, the EC updated and clarified the formal policy regarding outreach projects that participating churches propose for funding. This is being shared with CREC churches as well as our supporting partners. JEEP’s intent is to have all churches and missions under the JEEP umbrella be fully supporting their own pastoral and Levitical ministries. Therefore, the new policy requires local, graduated support to be provided to the local ministry’s  own pastor beforeany outreach project will be funded through the JEEP process. Supported ministries commit to adhere to this policy. There is full agreement with the goal of this policy, and we consider it to be an important step toward reaching our objective of local ministerial self-sufficiency.

JEEP financial support comes from churches and individuals in all six CREC presbyteries currently; we praise God for this overwhelming support. As previously reported to the CREC, JEEP Fiscal Year 2019 donations (Oct-Sept) were down ~10% vs. 2018. First half Fiscal Year 2020 giving is also down, more than 10% below our budget. We know that 2020 is shaping up to be a challenging year, and we are now more than ever grateful for the support that has come in from our partner churches and sponsors. We would ask for your prayers that the Lord will supply abundantly, so that we can continue to provide aid for each JEEP ministry.

Individual Ministries and COVID-19

Several JEEP ministries and churches have been considerably impacted by the recent COVID-19 crisis and ensuing regional government responses. Some churches are unable to gather for worship at all; others are under severe restrictions, and, like U.S. churches, have had to adapt as best they can to online worship (sic). Following is an update regarding the several JEEP ministries and churches, including any up-to-date information regarding the COVID impact on them.

Rev. Bogumil Jarmulak (Poznań, Poland)

Pastor Jarmulak continues to serve as pastor at Evangelical Reformed Church. The congregation is healthy and active in evangelism, discipleship, and youth outreach. As JEEP’s “man on the ground” in Eastern Europe, Bubu shepherds and encourages various JEEP-supported ministries throughout the region.

This March, while in Tokyo for a JEEP youth conference, Bubu was temporarily delayed in his return travels due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Upon his return to Poznań he was forced to self-quarantine for two weeks. Though Poland initially enacted restrictions on gathering and commerce, these have been slightly relaxed recently. Thankfully ERC-Poznań has been able to hold multiple services to accommodate smaller groups, and thus far few of her members have been vocationally impacted.

Rev. Sebastian Smolarz (Wroclaw, Poland)

Pastor Smolarz continues to teach at the seminary in Wroclaw, and shares pastoral duties at Evangelical Reformed Church, Wroclaw, with his fellow elder, Rev. Marek Kmiec. Sebastian is partially supported by JEEP, enabling him to serve in this dual capacity. Sebastian is currently scheduled to speak at the Reformation Covenant Church (OR) Family Camp this summer, which, due to travel restrictions, is on hold until a firm schedule can be determined.

Rev. Attila Hajdu (Diosd, Hungary)

Rev. Hajdu labors as a CREC church planter in Budapest. The congregation remains small and Attila is bi-vocational, serving as an administrator for an English language mission school in Diosd. During the current COVID situation, to mitigate at-risk health concerns among the Hajdu family, the church moved to online-only services last month and has surprisingly had more attendees than during regular worship. Hungary has implemented limited restrictions, but the economic impact still has been significant. With their local Christian school temporarily closed, both Attila and his wife Kati are teaching from home. Attila also continues to do translation work, making Christian books available in Magyar, the Hungarian language. Please pray that the pandemic will be declared over soon, so that they could resume regular worship. And pray for the church, that more people would follow their services through online platforms and this will eventually lead them to attend when they can.

Rev. Yavor Rusinov (Burgas, Bulgaria)

Pastor Rusinov is the bi-vocational shepherd of Presbyterian Reformed Church, a small congregation on the Black Sea coast. PRC has been a CREC member church since 2010 and has experienced several ups and downs since that time. Pastor Rusinov has remained faithful through difficult circumstances and God is rewarding his diligence. This past year, the church began publishing sermons on the web, enabling Bulgarians remotely to hear Pastor Rusinov’s teaching. In late January, Yavor’s wife Jechka and son Erik were both hospitalized with respiratory symptoms resembling COVID-19. They both are thankfully 100% recovered. Notably, Yavor’s self-published book on child-rearing continues to sell well in Bulgaria, and an English translation is forthcoming.

Rev. San Sanych Orlov-Koshchavka (Rivne, Ukraine)

Reformed Church of Christ the Savior (previously Rivne Biblical Church) was the first CREC church in Ukraine, having joined in 2010. Rev. San Sanych is the founding pastor of this congregation, and continues to serve as the Senior Pastor. He also serves as pro tem elder at Reformed Evangelical Church of Ivano-Frankivsk, providing counsel and direction for that ministry. Moreover, he is acting as mentor to San Sanych, Jr. as he prepares for future ministry as a seminary student and as Associate Pastor at the Rivne church.

San Sanych last year sold his apartment, purchased land, and has moved into a newly-built (but unfinished) duplex home to accommodate him and his wife, along with San Sanych, Jr. and his family. In March, San Sanych again organized a team of pastors and doctors to travel to Odessa. Accompanied by Ihor and Tanya Lishchinski, San Sanych Jr., and Lauren Shearer, this team worked morning til night over a 9-day period, offering free medical help and treatment, and pastoral counseling to hundreds of needy Ukrainians.

There are presently many challenges in Ukraine: COVID restrictions have hit the country hard, and already-low incomes have been cut in half for many. Additionally, there is ongoing political instability, and the war with insurgents in the East continues. Please make these things a matter of prayer, as well as for San Sanych’s continued health.

Rev. Serhii Terentiev (Rivne, Ukraine)

Pastor Terentiev serves God’s Covenant Reformed Evangelical Church, which joined the CREC in 2017. This congregation oversees a Christian school “Svitlo” (meaning “Light”), now in its second year. Serhii played a big role in starting the school, which is a cooperative effort between the two Rivne CREC churches. Serhii currently both teaches at Svitlo, and also serves as an administrative official. This is breaking new ground for the CREC in Eastern Europe, and JEEP is providing financial support for this work.

Since COVID restrictions were implemented in Ukraine, Svitlo classes have been moved to online only. Pastor Stuart Bryan’s daughter Julia has been working at/with the school since January, and reports that despite the lockdown, Svitlo’s virtual classes are going well, and students are progressing. Please pray for Serhii, Julia, and the other teachers, and for this ministry to thrive and grow.

Rev. Sasha Pavlyuk (Dunaivtsi, Ukraine)

Rev. Pavlyuk is pastor of Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Dunaivtsi. He is also a key figure in the ecumenical outreach in Ukraine. Sasha has very good connections with ministries from other Christian traditions throughout the country and is an important advocate in CREC outreach to government officials and the military chaplain program in Ukraine. Sasha visits the eastern Ukraine war zone area regularly, and works with other local pastors there in outreach ministry. God has richly blessed the reputation of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches through Sasha’s faithful ministry in this part of the world.

COVID lockdowns in Ukraine have significantly impacted the Dunaivtsi church. Although the Pavlyuk children are able to attend online classes, both Sasha and his wife Irina have been limited in their work supplementing the family income. Recently Sasha ministered at the funeral of a church member’s husband, who tragically passed away alone while his wife was absent (due to travel restrictions). Please pray for Sasha and his family, and for Holy Trinity Church, that the Lord will comfort, sustain, and provide for them all.

Rev. Ihor Lishchinski (Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine)

Until recently, Pastor Lishchinski was a bi-vocational pastor of the small mission in I-F. Now Ihor is devoted full-time to shepherding Reformed Evangelical Church – the fastest-growing church in Eastern Europe – as well as the orphanage ministry the church oversees. The “after-school” orphanage is supported by JEEP, with matching funds from a local Ukrainian donor. This ministry, called Nazareth House, provides a vital gospel outreach and mercy ministry in the community. At Nazareth, neglected and abused children encounter caring Christian adults, receive help and counseling, and most importantly, they receive the Gospel and connect with the Church. Last summer Lauren Shearer from Reformation Covenant, OR began working full-time at Nazareth House, and continues there helping Ihor and Tanya with oversight, teaching, mentoring, and chores.

Nazareth House has operated in confined quarters for some time, yet has continued to grow. In April, after reviewing options for supporting the I-F church and Nazareth, the JEEP EC approved a new project to sponsor the purchase of property, and ultimately the construction of a new, larger building. This will facilitate the growth of the church, and the expansion of her ministry. More information regarding this project is forthcoming, under separate cover.

In March, Tanya Lishchinski and several teens from Reformed Evangelical Church traveled to Japan to attend a youth conference, led by Pastor Bogumil Jarmulak and Ben Zedek Smith from Mitaka Evangelical Church. Following the conference, strict COVID travel restrictions were implemented, leaving the Ukrainians stranded in Japan. Many thanks to Ben Zedek and all the Mitaka saints who have graciously welcomed and hosted them while they are waiting to travel. Please pray that Tanya and the girls will be able to return home soon to Ivano-Frankivsk.

Rev. Sergey Udaliov (Mogilev, Belarus)

Evangelical Reformed Church of Mogilev was admitted as a member of the CREC in 2015. Rev. Udaliov ministers under very difficult circumstances in an extremely poor country, beset with political and social problems. The congregation comprises a small but vital group of Christians. In spite of their own difficulties, they are active in outreach and ministry to other small bodies of believers in various parts of the country. These saints need (and deserve) our prayers and financial support, provided through JEEP.

Sergey has reported that there is currently no official quarantine or ban on worship in Belarus. This imposes a certain responsibility on the church, to make their own decisions on the legal and social prudence of in-person worship. Despite the absence of an official quarantine, citizens are self-isolating and this has affected businesses and the overall economy. Sales have declined, orders have dropped, and incomes have fallen as a result. The near-term outlook for Belarus and for the church is very unclear. Please pray that the believers there would remain steadfast, and that the Lord will provide for their needs.

Anselm Provisional “Eurasia” Presbytery Update

As you may be aware, Anselm Presbytery, at its 2018 Stated Meeting, through an amendment to the Presbytery Book of Procedures created a Provisional Presbytery in Europe & Asia, made up of Anselm Presbytery churches. The purpose of this exercise is to create conditions that will help our European churches, together with the church in Japan, prepare to become a separate presbytery sometime in the near future. An actual new presbytery can only be created by Council, so the powers of the Provisional Presbytery are limited, with oversight still remaining with Anselm. Anselm PM, David Hatcher, appointed one pastor from Anselm to act as adviser to the Provisional group.

The Provisional Presbytery first met in Ukraine in January, 2019, to discuss plans and create an internal organization. Pastor Jarmulak was elected Presiding Minister, and Ben Zedek Smith (Mitaka Evangelical Church, Tokyo) was elected Presiding Minister Pro Tempore. The planned May 2020 meeting, however, was indefinitely postponed due to COVID-related travel constraints across Europe. The purpose of this meeting was to finalize preparations for formally inaugurating a new Eastern Europe presbytery. We covet your prayers for wisdom for Bubu, Ben Zedek, and the churches, as they together deliberate the best course of action regarding their organization, prior to the next General CREC Council Meeting.

(Note: As mentioned previously, although the Provisional Presbytery is not a creation of JEEP nor in any way under our jurisdiction, most of the churches and missions involved are JEEP-supported ministries. We are glad for this opportunity, as we believe it will promote maturity and unity among the churches where JEEP serves).

Finally, along with all the men and ministries we support, we request your continued prayers for the JEEP EC, as we consider how the Lord would have us aid and support the EE churches and ministries during these trying hours, and to make use of the resources He has given us, both of time and money. Together with us, please pray that “the word of Christ would run swiftly and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1), that His kingdom would come, and that the people and nations of Eastern Europe would flow increasingly to Zion’s exalted mount. (Isaiah 2:2).

Thank you for your continued support of God’s work through JEEP in the former Soviet Bloc countries of Europe.

For the Executive Committee,
John Unger, Chairman
Joint Eastern European Project