Summer 2021 Newsletter

by | Aug 11, 2021 | News

Please pray for the newly-formed Hus Presbytery, as the churches may be hindered from meeting in person this fall, again due to Covid regulations. An alternate ad hoc meeting is being considered, similar to last year’s meeting. Not only this, but depending on Covid restrictions this fall, the two Hus delegates to Council – Bogumil and Ben Zedek – may be unable to travel to the U.S. for the CREC Council meeting at the end of October.

JEEP ministries and churches continue to be affected by the recent COVID-19 crisis and ensuing regional government responses and lockdowns. The EE churches are back to meeting in person, but are facing ongoing financial challenges, and in some cases significant political unrest. 

We thank the Lord that for the first half of 2021, JEEP giving was in line with budgeted amounts (albeit has slightly slowed as of late). Following is an update regarding several JEEP ministries and churches, as well as a report from my recent trip to Ukraine this May which makes up the bulk of this update (pictures are included at the end). Thank you for your interest in and partnership in these ministries, and your ongoing prayers for their success and expansion.

Mogilev, Belarus:  Evangelical Reformed Church

The border of Belarus is essentially closed; to leave the country one has to have a “valid” reason, and upon returning extra payment is required for “disinfection”. Officially, the regulations are a part of the strategy to fight Covid-19, but it is apparent to Belarusians that the main reason is to keep them from leaving the country, and to keep foreigners from entering the country. This is connected with the political situation in Belarus after presidential elections last August, which resulted in mass protests. Despite the demonstrations, the opposition could not force the president to step down, and it appears the movement has run out of steam. All this means that our Belarusian brothers may be prohibited from attending the International Youth Conference this August in Ukraine, and Pastor Sergey Udaliov may be unable to participate in the Hus Presbytery meeting planned for mid-October.

Poznań, Poland:  Evangelical Reformed Church

Rev. Bogumil Jarmulak continues to serve as pastor at Evangelical Reformed Church, which continues as a healthy and active church. This past year during the lockdowns, ERC has been able to worship regularly. Bubu is also the Presiding Minister of Hus Presbytery, and remains JEEP’s “man on the ground” in Eastern Europe, visiting and assisting various JEEP-supported ministries throughout the region. 

Bogumil reports that during recent storms their church building was flooded with a foot of storm sewer water in the basement (the building is old, and doesn’t have its own sewage disposal). Thankfully this happened during a major repair project – due to heavy fungus that entered the basement – so the damage was not disastrous. The flooding did however, cause some delay in the repairs, as they had to clean the basement and install an additional storm valve on the sewage pipe. 

International Youth Conference, August 2021

The first week of August will be the annual International Youth Conference in Ukraine, hosted by Holy Trinity Reformed Church in Ivano-Frankivsk. This year more people should be coming from abroad (Poland, Hungary, Canada), however due to Covid restrictions some folks will be unable to attend. Still, the conference should have some 70 participants, roughly 10% more than last year. The topic of the IYC this year is “Holy War”; the main speakers are Pastors Bogumil Jarmulak and Garry Vanderveen. 

Hus Presbytery

Please pray for the newly-formed Hus Presbytery, as the churches may be hindered from meeting in person this fall, again due to Covid regulations. An alternate ad hoc meeting is being considered, similar to last year’s meeting. Not only this, but depending on Covid restrictions this fall, the two Hus delegates to Council – Bogumil and Ben Zedek – may be unable to travel to the U.S. for the CREC Council meeting at the end of October. 

Please also pray for Rev. Yavor Rusinov in Burgas, Bulgaria, whose recently self-published book on child-rearing now has sold over 10,000 copies in Bulgaria. Additionally, please remember and pray for Rev. Attila Hajdu, who is laboring as a bi-vocational CREC church planter in the Budapest area. Please pray that both these pastors’ labors will bear fruit, and that the Lord will grant growth in grace and edification in their churches.

Ukraine – John Unger Trip Report, May 14-31, 2021

This May I spent two-plus weeks in Ukraine, visiting JEEP pastors and churches. The purpose of my trip was to personally meet with and see the Ukrainian pastors and churches, understand their personal, pastoral, cultural, and financial challenges, and bring back information to JEEP and our sponsoring churches, to facilitate better planning and decision-making, and whether, how, and where we can support them better going forward. My daughter Olivia accompanied me throughout the trip, and was a great blessing and encouragement (my wife Teresa didn’t make the trip due to a foot injury). 

Except for a short trip to the south-central regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv, we traveled mostly in western Ukraine where five of the six CREC churches are. Roads were often rough and unmaintained, and many older vehicles are still driven. Ukraine faces challenges on many fronts beyond infrastructure though. Political unrest and the eastern border dispute continue to be of concern. Currency instability has hurt the economy and caused significant inflation of late, with utilities such as propane and electricity increasing as much as 50%-100%. It is challenging to make a living wage in Ukraine: 2019 per capita GDP was below $3400 USD per year. Notably, all six CREC churches in Ukraine rent space to worship, and at present only the Pidhaichyky church owns land able to accommodate a building.

We were escorted throughout the trip by Rev. San Sanych Orlov-Koshchavka of Rivne, and also – except for the first few days – Rev. Bogumil Jarmulak from Poznań, Poland. Both men were incredible helps and support. Although he is a very humble soul, San Sanych is highly respected and regarded as a “father” to many of the men and churches there. He is patient, generous, and well spoken, and his heart for his people is evident. As Rev. Jack Phelps recently noted to the EC, “Few people… know how genuinely crucial San Sanych has been to the gospel ministry in his country.”

Regarding Rev. Jarmulak, to describe him as multi-lingual is an understatement. “Bishop” Bubu is not only fluent in English, German, and Russian, he is familiar with Ukrainian culture, history, and geography as well. It was obvious he is well-acquainted and loved by many of the Ukrainian brethren and pastors. Not only is Bubu an indispensable asset to JEEP, he clearly represents the CREC well in his position as Presiding Minister of Hus Presbytery. Bubu was our chauffer as we traveled across the countryside, and did an admirable job keeping us on schedule (and in good humor), as well as providing color commentary on the places we went and good counsel to San Sanych and us.

Trip Itinerary

  1. Rivne: May 15-19
  • Sergiy Terentyev, God’s Covenant Reformed Evangelical Church / Svitlo School
  • San Sanych Orlov-Koshchavka, Reformed Church of Christ the Savior
  1. Mykolaiv: May 20-21 – Volodya Mykyta, Covenant of Grace Evangelical Reformed

III. Dunaivtsi: May 22-26 – Sasha Pavliuk, Holy Trinity Reformed Church

  1. Pidaichky: May 26 eve. – Volodymyr Yakubovsky, Reformed Evangelical Church of St. Andrew
  2. Ivano-Frankivsk:  May 27-30 – Ihor Lishchinski, Holy Trinity Evangelical Reformed Church  

Rivne – God’s Covenant Reformed Evangelical Church, Reformed Church of Christ the Savior, Svitlo

We arrived in Rivne Saturday night, unfortunately sans luggage. On Sunday morning, we worshipped first with Evangelical Reformed Church of God’s Covenant, which Sergiy Terentyev pastors. The church is relatively small but warm, and the people were very welcoming. 

Afterward went to Reformed Church of Christ the Savior, where San Sanych pastors. The church body here has about 45 members, with 2 elders and one deacon (San-Sanych Jr.) They rent a sanctuary from the local Ukrainian Reformed parish, which is spacious and well arranged for worship. Christ the Savior primarily sings from the Ukrainian Cantus Christi Psalter, which covers all 150 Psalms and other Scripture texts taken directly from the Ukrainian bible; notably, almost all of the music was composed by Yuri Lishchinski, an elder and music minister at the Rivne church. 

The next day we visited Svitlo School, and saw the teachers and students in action as they were closing in on the end of their third year. In addition to pastoring God’s Covenant church and leading youth club activities, Sergiy Terentyev is Svitlo’s headmaster. Svitlo was/is the first private Christian school in Rivne (pop. 246,000), having opened in September, 2018. The school operates on a traditional 9am to 3pm daily schedule, September thru May. Including the two Terentyev children there are 20 students, some of whom have learning or discipline challenges. For the most part students seem eager to learn, and interact well with the teachers. 

Observing the teachers at Svitlo, I could tell they are dedicated to their work and seemed generally successful in helping students learn math, English, science, art, etc. The school receives minimal tuition from parents, thus most of the teachers receive little compensation, with some working on a volunteer basis. Despite low tuition, limited resources, and a short supply of teachers, Svitlo has nearly tripled in enrollment since their 2018 inception. 

Last year, Sergiy began consulting with Joseph Bailey from Church of the Redeemer (Monroe, LA), which has been an advocate for JEEP ministries, and has even facilitated the translation of English material into Ukrainian for Svitlo. It is worth observing that the rich literary and academic resources we enjoy in the U.S. – largely as a result of the Christian and homeschool movements of the past generation – are essentially unavailable to our Ukrainian brethren, who are ploughing new and tough ground there in Rivne. Teaching bible, music, literature, logic, history, etc. is essential for nurturing a well-rounded Christian disciple, but Christian curriculum, books, and tools in Ukrainian are in scant supply. The ongoing need for these cannot be understated, and they need much help here.  

Additionally, the administrative challenges of operating a distinctly Christian school in Rivne are significant, and the legal issues are arguably much harder to navigate than in the US, where we have organizations like the ACCS and HSLDA to assist schools and parents with accreditation, legal support, and recognition. 

Please pray for Pastor Terentyev as he leads the school, as well as for the Svitlo faculty. May the Lord grant Svitlo more teachers, curriculum resources, and wisdom to overcome administrative challenges.

The next day we visited the Ostroh “Academy” University, which opened in the late 16th century, making it the oldest academic institution in Ukraine. Previously San Sanych helped arrange several Reformed scholars to offer lectures there, including Drs. Ralph Smith, Peter Leithart, and James Jordan (with Dr. Smith having received a standing ovation following his lecture on Shakespeare). The Academy library reflects Ukraine’s rich Christian history, and features quite a few historic texts, such as 17th century psalters and Reformation-era Ukrainian translations of Scripture. It was a good reminder of Ukraine’s long and rich Christian heritage.

During our stay in Rivne, we visited a few times with San Sanych and his dear wife Alla at their new home. They live in one half of the duplex-style house, and Sasha (San Sanych, Jr.) and his family are in the other section. Both apartments in the house still need finishing work, such as interior doors, ceiling plaster, kitchen cabinetry, light fixtures, etc. 

Pastor San Sanych still has ongoing health challenges, and needs our prayers for healing and strength. The CREC would likely not exist in Ukraine apart from his catalytic work in connecting with pastors and churches, and forming and developing relationships among the churches and believers there. Please also pray for our dear brother that his house may be finished and furnished, and become more useable for him, his family, and his guests. Finally, please pray for San Sanych, Jr. who is a deacon at Christ the Savior, and studying for the ministry. 

Mykolaiv – Evangelical Reformed Church, Covenant of Grace

Thursday morning we took a day-long journey to Mykolaiv; on Friday we met up and spent the day in Odesa with Rev. “Volodya” (Volodymir) Mykyta, who shepherds Covenant of Grace Evangelical Reformed Church in Mykolaiv. Covenant of Grace has some younger members, but is a relatively mature church, the average age of members being over 50 yrs. 

Along with overseeing the church, Pastor Volodya also works a full-time job at a truck parts dealer. Volodya took the day off to meet us; unfortunately though, we were unable to visit with Volodya’s wife Victoria. Victoria has been undergoing radiation therapy for an aggressive cancer, and was away from Mykolaiv, recuperating at her mother’s home. Volodya himself has an eye condition, and is legally handicapped. 

Much of the dialogue was between Volodya, San Sanych and Bubu (in Russian); despite the language barrier, it was a good day of fellowship, and observing the discussions was encouraging. Please pray for our brother Volodya, Victoria his wife, and Covenant of Grace in Mykolaiv, that the Lord will provide for, sustain, and heal them, and that His Spirit will encourage these saints.

Dunaivtsi – Holy Trinity Reformed Church

The next morning we traveled roughly 400 miles to Dunaivtsi, a small city in southwest Ukraine, to visit with Rev. Sasha Pavliuk for a few days. On Sunday we celebrated Pentecost with Holy Trinity Reformed Church, which rents a building in the center of the city. At the end of the service, Rev. Jarmulak shared some remarks regarding the CREC and the establishment of Hus Presbytery, and offered his encouragement to the saints.

After worship, we went to the Pavliuk home to eat lunch. Sasha showed us his new key-making business and shop, which was impeccably clean and organized. He has been able to secure some new machines this year, and is just a few tools away from having a full-service business. Both Sasha and Ira are faithful and industrious; Irina has begun an “overstock” clothing business, which helps supplement the family income. That evening we gathered for dinner with the church officers and their wives. It was encouraging to see the good camaraderie among these men, as we fellowshipped, feasted, and occasionally sang together.

The following morning, Sasha introduced us to a few pastors with whom he fellowships, including Dmitro, a Greek Catholic priest who is Sasha’s good friend and a colleague in local ministry. We also met with the district GC bishop, Ivan Kulyk, and another priest, also named Ivan. The second Ivan leads “Caritas,” a ministry of the GC church; both men were pleased to hear of and expressed interest in Nazareth House, and Rev. Ihor Lishchinskyi’s work with at-risk youth. That evening Sasha arranged a dinner for us with several of his pastor-friends including Dmitro. I also met Valentin, a long-time friend of Sasha, who is a Catholic priest and has been Sasha’s regular partner in ministry on the Eastern war front. I understood little of what was spoken that evening, but could recognize the language of brotherly love and fellowship – it was undoubtedly a Psalm 133:1 event.

During our time in Dunaivtsi, we discussed some of Sasha’s desires for his congregation, especially the need to build a permanent structure for the church there. The want of an actual church to worship in and minister from cannot be underestimated. Most churches without buildings are viewed skeptically, and are often regarded as cultish. Owning an actual building affords the church legitimacy both in the community and among the civil authorities (most of the Ukraine CREC churches are not recognized as “official” churches by the government; only Covenant of Grace, Mykolaiv and Christ the Savior, Rivne are registered and carry official status). 

Please pray for Sasha and his family, and for the church, that they might prosper and grow, and be faithful to the Lord in the midst of economic and spiritual challenges.

Pidhaichyky – Reformed Evangelical Church of St. Andrew

On Wednesday morning Sasha took us to visit an almost-constructed Dutch Reformed church in Ruda. Sasha has known the pastor “Edyk” for some time; it was encouraging to tour the building and see its features, and learn how much the project has cost (over $80,000). We took a few photos, then after lunch we drove to Reformed Evangelical Church of St. Andrew in Pidhaichyky.

Upon arriving in Pidhaichyky, we immediately went to the St. Andrew church building site in the center of the village, where we met Pastor Volodymyr Yakubovsky. Pidhaichyky is a little farming community; there is an old distillery there, but it is no longer operating. Like the village, the CREC congregation is small – mostly family members – but the church itself has a fairly long history. Rev. Yakubovsky’s great-grandfather was one of the Pidhaichyky Reformed Church leaders prior to World War II, and his father-in-law is currently an elder at the church. Like most all the other Ukrainian and JEEP pastors, Rev. Yakubovsky is bi-vocational: along with shepherding the church, Volodymyr works as a salesman in the HVAC industry.

The church property was purchased for $5000 in 2017, and construction has been ongoing since November 2019. Volodymyr and his brother-in-law Taras Savchuk (an elder) have single-handedly designed and built the church, from the ground up. In late 2019, the two men formed and poured the concrete for the foundation, and then in July 2020 after it was settled, they began framing and adding blocks onto the foundation. 

It was inspiring to see the church building. Volodymyr and Taras both have sacrificed time, money, and labor for their church, doing much with few resources, and almost all of it without JEEP funding (except a small donation used to purchase the property four years ago). Volodymyr said they hope to have the final part of the roof completed before winter this year; they are not far away from being able to finish the bell tower housing and fully enclose the building (the bell will be purchased and installed later). Completing the building would be a milestone not just for the church but for Hus Presbytery, and would provide a model for future church construction projects in Ukraine and beyond.

We dined later at the Yakubovsky home with Volodymyr and his wife Galya along with their two children. It was a wonderful blessing to meet Volodymyr, and learn of the church, her history and Volodymyr’s pastoral work, and to feast together and enjoy and observe the close-knit family. After dinner we drove about 45 minutes to nearby Ivano-Frankivsk, where we would stay for the balance of our visit. Please pray for strength and courage for our brother Volodymyr, his family, and St. Andrew church, and that the Lord will provide funding for their building to be completed. 

Ivano-Frankivsk – Holy Trinity Evangelical Reformed Church / Nazareth House

In the morning Pastor Ihor Lishchinskyi and his wife Tanya gave us a tour of the new Nazaret (Nazareth House) offsite location. They showed us the recently-opened boys’ CAD studio and girls’ art class that they have begun hosting for the Nazaret youth. One of the older boys (Daniel) has learned how to program and operate the small-scale CNC machine, and is helping the others learn to operate it as well. This machine is an incredible blessing. Along with learning teamwork and collaboration, Nazaret boys are gaining worthwhile skills such as programming, drawing, and engraving, skills that can be fairly easily transferred to a larger-scale CNC machine. The girls’ art studio is also small, but is effective in helping the girls learn to craft, draw, and organize. Tanya’s vision is that it will not be so much just for art, as much for learning other skills and helping shape the character of these girls.

The next stop was Nazaret’s main location to see how the after-school youth center is set up and runs. While their ministry is just six years old, Nazaret in 2020 was recognized by the Ukrainian government as one of ten pilot centers, and a model for social services targeting at-risk child assistance and relief. Six days per week Ihor and Tanya, their daughter Katya, Lauren Shearer (of Reformation Covenant, OR), and several other assistants work diligently at Nazaret, providing meals, homework assistance, biblical instruction, Christian counseling, vocational training, and at times even shelter for up to 50 children and teens. 

In the entryway, there are dozens of pictures and mementos posted celebrating events and accomplishments of the Nazaret children. Despite their personal challenges, the children all seem to get along fairly well and enjoy being together. During mealtimes there, we noticed that the dinnerware – bowls, plates, cups, utensils – were all durable and non-disposable vs. the single-use, disposable kind. Tanya explained that their reason for this is to provide the children a sense of permanence and stability, as well as a sense of responsibility.

A two-day Bible conference commenced Friday afternoon, with Bubu presenting a series of four talks on Harry Potter and the Game of Quidditch. The youth were engaged and seemed to enjoy exploring the themes inherent in the Harry Potter story. I delivered talks on The Bible and Work, aiming to help the teens grasp the Christian perspective of man’s vocational calling, and the value and blessing of work as a fulfillment of the dominion mandate. San Sanych, Jr. (“Sasha”) ably handled the English-to-Ukrainian translation for all of the talks. 

That Sunday was our third Lord’s Day in Ukraine. We gathered for worship at Holy Trinity church, where Pastor Ihor led the service. The mostly-teen congregation nearly filled the small room, but participated well. The liturgy included at least one song that Tanya had composed in Ukrainian, to a psalm tune from the Book of Psalms for Singing. 

Later that day, we discussed the several needs that Ihor and the church is facing, including the upcoming International Youth Conference in August, and the perennial need for scholarships for many of the needier children. We also talked about the potential challenges Holy Trinity will face in the future, in needing more space and more resources, as more at-risk children attend Nazaret, and grow into adulthood and begin families and careers. The church needs a permanent structure for its worship, ministry, and Nazaret, and also as a place where other Ukrainian or EE churches might gather for events and conferences, especially given Ivano-Frankivsk’s accessibility and proximity to other Hus Presbytery churches. 

Pray for Ihor, Tanya, and Katya, for the church there, as well as for Nazareth House activities and the workers there. Nazaret needs increased financial support to meet the growing community of at-risk youth, as well as more workers to fill various support positions to keep Nazaret running.  


Final Reflections

While the trip was arduous, it was profitable. Adding to my visit on JEEP’s behalf, Pastor Bogumil’s representation of Hus Presbytery (and also of JEEP) and San Sanych’s presence were especially beneficial in facilitating and strengthening relationships with the pastors, and encouragement of the churches. The Ukrainian CREC pastors we met with appreciated the time spent with them; they are all clearly grateful for the opportunity to grow in fellowship and friendship afforded by the financial support and cooperation of JEEP and our supporting churches. As noted above, these pastors and churches labor under difficult economic and cultural circumstances, and what JEEP provides is not merely an encouragement, but more often a lifeline. 

I thank the Lord for the abundant blessings He afforded, in opening the doors for us to travel throughout Ukraine, providing for and preserving us; for the gift of Pastors San Sanych and Bogumil, and their labors in translating and leading, and introducing us to the pastors, churches and projects; for all the grace, love, and hospitality shown to us; for the friendships made and cultivated, the insights gained, and gifts received; chiefly, for the gracious, everlasting covenant made by our Lord with us and our brethren across the world through His death, resurrection, and ascension, and for His ongoing work to establish His kingdom, from the rising of the sun even to its setting (Psalm 72:17).

“Jesus shall reign, where e’er the sun 

Doth his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, 

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

For the Executive Committee,

John Unger, Chairman
Joint Eastern European Project,