Monday, April 02, 2012

Renewal in Kiev, Ukraine for Missionary Women

Spiritually, it's one of the best things I've ever been to, we just kept digging deeper and deeper into one psalm. It's amazing how they got us so close in such a short time. And they just lavished us with so much love...
That was Mary Lee Roger's impression of the Come before Winter renewal in Kiev, Ukraine. It was a Friday evening in mid-March and we were heading toward the train station. Within the hour, Mary Lee and friends would be heading back to Donetsk, Ukraine where she and husband Jay Don serve with Ukrainian Bible Institute. Later that evening I would catch another train back to Rostov-on-Don, Russia.

From left, Dawna, missionary intern serving in Kharkov; Mary Lee, Natalia and Natalya from Donetsk, Ukraine.
We were a few of 44 women who serve in ministry in Europe, most of us in Russia or Ukraine, who spent five days with a team of 14 sisters who had come from the US to provide us spiritual refreshment, known as Come before Winter.

The Come before Winter renewal team came to encourage, serve, challenge. What saints! (Photo credit: Mariana Long.) 
Come before Winter is the brainchild of Karen Alexander who saw the opportunity to encourage, honor and challenge missionary women.

As the Come before Winter website notes, Being a minister can be a cold and isolating experience. . . even for the most seasoned worker. When that ministry occurs on foreign soil, the stress only multiplies. Paul experienced winter. On the field in the first century, Paul writes to his friend Timothy: “Do your utmost to come before winter” (NKJV, 2 Timothy 4.9). Paul is grieving the loss of fellow workers, one who has deserted the work. “Only Luke is with me,” he writes. . .“Bring the cloak I left in Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchment,” he urges.

From left, Heather, Sara and Pam of the renewal team.
The first Come before Winter renewal was in Brazil in 2001. Since then, two or more renewals have been held each year and the statistics are impressive. More than 500 women from 50 countries on six continents have been served. The Kiev renewal was the 24th overall, the third to be held in the former Soviet Union: The first was in Novosibirsk in 2003 and the second in St Petersburg, 2007. Several participants have been to all three.

Tamika, left, who serves in Vienna, sharing family photos over lunch.

Come before Winter provides all accommodation for renewal participants which demands a significant budget. Supporters recognize the value of investing in the women who serve in ministry, especially those serving in a foreign culture. 

The Come before Winter website continues, Today’s missionaries can experience winter. Today’s women in ministry can experience winter. . . Ministry, especially ministry in missions, challenges the hearts and souls of women around the world. Today, just as in the first century, some workers will leave the work, tired and discouraged. Those who remain will on some days long for a familiar face, a conversation with a kindred spirit, tools with which to work, and the comforts of “home.” Our goal is to bring what is lacking and to arrive before “winter.”

Our renewal site, a sanitorium northwest of Kiev.

Charlotte Wright, team member from Austin said, We can not serve on the mission field but what we can do is come and encourage you women who do. A retired journalism teacher, Charlotte served as videographer of the event, her fifth renewal.

Charlotte, our expert on all things digital.
Charlotte encourages women to make the sacrifice to attend. Do whatever you have to do, beg your husband to watch the children for a week, just get there. You will go back home with so much more energy, both physical and spiritual energy, better able to handle what you have to do back home. I've seen it time and time again. 

Irena of Tomsk helps clarify the evaluation form.
Worship and intensive Bible study were centerpieces of the renewal. We began and ended each day with prayer and praise. We studied the Psalms, particularly Psalms 90 - 106, known as Book 4 of the Psalter. We focused on Psalm 103, which – it just so happens – I have committed to memory. But now, having plumbed the depths of that psalm together, I appreciate it infinitely more.

Esther serves in Crimea and Katie serves in Kharkov.
Our singing was magnificent and I was thrilled to follow accomplished altos versus being the only one. To top it off, the renewal theme song, Bless the Lord Oh My Soul, was composed by our own brother, Kostya Zhigulin composer and director of Psalom, a spiritual music ensemble, based in St Petersburg.

Each Come before Winter team includes a missionary ambassador chosen from the participants to attend the next renewal and pass along the cloak, a beloved tradition of the ministry. 
The Cloak held by Janet Allison, missionary ambassador to our renewal and Irena Rahminova, missionary ambassador to the upcoming renewal in New Zealand. (Photo: Mariana Long) 
Janet Allison, missionary in SwazilandAfrica was part of the Kiev renewal, having been chosen missionary ambassador at the previous renewal in South Africa. So then, at the closing ceremony of our renewal, Janet presented the cloak to Irena Rahimova of TomskRussia, who will serve as missionary ambassador at the New Zealand renewal in June.

The renewal wrapped up Friday afternoon, we said our goodbyes and en route to the Kiev train station, the Donetsk delegation of three sisters and I stopped by Arizona Bar and Grill, a favorite of Americans passing through the capital city. We walked in and gaped at the familiar faces already there: It was the renewal team. Our sisters from the US had stopped by for a taste of home en route to the international airport.
The Arizona Restaurant in Kiev. The word that looks like PECTOPAH is Russian for restaurant, the pronunciation similar to the English word.
We joined them and I grabbed the seat next to Stephanie Hamm, a first-timer on the renewal team and a faculty member at Abilene Christian University. Working to disassemble my nachos, packed tighter than petals on a rose, I remembered the voice recorder in my purse and asked Stephanie her thoughts about the renewal.

I really loved the women sharing yesterday. (Each of us participants had three minutes to stand in front and share our thoughts from Psalm 103.) I thought it was wonderful and loved every bit of it. I loved the prayer appointments, the women sharing. (Each of us had a 45-minute prayer appointment with a team member.) I loved this time, the one-on-one with women. I had four of these. I looove meeting new people and I hope they let me come on another one, she said with a laugh.

Masha from Perm visiting over lunch.
After dinner and more goodbyes, we departed the Arizona and continued to the train station, anxious to get through the city center before the streets were blocked for the Ukrainian president and his entourage. I asked Natalia Maliuga of Ukrainian Bible Institute, Donestsk, for her impressions of the renewal.
It was really different, it was a really fresh approach, she said. I received new insights that will be very helpful to me personally and to share with others.
And that's the whole idea, to have been refreshed and equipped to return to our ministries and serve anew.

With dear sister Jeanene Reese, right. Is there anyone more sincere, more genuine? What a tireless worker she is. Back in the early 70's we were classmates at then-ACC. And since then, I cherish each time our paths cross.


Sara Holland said...

Great blog, Eileen! It was a blessing getting to know you at the renewal. I posted this blog to the Come before Winter group on Facebook, just so you know.

Tamika Rybinski said...

What a great post. You did a great job describing everything and I enjoyed reading it. Blessings and have a great Easter!

Thanks also for stopping by my blog. I am going to follow yours!

Jeanene Reese said...

Eileen, I read every word and felt like we were visiting again. You are a precious woman of God, and I am grateful that I can call you sister and friend. Blessings on you.