With the war raging in Ukraine, while we respond to the crisis by helping our Ukrainian brothers and sisters as best we can, our prayers are molded by a trust in God that He who began a good work will complete it. Our hearts are wrapped around this truth so that even though we look at the devastation wrought by the war, we cling to Jesus’ words, ‘I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’
‘He who began a good work….’ – When the ‘Iron Curtain’ crumbled in 1989 exposing the cultural and spiritual bankruptcy of Communism, MTW responded by joining some 50 other Christian groups, organizations, and denominations to form what became known as ‘The CoMission’. The CoMission was perhaps the largest cooperative partnership in history of evangelicals responding to an invitation to come into schools of the former USSR with a curriculum that was developed called, ‘Christian Ethics and Morality’.
The CoMission approach was initiated in 1992 by holding large convocations in major cities across the former USSR where school administrators and teachers heard keynote speakers and then were broken into smaller groups for hands-on training in the use of the new curriculum. The convocation teams consisted of 40 to 50 volunteers from the US. The next step in the CoMission strategy was to then deploy smaller teams of laypeople to the Convocation cities to live for at least a year to assist educators with the implementation of the curriculum.
After southern Ukraine was designated as MTW’s area of focus, MTW deployed its first CoMission teams to Odessa in 1993, but with a larger strategic vision. The CoMission teams’ efforts were integrated with a church planting strategy by facilitating bible studies of those coming to faith through CoMission activity that then became the seeds of church plants.
The first generation of those called to establish the church planting team came together. In 1992, Dal and Beth Stanton were the first to respond to MTW’s appeal to form a church planting element in the former USSR (before Ukraine was the designated area of operation). With their MNA church planting training and experience in the US, Dal helped to set-up the initial MTW CoMission efforts in Odessa and to formulate the church planting strategy docking the CoMission teams’ efforts with a church planting philosophy. Dal functioned as a ‘circuit rider’ going to various cities around Odessa cultivating church plants where CoMission teams were deployed.
Clay and Darlene Quarterman were the first contingent of the church planting team to arrive on the field in Odessa in 1994. They were already serving in Portugal with MTW and had a support base that allowed them to deploy more rapidly responding to the call to Ukraine. They helped to oversee the CoMission teams in Odessa and the other teams that were arriving and going to cities other than the initial teams in Odessa.
Clay’s primary focus was the development of theological education. The seeds of a seminary sown by him in Odessa eventually bore fruit by becoming a fully functioning seminary years later in Kyiv with a building and faculty – the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine. Clay also sowed the seeds of the church plant in Odessa which began by meeting in a park.
Dave and Dee Smith arrived in Odessa after the Quarterman and Stanton families, but Dave’s role as the first MTW Ukraine Team Leader/Country Coordinator began in the US while they raised support. As a former officer in the military, Dave’s skill set was strategic and essential as he guided the initial MTW Ukraine efforts by laying the foundation and vision for expansion which eventually led to not only some churches being started, but to the formation of a denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine which has grown through the years to 14 churches throughout Ukraine today.
CoMission was not only the ‘incubator’ of new churches, but also of future MTW leadership in Ukraine. MTW L’viv Team Leader, Doug Shepherd, came to Ukraine on one of the initial CoMission teams in Odessa and later returned to Ukraine as a short-term missionary working with university students in Odessa (where he eventually met his future wife, Masha). It was the blending of church planting values and university ministry philosophy, that led Dal and Doug to create the Odessa Project, perhaps the first intensive summer internship within MTW that was not program focused, but was developmentally focused on the core growth of interns.
The first Odessa Project in 1996 produced another MTW Ukraine leader, Heero Haquebord, who returned as a missionary helping to plant the church in Mycolaev (where he met his future wife, Anya) and later went on to serve on the MTW L’viv team where he pastors the church there today. Another MTW leader came to Mycolaev to serve alongside of Heero as short-term missionaries, Jon and Tracy Eide. Jon and Tracy transitioned to long term missionaries where today Jon serves as the MTW country coordinator and MTW Kyiv team leader.
Another leader coming from a CoMission team which was deployed and planting a church in Izmail was Bob Burnham who also met his future wife there, fellow team member, Andrea. Bob and Andrea served in Izmail and later, after transitioning to long term missionary service, returned to Odessa where he serves as the team leader today.
It’s impossible to list all who have served in Ukraine all giving their lives and abilities to see Christ’s Church built, one life at a time – Fred and Emma Peace, Mel and Cindi Pike, Rod and Lydia Gorter, David and Jill Martin, Eric and Lauren Huber, and many, many more, without even mentioning our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who rose and with whom we served alongside in the churches that continue today. This small story only scratches the surface of all that God has done in Ukraine.
Even though the Lord called the ‘first generation’ to different places at different times, the formative years of the Lord building his Church in Ukraine remain in our hearts. Dave and Dee returned to the US where Dave continued military service followed by working in the private sector. Dal and Beth went on to serve with MTW in Madrid, Spain, and then in Sofia, Bulgaria. Clay and Darlene continued serving in Ukraine through the years, and Clay only recently retired as a doctoral member of the faculty and the president of the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine in Kyiv.
After completing their work in Bulgaria, Ukraine country coordinator, Jon Eide, invited Dal and Beth to return to Kyiv to join MTW Kyiv team members, Mel and Martha Pike and Alister and Sarah Torrens. The onset of the war in February turned many lives upside-down and resulted in many Ukrainians as well as missionaries serving in Ukraine being displaced. Dal and Beth redirected and are helping with the MTW Crisis Response Team in Krakow, Poland, where they have helped with the placement of Ukrainians fleeing the war and now, with efforts to bring much needed supplies into Ukraine through the church in L’viv. These critical supplies assist our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who have remained in their cities and to minister to those in need (See: Mobilizing Aid and Crates For Ukraine). First generation members Clay and Darlene are avid pray-ers for Ukraine from their home in Jackson, Mississippi, and Jon Eide asked first generation team leader, Dave Smith, to come to Krakow to help the current generation of MTW Ukraine leaders reach beyond the immediate crisis, beyond the war, to understand better how we are to continue to be a part of Christ building His Church in Ukraine. It’s difficult in the midst of hell’s assaults to have hope, but we hold fast to the truth that He who began a good work in Ukraine will complete it.