We are working to try to catch up on the months in 2015 that we missed, but hope you enjoy reading about what has been happening in 2016.

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 2016

February picked up right where January left off, with God at work! Every weekend we ministered in at least one church, encouraging them to reach out to those around them. But this month, what God did in personal ministry is fantastic!

On Wednesday the 3rd, our friend, Ruslan, came for supper (Denise's significant contribution to our ministry to young men is the food she makes!). Afterwards, he and I (Phil) walked over to the church so we could talk and pray together. We have chatted quite a bit and he and Sergei traveled with me to a village in the Kiev oblast a couple of weekends ago. He is 18, came back to God in December, and is excited about what God has done for him and wants to serve God with everything he has. I have started mentoring him and it is a fun process! A few days earlier he told me that he wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So we met, talked about what the Bible says, prayed, and God did the rest!

While he was away from God and living a life of sin, he had friends who did the same things. He has been talking to them about why he is so different because they have all noticed! The other day, as he was talking with his friend, we will call him Friend 1, he was interested in knowing more. So after Ruslan and I were done, his friend came to meet with us. I shared briefly about God's plan of salvation (keep in mind that this is all in Russian, which is harder for me), but he seemed to understand what I told him. I then asked if he was ready to repent. He said yes! So we prayed a prayer of repentance together (bad Russian and all). God saved him and gave him a new heart. We could see a difference in him when we finished praying.

On Thursday, Ruslan told me that he had another friend, we will call him Friend 2, who also wanted to repent. He has seen significant changes in Ruslan and even Friend 1 (after just one day).  All three friends came to church, where I talked with them a little before service. There was no altar call given after the message, so I went over and talked with Friend 2, and then had the privilege of leading him in a prayer of repentance. Again, we could see a visual difference in him when we finished praying.

After the service, the three friends when back to Friend 1's place and met with two young ladies and another guy, we will call him Friend 3. Ruslan led all three of them in a prayer of repentance. After that, he led all six of them in communion. It sounded like it was a very precious time.

Ruslan did all the work and laid the foundation, so the job of praying with his two friends to receive Christ was an easy one. He is doing a great job of evangelizing his friends.

On Saturday the 6th, our first Ukrainian "boy", Slavik, spent the weekend with us, as he often does, coming home from the technical institute. We all said good night late that evening, and Denise and I (Phil) were laying on the bed talking. He knocked and asked me if I could help him. I said I could, but wanted to know what he needed help with. He said that he was ready to pray a prayer of repentance. He had done so in the past, but he admitted that he was not actually serious about it, and nothing actually changed in his life.

However, this time God had been working on him for several days and he decided, on his own, that it was time to give his life completely to God. Those were words that I have waited to hear for more than five years. After we talked a while about why he was ready now, we prayed. He wanted me there for support and did not want to just do it on his own. He prayed a prayer of repentance, with tears streaming down his face. And then I prayed for him. (Update: He did really good for less than a month, but then started giving non-Christian people around him a place of priority in his life. We continue to pray for and encourage him to not give up on living for God!)

Another one of our Ukrainian "boys", Sergei, went on a retreat this weekend. While there, he was baptized in water. We are so excited to see our "boys" following after God!

We visited Pastor Oksana's church (her building is in the background)
From left to right Ilya (Pastor's son), Pastor Oksana, us, Anya (translator), and Misha (Pastor's husband)
On Tuesday the 9th, we had a couple come to meet with us because they had been having a rough time in their marriage. For us, counseling is not our specialty and this was uncomfortable, not to mention this would be in Russian without a translator. For Denise, this was even more difficult, because she did not always understand what was being said. Our meeting was great, lasted over two hours, and God really gave us the wisdom that we needed. They received what we shared as we talked about many different things. When we finished, we prayed for them, their marriage, and their family. When we last asked how things were going, everything was great. Thank God that He is faithful and still in the restoration business!

On Sunday the 14th in the evening, Phil and Denise were invited to be on a Valentine's Day panel for the youth service. There were questions already prepared and then some from the audience, It was an interesting time and we enjoyed being able to share some of our experiences. Several of our friends told Phil that they liked our answers best.

Our friends, Max and Julia, were the emcees for the Valentine's Day panel discussion
On Friday the 19th, we went to a school to help our friend, Julia. She has a European Club where the kids learn about a country in Europe as well as practice their English. She invited Phil to come and share a story from the Bible about jealousy, so he shared about Joseph and how his brothers were jealous of him and mistreated him. They seemed to take some good lessons from the story. We finished our time with them by playing one of their favorite games.  It was a fun time!

Phil sharing about the life of Joseph, which Julia translated into Russian so everyone understood
With the young men coming to Christ, it seemed that God was challenging Phil to do something about discipling them in how to live for God. Phil and Ruslan prayed about it and, after some encouragement from others, decided that we should start a home/cell group. We settled on doing that every Friday evening at 6 PM - starting on the 19th.

For our first meeting, Dima, the youth leader from the main church where we attend Thursday evenings, came as a guest speaker. There were seven "men" (ranging in age from 14 to 25, and then me (Phil)). Everyone really enjoyed our time as well as the conversation we shared over tea and the cookies that Denise baked for us.

This was also a special family day because it is our oldest daughter Laura's birthday. She turned 22 and because of her responsibilities at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN, we were unable to Skype with her on that day. We did catch up with her the next week, though. We miss her!

Sometimes cameras catch just the "right" moment - or not! (with Sveta, our friend and translator)
Denise has a soft place in her heart for the "grandmas" here
Pastor's grandson was cute - and full of mischief!
Phil and his new friend
Pastor Yuri and his wife with us 
On Thursday the 25th, Phil preached at the main church. This time he preached about the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis and how, even though his life was hard, he was right where God wanted him to be in preparation for who God needed him to be. That is not always popular theology in today's Christian world.

Sergei needed a picture with "Dad" before church
On Friday the 26th, we had our second home/cell group meeting, with 5 of us in attendance. Ruslan brought his cousin, we will call him Friend 4, to our meeting. During the time of our study, he realized that he needed to repent. Once again, I (Phil) was privileged to lead him in a prayer of repentance. Then we polished off half of a 9 x 13 pan of chocolate cake that Denise made.

About 10 pm, one of our Ukrainian "boys", Roma, arrived from college for the weekend. A bit later, three of our young friends came over to visit.  These guys finished off the other half of the cake. They all love her baking! Without Denise's ministry of cooking, Phil's ministry would be less effective. We make a great team!

We often get to sing because people love to hear Denise's voice
Denise enjoys praying for people after our services
Sometimes our "boys" go with us and it is always a privilege to pray with them (Slavik here)
I got to pray with Sergei, too
This cute Grandma has spunk and we enjoyed talking with her
As always, we are thankful for the privilege of serving here in Ukraine and in Krivoy Rog. Thank you for praying for us and for following our journey in missions!

Updates from Phil:
In January I prayed with two young men - Sasha and Bogdan. Sasha made some very poor choices and we do not currently know what is going on with him because of them. Bogdan and Phil chat regularly and he has been faithful in going to the youth service at church most of the time. He also comes to our home/cell group as his schedule allows. He is learning English and he loves musicals, so we started having him over to watch American musicals with us. He is a great young man and I really enjoy spending time with him.

While Friend 1 made some major changes in his life after God saved him, he stopped talking with Ruslan. I have no contact with him and while we continue to pray for him, we honestly do not know what is going on there. We do know that his Father was against him going to church and, even though they do not have a good relationship, this likely is part of the reason.

Friend 2 and I have had pretty good communication since we met and we chat online regularly. He seems to enjoy talking with me in person, so once in a while he comes over for tea and cookies (which he loves). It has been difficult to get him to go to church and come to the home/cell group, but we keep trying. We continue to believe that God is working in his heart and life and are starting to see signs of that.

As for the two young ladies and Friend 3, Ruslan has not had any contact with them since the first week or so after they repented. We heard through Friend 2 that one of the young ladies changed a lot, but we have been unable to see that first hand. Friend 3 left Ukraine, so, unfortunately, we have been unable to do any follow-up with him.

Friend 4 and I have also had good communication and we chat online regularly. It is hard for him to come to our home/cell group meetings because he usually works out on Friday evenings. Ruslan and I continue to encourage him in his walk with God.

We understand that we all need to "work out our own salvation" and that for some, it is a difficult process to leave the world behind. Leading five people in a first-time prayer of repentance and plus helping one person recommit his life to Jesus, that is FANTASTIC. Praise God for what He is doing! We know that the devil is working overtime to get these new believers back under his control. Sometimes all we can do is pray and trust that God is at work in their lives. Even when we are not able to follow-up with them, the Holy Spirit can and does!

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