This post first appeared on Assist News Service in July 2015.
A month ago, our lives turned upside down. In the ensuing chaos, my husband and I missed the anniversary of the day we met and let Father’s Day come and go without celebration. I am even routinely forgetting the day of the week and losing track of which city and sometimes which country I’m in. What caused this insanity?
A month ago, a dear friend called my husband to confess to adultery. We were stunned and heartbroken. This man was much more than a friend. He was also the pastor of a church in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the same church that my husband’s late father planted almost twenty-three years ago with the vision of establishing a model to facilitate the planting of other churches. To date, over twenty other churches have been planted across the country that look back to this church in Kyiv as a sort of spiritual parent or grandparent.
So when our friend made his confession, we knew that this bombshell would affect many more people than just those in his immediate family. We grieved not just for him, his wife, and his children, but also for the many hundreds and possibly thousands of people who had been touched by his life and ministry. We trembled for the church, which still hadn’t heard the news. We wondered about ourselves, and how God would ask us to be involved. But mostly, we just grieved. It was as if someone had died, except that in addition to the mind-numbing pain, there was a sense of dread, as if the worst was still to come.
We began almost immediately to make plans to leave our kids in the care of others and travel to Kyiv to support the church leadership, most of whom still did not know the news, and to help them navigate the process of letting the church know. I found it incredibly challenging to prepare for the trip. The simplest of tasks, like packing our bags, seemed too complicated for my distracted mind. It felt like I had static in my brain.
When we finally arrived in Kyiv the next evening, the first thing we wanted to do was see our friends—the pastor and his wife. It was a somber meeting. We all embraced, and we wept together. Words were slow to come. We stumbled through sentences, trying to express our grief, our love, our support. We prayed together. When we left, it was with a deep sense of the husband’s brokenness before God and of his wife’s commitment to him and their marriage.
The following days were filled with meetings with church leaders and daily meetings with the pastor and his wife. We were in frequent contact with other pastors who are mentors for us, seeking their wisdom on how to proceed. The pastor in Kyiv made a point of confessing privately to every person to whom he had lied to cover up the affair, and at the Sunday service, he confessed publicly before the congregation and officially stepped down as pastor. Throughout the process, we felt God leading us to pursue a policy of transparency, so as soon as the public confession was over, we posted an announcement on the church website, giving the essential details and asking people to pray for the family and the church.
I’m not sure how we expected the church to take the news, but we were amazed by the response. Of course, there were people who were hurt and angry, but the predominant attitude was one of love and forgiveness. Another development was that before our visit was over, the leadership had invited us to move to Kyiv to pastor the church.
We had known that this was a possibility before we went to Kyiv, but although we were ready and willing to serve these dear people in their hour of need, my heart sank after the decision was made. When I married my missionary husband and joined him in Ukraine twelve years ago, Kyiv was the first place I lived, and I loathed it. My difficulties started with the language barrier and were compounded by the fact that I, with my soft-spoken and indirect way of relating to people, couldn’t figure out how to respond to the harsh, confrontational style of Kyivans. For four and a half years, I lived in fear of stepping outside our apartment door. A simple trip to the grocery store could send me home in tears. So when God eventually called us away from Kyiv to plant a church in the gentler culture of Western Ukraine, I was relieved.
We’ve now been in Western Ukraine for almost eight years, and I’ve come to love it. People here are kind and friendly. Our city Ternopil is small enough to feel personal but large enough to offer the benefits of city life, like theaters, cinemas, shopping malls, and large grocery stores. In my opinion, it’s one of the most charming cities in the whole country, with a large lake in the middle of town and an enormous variety of great little cafes and restaurants. Our oldest child was just a baby when we moved, so it’s the only home any of our kids have ever known.
Next year, our two oldest kids were going to be in adjacent classrooms in an elementary school known for the kindness of its teachers, and our 4-year-old was already signed up for the same kindergarten class from which our 6-year-old had just graduated. Besides having friends from kindergarten and school, we also have many wonderful friends from our church, which is filled with young families like ours. We really felt at home in Ternopil.
We had always known our time in this city was only temporary. Our goal was to plant a church, train Ukrainian leaders, pass the ministry to them, and move on. But this process takes time, and we felt we had several more years before God would call us on. At the very least, I always believed we would have plenty of warning to prepare for that eventual transition. That my husband and I would leave on a quick trip to Kyiv and return to announce to our church that we were leaving them never occurred to me. Nor did I ever imagine that the shift in ministry from Ternopil to somewhere else could occur so abruptly that we would have to make this announcement at the weekly prayer meeting because we would already be committed to serving elsewhere on Sundays. But that is exactly how it happened.
But this is just one side of the story, because long before our friend in Kyiv came forward to confess his sin, God was already getting all the pieces in place to care for both the church in Kyiv and the precious body of people we’ve been serving in Ternopil. When Satan thought he had God in checkmate, God was already ten moves ahead of him in this game of cosmic chess for the lives and souls of men and women.
My husband’s brother, who has been serving with us as assistant pastor and worship leader, realized half a year ago that God was giving him the heart and vision of a senior pastor. He assumed it meant God would soon be calling him and his wife to pastor a church somewhere else, but though they sought God about leaving Ternopil, God wouldn’t release them. And a few years ago, when the pastor of the church in Kyiv returned home excited from a short-term mission trip to one of the former Soviet republics, my husband and I laid our love for Ternopil on the altar and told him that we would be willing to move back to Kyiv to care for the church if he felt God was calling him and his family to the mission field. They didn’t end up going, but when this current need arose, God had already prepared our hearts for the move He wanted us to make.
There are still many unknowns. We need to find a place to live in a city where the average monthly rent is considerably higher than we’re used to paying. We need to find a school and kindergarten nearby that are still taking enrollment for the fall. We need to find a way to pack for our move during the scant one or two days per weeks that we are actually at home in Ternopil. (The other days of the week are either spent in Kyiv or traveling by car, bus, or train between the two cities.) And besides all this, we are daily burdened by our care and concern for the two churches we are serving in this transitional season. However, we clearly see how God has gone before us, and we are filled with an audacious optimism, expecting to see miracles of His grace and glory as we walk in obedience the trail He has blazed for us.
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