Another month has passed very quickly for us here in Ukraine as we continue to work with the BVBIU. During the month of April I had occasions to visit several churches including Krasny Luch, Konstantinovka, and Kramatorsk. When we’re not out of town visiting, we worship with the Central congregation and enjoy the fellowship of the brethren who meet together at the BVBIU facility. Andrew Zhuravlev continues to deliver consistently sound and encouraging gospel lessons. On Thursday mornings we meet together at the BVBIU facility for Bible study which would be the equivalent of our Wednesday night Bible study time in the States.
Admittedly, the work in Ukraine is slow and difficult and requires a great deal of patience. The influence of western and European culture has significantly slowed-down the receptiveness of the people and their interest in the gospel of Christ. I wouldn’t say that it is the same as the rest of Europe and the U.S, but it is undoubtedly leaning in that direction. Generally speaking, however, the BVBIU students are remaining positive about the future of the church and their involvement in helping God’s kingdom grow and spread.
The Russian language classes Mary and I were taking two days per week have come to an end after five weeks. At this point it’s hard for me to say we made a lot of progress. We were exposed to a lot of material, but we need a little “soak” time to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. Learning a language is a slow and tedious process. Besides, I needed to stop the lessons in order to focus attention on teaching the book of James to the second-year BVBIU students.
There are several new events here in our last month in Ukraine. Terry and Marina Harmon arrived back to Ukraine May 3rd to spend about three and a half weeks visiting family, taking care of some unfinished business, and he will teach a Greek class to our first-year students. We haven’t seen Marina yet, but Terry and the boys looked great. Andrew, who you may remember had been treated for Histiocytosis, seems to have made a full recovery and was his usual energetic self. And Timothy is growing up and to me looked like he has grown about a foot taller! It is good to see Terry’s face again here at BVBIU even if it will only be for a few weeks.
There is also graduation coming up on Saturday, the 28th of May for our second-year students. We will have five students receiving their BA degree in Biblical Studies. Most of these graduates also want to begin the Master’s program which will resume this fall. Denton Landon, who was here a few weeks ago to teach Jeremiah and Lamentations, will return at that time to start the Master’s program. Until then, the preacher students will be seeking out places to begin preaching and teaching. Because of the weak financial status of most Ukrainian churches, it is highly unlikely that the guys will be able to be supported by the local brethren. Any assistance would be much welcomed. However, finances are certainly not the only issue.
Every mission field has its own unique challenges, and the country of Ukraine surely has its own share of them. But from my own perception and from conversations I’ve had with both Ukrainians and missionaries who’ve worked in Ukraine, perhaps the most difficult and controversial subject is marriage. Ukrainians, like most everyone else in the world, recognize marriage as a positive and desirable social structure. The problem lies in understanding and accepting God’s boundaries for acceptable marriage. This can be divided into two parts: 1) Christians marrying non-Christians; and 2) unscripturally-divorced non-Christians who later become Christians and marry Christians.
I have addressed the issue of young Ukrainians leaving Ukraine for the “greener” pastures of the west in some of my past devotional articles. And nothing much anyone can say will stop this “exodus”. All of the reasons given for it can become somewhat complicated; but the conclusion is rather simple: the “carnal” (fleshly) mind (Rom. 8:5-9; 1 Cor. 3:1-3). The allurement of the west for either prosperity or excitement is simply too appealing to be resisted by many of the younger generation who place the flesh over the spirit (cf. Gal. 5:19-26).
The connection of marriage with fleeing young Ukrainians becomes obvious. Prosperous foreigners are sought-out for marriage partners; and unfortunately for the young Christian seeking marriage, a Christian mate is not the priority. This concerns me for two reasons: 1) all that I learned in marriage and counseling college classes consistently warned of the dangers of mixed-marriages; and 2) marrying non-Christians in a secular and materialistic world (such as much of Europe, U.S., etc.) is much like pitching your tent toward Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 13:12, 13). There are little chances that a godly soul can survive long in such an environment.
The second issue is really worse because it actually involves sin. Marrying a non-Christian is at-best unwise, if not downright foolish. But forming a marriage with an unscripturally-divorced person goes beyond foolishness, it is adultery. Let me give you the scenario. A non-Christian forms a marriage, assumedly scriptural, i.e. they are both single and eligible. For some reason (not adultery) the couple divorces. Later, however, one of the non-Christians learns the gospel and becomes a Christian. This new Christian meets another Christian (never-before married) and they marry. They may be married for a number of years and even have children.
What is their spiritual situation now between them and God? The popular view being advocated by many in Ukraine is that such marriages are sanctioned by God. And when the position is challenged by an appeal to Scripture, some will quickly reply, “But that position is too hard for Ukraine.”
Is any command of God “too hard”? God said “the way of transgressors is hard”, not the way of the righteous (Prov. 13:15). It is hard because of sin, not because of anything God said. And why did God put such a prohibition on marriage as is recorded in Matthew 19:9? “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.” Could it not be a strong warning to the liberally-minded world of the sanctity of marriage, and even to serve as a model of the relationship of Christ to His church? (cf. Eph. 5:22-27; Rev. 21:2, 9). Only God can authorize the “exception” given in marriage. To create another exception is to usurp God’s authority and place oneself upon His throne!
Pardon me for sounding a little “preachery” in a newsletter, but these are real issues that threaten not only the sanctity of marriage and the home but also the purity of the Lord’s church in Ukraine. That’s why I believe so strongly in the existence of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine. We are the minority voice on these issues, but a voice that desperately needs to be heard. I have found it to be the exception to find brethren who hold firmly to God’s precepts in these matters. As with many subjects, many people rely upon their emotions rather than upon a “thus said the Lord.” If we don’t hold firm to God’s law in matters of marriage, who will? --Howell