Interview with Volodymyr Khramykh, a graduate of the B.Th. in Theology and Christian Ministry program, and his wife, Rymma, on their ministry in the war zone in Eastern Ukraine.
Volodymyr: Originally, my wife and I are from Kazakhstan. Without Rymma I would have never become the minister I am today. I am happy she is with me right now.
Regarding how I came to God, it was a long and painful road. Life was tough in the 1990s. I got involved with the world of crime. Alcohol and drugs became an indispensable part of my routine. Eventually, I came to the point of being reluctant to live. That was the moment when I felt like going to a church. In the past I had attended an evangelical church occasionally with my friends. So, I decided to go there again. After that I kept attending services and listening to the Gospel. Also, I eventually went to rehab, where I got to know the Lord and started reading the Scriptures.
I was learning gradually who God was. Having returned from rehab, I noticed a UETS brochure in the lobby of my church, which had been left by a woman from church who had studied there before. So, I researched the seminary, got in touch with the admissions department and became a student. I had been dating Rymma before leaving for my studies. When I had come home after my first year of seminary, we got married and returned to Ukraine together.
While writing my bachelor’s thesis, I became friends with pastor Lytovchenko from Chervonoarmiysk, a town in Eastern in Ukraine, who invited us to join him. After receiving my bachelor’s degree, we embarked on our first short-term mission trip to the East of Ukraine, our first experience serving in the war zone, where we ministered to children. Later we were invited to a recent church plant in Toretsk for pastoral ministry, where we encountered some difficulties and decided to leave in order to avoid splitting the church. So, we returned to the seminary. Praise the Lord, UETS always accepts us!
It is worth mentioning that my experience as a believer and minister started here. The seminary enabled me to look at people beyond their denominational label, to respect their different points of view and understand that they are as dear to the Lord as I am. Actually, it does not matter whether one is a Pentecostal, Baptist, Orthodox, or Catholic: we are all one in Christ.
It is the seminary that fostered in me a broader look at ministry. It is the seminary that gave me education and knowledge of the Bible. I think UETS has contributed to around 70% of what I do. The rest is likely a result of life experience. In other words, the seminary gave me a solid foundation. This is something I am really grateful for.
Back in Kyiv we were helping Oleksander Malyovanyi plant a new church, seeking God’s will for our place of ministry. I did not feel led to apply for a secular job. I wanted to be in full-time ministry. I had a fire inside of me. Once a fellow believer told me some wise words: “Let your fire warm people up rather than burn them.” So, we started looking around. We were not afraid to take steps in a variety of directions. That is why as students we were open to serving at a local church in Tuzhar then go to Chervonoarmiysk and Toretsk. Understanding the need is what guided us rather than a revelation of any kind. Looking back, I can see how God was shaping me.
Rymma: We kept on praying and fasting to know God's will.
Volodymyr: Once a UETS professor, Petro Kovaliv, told me about a front-line church in Stanytsia Luhanska that needed a pastor. Everything in our life happens in extraordinary rather ordinary way. Sometimes, however, natural things are more eloquent than words. I decided to try. I got contact information at New Life Church in Kyiv and left for Stanystia Luhanskaya. Initially, I went there for a week to get acquainted with the people and atmosphere.
Rymma: When Volodymyr came back I asked him about his impression. He gave me a one-word answer: ‘People’.
Volodymyr: I saw people there who needed the Gospel. We know that God changes lives by illuminating them. The people I saw were desperate. They had neither hope, nor trust. So, we brought them hope in God. Today we see that their lives are undergoing changes. They are gradually being set free from fear.
Rymma: We find ourselves needed there. We feel God’s hand on us, His blessings and protection.
Volodymyr: Rymma has a gift from God to work with children. She draws kids and teenagers. She shares with them an unconditional love that they haven’t had. Many children are mentally broken in the war zone from military activity, death, insecurity and non-stop danger.
Rymma: We know a boy named Ivan whose house was bombed. As a result, he started stuttering and forgot how to write and read. Today, we are teaching him the alphabet all over again. He also suffers from involuntary urination at nights. He uses foul language. His stepfather abuses him, as if the child owes him something. When we came to the town, Ivan clung to us. He began visiting us regularly. When he comes, we usually bake cakes together or do crafts. Once I suggested that next time he bring his sister Maria with him. Later we invited his mom too. She has attended our services twice now. We believe she will keep coming and continue pray for Ivan's older brother and stepfather to come to know the Lord.
Volodymyr: We are trying to adapt our ministry to meet the needs of the environment in which we serve. In other words, we are not projecting our previous experiences. God makes everything new. That is why it is important for ministers, particularly in the East, to be alert and see what God is doing here and now. Whatmethods work in this or that environment... We do not put on special evangelistic events here at all. There is no need.
Rymma: One woman says to another: “I go to this church. It is really good there. Let’s go together!” She invites her neighbor, who, in her turn, invites hers. In this way the church is slowly growing. When we came, there were ten people. Today, in a year, the church has grown to sixty, excluding children and teenagers. And many children come. They enjoy the children's ministries.
Volodymyr: It turns out that evangelism is taking place through the love that is growing out from within our community. We set out from the very beginning to create an atmosphere of acceptance, love and trust. When people feel you are open and sincere it attracts them to you. That is why our evangelism technique might be called heart to heart evangelism.
People already know about Evangelical churches there. As a matter of fact, the ministry in Stanytsia Luhanska was founded by volunteers, who set up a prayer tent there in 2015. It is worth remembering that this is a grey zone not far from the checkpoint on the way to Luhansk. That is why there are so many people there waiting in lines. Some are leaving Lugansk, some are heading into Luhansk. The tent was set up so that all those traveling back and forth could rest and at the same time hear the word of God. We joined other's work. Someone sowed and we went in to carry on their work.
The local culture itself is rather interesting. People are mostly Orthodox, very devout. And I came to understand that people needed to be addressed using language they understand. They are used to a certain style and in my opinion it is great to use it in your ministry, because then people do not consider you as an outsider and no longer fear, understanding that we are Christians too rather than some sect.
Rymma: All our elderly women already know the creed, Psalm 90 and Psalm 50. It is with these women our ministry began.
Volodymyr: We have just purchased the house we live in. In fact, people from different countries have helped us. We're not on our own out there. We are supported spiritually, morally and financially. We have now moved the tent to the church premises. We’ve raised money for its insulation and we would like to buy a heater. We have decided to gather there in winter. The people are faithful and committed. Rain, freezing temperatures, bad weather – nothing keeps them from coming.
Rymma: Winter is so cold but our women come to prayer meetings, saying, “If we do not come to morning prayer, we feel like the day is wasted."
Volodymyr: It is not easy, of course. There's a lot of evil propaganda from different sides. So I see God's providence in the fact the we are citizens of Kazakhstan. Our task is to help people come to know Christ rather than get involved in political debates. What is also important is to be impartial. In this way people are drawn to you. They trust you. Unfortunately, there is a tendency today, when even believers become biased by labeling others. Before I came here, some people asked me: "Will it be difficult for you to minister to separatists?” And I answered: "Did Christ practice such division?" I always remember the words of Jesus that it’s not the healthy who need healing, but the sick. Impartiality enables us to be more open and show people that we are ready to accept them.
Yes, people can do evil, but as a bearers of God's image, they deserve love.