Interview with Eric Yodis, student on the master’s program Mission in a Modern City and American missionary to Ukraine
How did you come to know God?
Every evening our family would eat together and afterward, we would read Our Daily Bread and a passage from the Bible. At an early age, I learned I was a sinner and Jesus was the Savior, so at the early age of five I asked Jesus to forgive me for my sinner and to be my Savior. At the age of eight, I was baptized. Sometimes I wonder if that was a bit early, but in the Bible I have not found that there is an age limit to obeying Christ, nor that there is a knowledge level. I had a brief period of rebellion against God when I was a teenager, but now as I look back, I see God's grace and mercy in my life. It only took me a couple of months to realize that I didn't want to live without God in my life, so I repented and renewed my relationship to God. Since then I have never regretted my decision to follow Christ.
How did you become a missionary?
I never had a desire to become a missionary. We were serving the Lord at a church in California and simply wanted to teach the young people about missions, but truthfully, I had very little understanding of what it meant to be a missionary. So, in 1992, I joined a group of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans that came to Kyiv and to Minsk on a short-term ministry trip. I thought that if I could just experience a short missions trip, I could convey what I learned to the young people in our church. This turned out to be a false expectation, but what surprised me even more was that God broke my heart with a love for Ukraine and its people. My eyes were opened to how few churches there were and even now the deficit of churches is Ukraine's greatest critical need. While I remained quiet about what God was doing in my heart, the Holy Spirit was at work in my wife's life and preparing her to heed the call. Within thirteen months, the Holy Spirit had brought us both to obedience in answering his voice to relocate to Ukraine.
How did your ministry in Ukraine start?
Beth and I moved to Ukraine in June of 1995 and spent the first two years building a foundation for future ministry by language learning, cultural adaptation and by building relationships as the Spirit lead us. Then in 1997 God allowed us to form a team of Godly men who would go on to become the ministry team that fleshed out the church planting program called "Project 250." This was the basis of our ministry for the next 19 years in eastern Ukraine until the war of Russian aggression forced us to leave our friends and home in Donetsk.
What ministry are you currently involved in?
Currently, we continue to facilitate church planting. We use whatever means are at our disposal to motivate and promote a vision for church planting. Through ministering the Word in sermon, music, counsel or the arts, we seek to help the Ukrainian church do what the body of Christ in Ukraine has been called of God to do. Our hope is to form a "Dream Team" of church planters from across Ukraine that will be able to provide the vision and future leadership for church planting for this wonderful union of Christ-followers. We currently are involved in a church plant in Irpin which is being lead by Andriy Meleshko.
What are the biggest challenges you have been facing in your ministry in Ukraine?
There are a number of challenges that we face here in Ukraine, not the least of which is linguistic. While in the east, we learned Russian language, but as our ministry responsibilities have expanded into other parts of Ukraine it has become important to understand Ukrainian and be able to converse, but our skills in Ukrainian are unfortunately much weaker than in Russian. Secondly, I think many western missionaries have come to Ukraine with pockets full of cash instead of taking an incarnate approach to ministry. There has been an expectation created that the missionary's task is provide funding to Ukrainian nationals who will fulfill the missionary's program. Our approach, is quite different than that and we are often approached with false hopes and expectations. The challenge is to get beyond that expectation and see if we can be helpful to find a local solution for local issues. The third challenge I would mention is the difficulty of waiting upon the Lord and allowing God to be God. He does things that often don't make sense to us and it is through our weakness that His strength is made known. We came to Ukraine not knowing how to speak, nor how to use transport, how to cook or even how to properly open a sunflower seed. Yet we are reminded that it was through the weakness of a baby that Jesus came into the world, and it was through the absurdity of sending us to Ukraine that God has often made Himself known.
What prompted you to enroll in Mission in a Modern City program at UETS?
Also, if anybody wants to know why I am studying at UETS, I suppose it is because I felt the Lord was leading me to study under my good friend, John White who is an amazing person and teacher. It has not been easy to study at my age... or at least not so much academically, but my prayer of late has been to ask God to give me compassion and how to show His compassion in a rapidly increasing urban world. Through these studies God has been answering that prayer.