Subzero temperatures and an unheated meeting place dont deter believers
from worshipping at the Mennonite Church in Mis, Ukraine.
In less than two years, a thriving Sunday School class has grown out of Natasha
Duecks efforts in training Sunday School teachers and lesson planning.
Photo credits: Peter Rempel
February 25, 2002
MC Canada release by Amy Dueckman
Kherson, UkraineWith temperatures outside at 15C and no
heat inside, the only warmth to be found in the Mennonite Church at Mis (near
Kherson, Ukraine) on a winter Sunday morning is the fellowship of the believers.
Worshipers travel ice-covered roads to the local cultural center where the
congregation meets; they huddle in the service with hat-covered heads and hands
tucked in sleeves or coat pockets. Preaching, guitar playing and concentrating
on the sermon become much more difficult in the uncomfortably cold indoor temperatures.
Cliff Dueck, Mennonite Church Canada worker from Steinbach, Manitoba who pastors
the Kherson church, shortens the worship on the coldest days to 30 minutes from
the usual two hours. Many worshipers do not even attend because with poor health
care in the Ukraine, they cannot risk getting sick. Nonetheless, Cliff reports,
"we do enjoy worshipping together and learning about God. The [church members]
attitude is one of worship and thanksgiving."
Subzero temperatures are just one of the challenges facing Cliff and his wife
Natasha, who have been ministering to the Mennonite church in Kherson since believers
in the region formed the congregation two years ago. Frigid winter weather sometimes
causes water pipes to freeze, leaving many people without running water for a
couple of days. If this happens, explains Cliff, most people seek out a neighbour
who has water, and fill containers for heating and cooking. But then most people
are also accustomed to unreliable water service, and keep full forty-litre containers
on hand for times when water is not available. The Duecks feel fortunate to be
able to transport their water by car, an advantage those without a vehicle do
Then there are the electrical problems. Service is unreliable. "We have
been able to keep warm by using electric heaters and can be thankful that for
the most part the electricity is not being rationed for the time being,"
Cliff, who first worked with a pastor couple in the nearby village of Chernobaevka
when he arrived in the Ukraine in 1998, became pastor of the new church in Kherson
about the time he and Natasha married two years later. In addition to his pastoral
duties, he also helps to administer a revolving loan fund for Mennonite and Baptist
entrepreneurs in the Kherson region (see sidebar). Natasha, who trains Sunday
school teachers and plans lessons, is happy to report that attendance has grown
from nothing two years ago to thirty today.
The Duecks are optimistic in spite of the inconveniences the cold weather presents.
Reflecting on what God may have to teach him, Cliff offers, "Im pretty
sure it has to do with trusting and relying on Him, because its His work
anyway, and to be sure, it has a lot to do with loving my neighbour."
Sidebar: Revolving Loan Fund Promotes Self-sufficiency
The revolving loan fund in the region was started to help churches become less
dependent on North American funding. The fund serves church business people who
are looking to expand or start small businesses. "The idea of a credit union
or revolving fund was new to Ukrainian culture as a whole and there were a lot
of doubts as to how it would or if it would work at all," says Cliff Dueck.
A charter was set up and Cliff became administrator of the fund because he was
the only one with experience in such matters. Initially, Mennonite Central Committee
(MCC) helped with a grant to get projects started.
"Our charter uses Galatians 6:10 as its foundational verse," says
Cliff ("So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and
especially to those who are of the household of faith"). "We get applications
for various projects from renting land to planting vegetables to raising livestock.
When our (five member) board of directors approves a loan the person uses the
money and returns it to us and we give the money out to the next person inline.
Currently twenty-six people are being served and twenty-three business projects
have already been finished."
Others on the board include the pastors of two other nearby churches, a worker
in the local orphanage, and a member of the Christian Church of Kherson who is
a farmer and electrician. A representative of MCC also relates to the group.
Cliff finds that administering the fund has its own challenges, as when people
become delinquent in making payments. "Mixing the right words to build the
person up and the right words to bring them to the point of understanding that
the money needs to be returned so that it can help others can be a test in itself,"