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Cold Temperatures Present Challenges for Ukraine Ministry

  Subzero temperatures and an unheated meeting place don’t 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 Dueck’s efforts in training Sunday School teachers and lesson planning.
Photo credits: Peter Rempel

February 25, 2002
MC Canada release by Amy Dueckman

Kherson, Ukraine—With 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 not have.

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 says.

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, "I’m pretty sure it has to do with trusting and relying on Him, because it’s His work anyway, and to be sure, it has a lot to do with loving my neighbour."

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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," he says.