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Canada-Ukraine connection supports carpenter turned preacher


September 8, 2003
-Kira Olfert

Easter program: Cliff and Natasha Dueck help to organize and lead services for an emerging congregation in Mis, a village near Kherson, Ukraine. They are also building relationships with other faith explorers in nearby villages. Here, worshippers participate in outdoor Easter services at Chernobaevka.

Prince Albert, Sask.— In 1974, Jacob Pauls traveled from Osler, Saskatchewan, to the then Soviet Union to visit Margareta, a sister he hadn't seen in 48 years.

Nearly 30 years later that trip has yielded a partnership between the extended Pauls family and Mennonite Church Canada Witness in support of a fruitful pastoral ministry in Kherson, Ukraine.

Jacob Pauls was three, and his sister Margareta five when they and their siblings were orphaned. The children were farmed out to relatives: Margarita went to one set of grandparents, while Jacob, brother Henry and sister Maria went to the other set. Jacob, Henry, and Maria later immigrated to Canada.

During a visit with Margareta, Jacob and his wife Mary heard one of Margareta’s daughters say "When our mother dies, you will forget about us here."

The mournful comment became a challenge for the extended Pauls family in Canada; they continued corresponding with their family in Ukraine through letters, phone calls and visits. Since 1996 the family has supported Margareta’s, grandchildren, Elena and Sergei Deynekin so that they can serve fulltime in pastoral ministry.

When Sergei and Elena married in the early 1980's, he was a highly respected and much sought after carpenter in Kherson. By the early 1990's the couple had both become Christians, and along with their daughters Rita and Sasha, (son Daniel 2, has since joined the family), began attending a new Baptist church in their vicinity. In 1992, the couple was baptized, and Sergei and Elena began helping a local pastor, Anatoli Baranov, with his ministry, including visits to the five area prisons and evangelism in a nearby village, Chernobaevka.

This came as no surprise to their relatives in Canada, many of whom had met the Deynekins when they came to Canada for a reunion of the children and grandchildren of siblings Jacob and Henry Pauls and Maria Pauls Driedger Buhler.

Before Sergei himself ever announced his intentions, they had recognized in him "such potential, such a passion for the Lord and people," says Edna Zacharias, Jacob’s daughter of Osler. Several family members agreed they would support Sergei and Elena any way they could should the couple ever choose to go into full time ministry. But, not wanting to push the couple prematurely, the family sat back and waited.

So when Sergei made the phone call to tell family of his plan, they were ready for him, and promptly offered to support them with money and prayers.

The family wanted to give their support in an “organized and meaningful manner,” and since many were active in the (then) General Conference Mennonite Church, they proposed to channel their support through the Commission on Overseas Mission. COM agreed to adopt this ministry and its support. When Mennonite Church Canada inherited the Canadian portion of General Conference mission work, the responsibility for facilitating this ministry was transferred to Mennonite Church Canada.

The Canadian branch of the Pauls family provides a set monthly support which allows both Sergei and Elena to devote themselves to the congregational ministry, cover their vehicle costs and miscellaneous expenses for the congregation. An additional amount was added to funds from Witness so that the Deynekins could attend a course in Prague in February on evangelism in the former Soviet Union. The large extended Pauls family - Jacob had nine children, Henry had 8, and Maria, seven - also prays regularly for the couple.

Each of the families has appointed contact people for this partnership with the Deynekins. Aside from Edna Zacharias and her husband Art, these are Otto and Florence Driedger of Regina, and John and Mary Pauls and Joyce and Barry Suderman, all of Winnipeg. These representatives have formed a Kherson Ministries Reference Group together with representatives of Witness, which discerns how the support of the Deynikins will be sustained and evaluated. A covenant between the Pauls family and Witness, drafted by Eric Olfert, MC Canada Witness facilitator in Saskatchewan, is almost finalized.

Peter Rempel, who participated in COM’s involvement, now facilitates the partnership under MC Canada Witness International Ministries. He notes that Sergei and Elena have been instrumental in mentoring and giving ongoing counsel to Cliff and Natasha Dueck, Witness workers with an emerging Mennonite congregation in Mis, another village near Kherson.

Throughout this partnership, both the Driedgers and the Zachariases have kept in personal contact with the Deynekins. The Driedgers’ have other involvements in Ukraine; on those trips they always try to go to Kherson for a day or two to visit. The Zachariases keep in regular phone contact with the Deynekins, have made a few visits to Kherson and have hosted visits by various members of the Ukrainian family to Canada.

The last of these visits to Canada was for Christmas 2001, when Elena Deynekin accompanied her parents to Osler. While in Canada, she was introduced to the idea of community pastors meeting regularly for fellowship and when she returned to Ukraine, explained the idea to Sergei, who then organized a ministerial for the Kherson area.

Elena also returned with the idea of dramatic readings for Christmas and Easter to her home church, and they have since adopted those practices, which Zacharias says is "cutting edge" for Ukraine.

In the next few years, Zacharias hopes that the Deynekin's church will be able to move out of its current location - a converted garage - and into a bigger building. They also hope that Sergei will be able to extend his education and then take on more of a leadership role in the broader church in Ukraine, putting his education and potential to work.

But the Deynekins and their church are not the only ones benefiting from this relationship. When asked what this partnership means for her and her family, Zacharias immediately becomes emotional. She explains that she can remember as a child, her parents "praying for their sister, that she would not lose her faith. And so when the next generation became Christians, we were so happy." She is also moved by the fact that, in some way, she is "part of the gospel being spread in the land where my father learned faith. That is very important to me."

And, says Zacharias, her family's story is a strong reminder that the "Lord is faithful, if we are faithful, too."

Update from the Deynekins

Between Chernobaevka and Kherson there is a village called Stepanovka. A family (husband, wife and three small children) from this village attend our church. Nickolai, the husband is a sports coach. They have a big house and in the basement Nickolai has built a training center for sports. Teens come to him for training and he tells them about Christ. Already three have started coming to church. We have a sisters bible study group and we are working through a program called “Building a partnership”; we meet on Thursdays. We have decided to have a work out on Tuesdays and even non-believers join us for these workouts. Afterwards Nickolai’s wife Masha, who also joins us for the workout, invites us for tea. We talk about God’s work, and about Christ Jesus. On our street there are two women who attend our Bible studies and workouts. One of them has already come to church several times, the other has not yet, although very eagerly joins us for bible studies.

- With love, the Deynekin family