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Ukrainian Mennonites purchase church building

   

January 23, 2004

 


The congregation of the Zaporozhye Evangelical Mennonite Church gathers outside its new church building in the former Chortitza region of Ukraine. The purchase was completed on Christmas Eve.

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Support worker Ann Goertzen (right) helps provide care for seniors in a program coordinated by Mennonite Benevolent Society and Bethania Personal Care Services from Manitoba and centered in an adjacent apartment. Frieda Letkemann (left) and Katie Harder (centre) share a moment with Goertzen.

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Winnipeg, Man.— It's been a long time, but once again a Mennonite congregation has its own house of worship in the former Chortitza region in Ukraine.

During World War II church life ceased in the first Mennonite settlement in this part of Russia, now Ukraine. On Christmas Eve, after several years of searching and waiting, the Zaporozhye Evangelical Mennonite Church purchased its own building. The following Sunday the congregation assembled at their new home located just off Zaporozhye's main avenue.

A letter from the church exclaims (translation) “Now we have our own building!!! This building is located right in the center of the city. A new period starts for our congregation. We understand that this is a great blessing from the Lord, but also a great responsibility. We ask Him to give us much wisdom, strength and everything else that we are lacking.”

For the past year the congregation has used a five-room apartment. The new building is a 10 minute walk from the congregation’s present location – and next door to a building rented by the local Communist Party.

The main floor of the former kindergarten, which can accommodate the regular 50-80 worshipers, has room for growth. Its lower level will be used for offices, classrooms and storage. The building requires some major repairs as well as clean-up. The Zaporozhye Building Fund, held by Mennonite Church Canada (Witness), will help finance the work.

The congregation was started in 1994 by motivated local people of Mennonite background, and with help from Frank and Nettie Dyck, retirees from Calgary who were distributing Bibles in Ukraine at the time. In 1996, the then Commission on Overseas Mission (COM) sent Peter and Susan Kehler to serve as pastors, followed by Jake and Dorothy Unrau in 1998. In June 2003 the Unraus handed over leadership to Ivan and Violetta Dushenko, a Ukrainian couple.

Even with some annual migration to Germany each year, the congregation has grown to about 80 members. There are about a dozen baptisms each year. Worship times have gradually shifted from predominantly German language to Russian, attracting more people with no Mennonite background.

The congregation works with youth, conducts several Bible study groups, and offers Sunday School. It has an outreach ministry in another former Mennonite settlement, Nikolaipolye, which may become a new Mennonite congregation. It also participates in a program of care for seniors sponsored and coordinated by Mennonite Benevolent Society and Bethania Personal Care Services from Manitoba and centered in an adjacent apartment.

The purchase of the building was made possible by donations to a special fund first established by COM, now administered by Mennonite Church Canada. The fund has been especially supported by Yarrow United Mennonite Church (BC) and Mennonite Men under its JoinHands (formerly Tenth Man) church building program.

The letter from the congregation concludes with gratitude to their brothers and sisters in North America: “We are very grateful to you that you remember our church and support it by all means. We are praying for you. Our hearts are with you. We are grateful for the help that you provided for purchasing a church building. Thank you very much. Sincerely yours, Brothers and sisters from Zaporozhye Evangelical Mennonite Church.”