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From pride to humble service: A Ukrainian Mennonite pastor’s story
Nov 15, 2005
Zaporozhye, Ukraine/Winnipeg, Man. – As a journalist in Ukraine, Victor Kuleshov took great pride in seeing his by-line in the paper. He lived in a world separated from God, in an exclusive circle revolving around money and self-centredness.
By Ukrainian standards, Kuleshov was doing quite well: he had disposable income and could purchase what he needed – or wanted. Yet, he felt a great emptiness.
Restless, Kuleshov left journalism and worked at a series of unfulfilling jobs, falling deeper into despair. Finally, he was struck with an inexplicable urge to call an aunt and invite himself to join her in church. It was here where Kuleshov began his exploration of faith.
Eventually, Kuleshov found his true calling within the Church. He took an active role spreading the Christian message. After graduating from Zaporozhye Bible College, Kuleshov served as a preacher at the Central Baptist Church in Zaporozhye and later returned to the Bible College to work full time. Most recently, Kuleshov was commissioned as interim pastor of the Mennonite Church in Zaporozhye.
“I have found the way, the truth, and the life,” said Kuleshov in his installation testimony. “I have come forward to the pulpit, repented and given my life to the Lord. Now I am happy in my family and in my life serving on His field.”
It’s people like Victor Kuleshov that make Arnie Neufeld optimistic about the future of the Ukrainian Church. Neufeld, a retired pastor of Winkler Bergthaler Mennonite Church (Manitoba), happened to be teaching New Testament courses at Zaporozhye Bible College and was on hand to install Kuleshov as pastor for a six month interim position.
“Victor is committed to the Church, open to new ideas; he is reliable and very gifted,” explains Neufeld. He is someone in whom the congregation can place trust and confidence. Quality leadership is especially important, in light of the many struggles the Ukrainian people endure.
Neufeld has witnessed the challenges of Ukrainian society first hand during several stints of volunteer ministry in recent years. The transition from the former communist regime has been troublesome. Political instability and extensive social problems are among the many barriers present. One major concern is a lack of trust, embedded in Ukrainian society during the soviet era, that has spilled over into the Church.
Neufeld volunteers at the Zaporozhye Bible College with support from his home congregation and moral support from Mennonite Church Canada Witness. Through his teaching and training of future church leaders, he also hopes to help restore trust and establish a stronger community feeling in the Ukrainian church. His wife, Trudi, complements Arnie’s ministry by teaching English to eager students at the College.
Arnie recognizes a budding optimism in the youth of the Ukraine – and hopes leaders can capitalize on it. They are hopeful for the future and open to new ideas, ideal receptors for the message of Christ.
Kuleshov’s quest for faith is an example of the transformation possible when trust is placed in God and fellow believers. Previously he focused solely on personal gain. Now as a pastor, Kuleshov can share his zest for Christ with others.
With people like Victor Kuleshov leading the faithful in Zaporozhye, Neufeld is confident that Ukrainian Church will continue to grow stronger.
Neufeld considers his time spent in Ukraine an “incredibly enriching experience” and encourages others to support the ministry. Furthermore, he suggests that people take advantage of any opportunity to grow in a service experience like this.
“The Mennonite Church has a real important role to play in the Ukraine. Part of our story took place there, and to go back and share the faith with these people is a privilege, and, I think a responsibility that we have.”
In addition to the Neufeld’s volunteer work, Mennonite Church Canada Witness supports Cliff and Natasha Dueck’s ministry in Kherson, Ukraine. The author, Jeff Enns, is an English major and Canadian Mennonite University student working in a practicum study experience with Mennonite Church Canada’s communications department.