When Jon, Katie, Emily, and Jason arrived in Kiev, Ukraine, with iEDGE (international EDGE Corps) early last November, the future seemed bursting with promise. Members of the second class of iEDGErs, the team was embarking on two years of ministry to the Ukrainian people, serving alongside long-term international Navigator staff, charging into unknown adventure. The group would soon come to a deeper realization of Christ as their surest foundation and most resilient hope.
When Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich suddenly cut ties with the European Union near the end of November, the apparent move toward greater alignment with Russia ignited a storm of frustrated protest. Kiev’s Independence Square filled with citizens determined to make their voices heard. Violence erupted in the beginning of December, prompting protesters to set up permanent camp there.
To the eye untrained by God’s sovereignty, the situation looked bleak. But for the iEDGE team, the harvest fields of Ukraine blossomed with potential.
Call and Response
The call to Ukraine was a surprise to several of the iEDGE team members. In many cases, Ukraine chose them. But where there was once little more than curiosity, there now rests a deep love for the nation and its people.
“At first glance, Ukrainians can seem harsh,” Katie says. “But, over the last six months, I have seen more openness, grace, and depth among these people than anywhere else I have traveled.”
The experience of God’s great Ukrainian unknown has been an intense refining process for the team, Emily says.
“Being in a different culture, I’ve realized my need for reliance on Jesus in the daily things so much more, and I see how much pride and sin I have,” Emily says. “I’m thankful for that revealing journey.”
Rest and Unrest
Initially, as the protests began, life continued as usual. In-country NavMissions staffers Tyler and Kelly provided counsel and oversight for the team in Kiev as they made daily decisions in handling the fast-evolving political situation. The team continued to hold English clubs, tutor Ukrainian students, and share their faith through any opened doors.
“On February 18, the first day of the most intense violence, we were at our Russian tutor’s apartment and heard about the shootings,” Jon says. “We heard sirens and saw smoke from the protests in the distance. We were especially careful over the next few days. A week-long English club began that night, so the violence and the government changeover happened during our biggest opportunity to meet students.”
The timing was strange, but it had God’s redeeming hands all over it.
“It was a very interesting time to be with students and hear their reactions and thoughts about enormous changes in their country.” Jon says. “Some of our closest friendships began at that English club during that week, and God has continued to provide us with relationships and depth that sometimes doesn’t even make sense to us.”
The Power of Relationship
The first Ukrainian Katie met is now her closest friend.
Olia has been attending a Navigator group for about three years, and had been doing a Bible study with Kelly for a while, Katie says. Olia believed, but had shadows of hesitation in committing her life to Christ. Then she met Katie.
“She and I bonded instantly over hobbies and movies, having similar personalities and senses of humor,” Katie says. “At the end of November, I worked up all the courage I had and asked her to do one-on-one Bible study with me after Christmas. At the end of January, Olia had her last Bible study with Kelly, and God opened her eyes. She surrendered her life to Christ that night.”
The following week, Olia and Katie began meeting to study the Bible together.
“It has been incredible to share all areas of my life with her,” Katie says. “Now Olia is ministering to her mother, grandmother, and best friend as they witness the change God has made in her life—and I get to be her cheerleader in these things, even as she encourages me to reach out to other students.”
Center Stage with Jesus
The situation in Ukraine remains unsettled, but the Ukrainian people still cling to hope.
“The big issues are center stage in the lives of everyone here—life and death, purpose and values, meaning and hope,” Jason says. “God is raising questions and tapping on the eternity He’s put into the hearts of many here.”
In the days and months ahead, this team will rest in the promise that God redeems everything—including upheaval and uncertainty—for ultimate good.
“We don’t know what’s ahead,” Jon says, “but our team wants to stay and continue with what God is doing here in us, and in the lives of the people He has placed in our path.”
EDGE Corps is a Collegiate internship program that has been a ministry of The Navigators since 1995. iEDGE, a collaboration between Collegiate and NavMissions launched in 2012, is the international version of that program. Teams are currently serving in four countries, with another three countries being added this fall.