The historic city of Vinnitsa is one of Ukraine’s inland tourist destinations. It lies 260 km west of the capital, Kiev, with a population of approximately 370,000 inhabitants. Vinnitsa boasts one of Europe’s largest musical fountains to be found next to the Roshen chocolate factory, the original producer and installer of this popular feature. The fountains in Vinnitsa are a favourite spot in the summer for the large crowds who gather on the river banks to watch the multimedia light and music show. The city is also home to Europe’s largest Baptist Church.
Freedom to teach the next generation
OM started working in Vinnitsa in 1996, five years after the country received its independence from the Soviet Union. During the years of Soviet rule, teaching religion to children was prohibited by law. Independence in 1991 brought freedom for its inhabitants to express their Christian beliefs without opposition from the authorities. Reaching the next generation for Christ became a high priority for the churches, a vision the OM team shared.
OM was, in fact, the first group to start ‘Sunday’ schools on any given day of the week in Ukraine. The OM team worked with, and trained, local Christians; soon several churches were ready to start ‘Sunday’ schools. Today’s strategy still includes teaching children and teens the ways of Christ, but the outreach area has expanded to the numerous villages surrounding the city that can be easily reached by car from the city centre.
The next generation’s children
In general, the OM team helps a church start its own Sunday school and runs it for three years, including camps during school breaks over the summer, Christmas and Easter. When the three years are completed, the church normally takes over, while the OM team moves on to help another church. This year OM Vinnitsa ran Sunday Schools in three villages.
Camps and special events often include puppet shows, which are always popular with the children. The stories are recorded to allow foreigners on Global Challenge (short-term) teams to participate even if they do not speak a word of either Russian or Ukrainian.
OM team member Tanya Morgunova explains that each camp lasts for an entire week, starting with introducing the programme in church on Sunday. On Monday morning, the children are eagerly awaiting a fun-filled week. Although they sleep at home each night, they come back to the camp every morning; teens have their own programme in the evenings. “It is a full, somewhat exhausting, but very rewarding week,” laughs Tanya, “but we always emphasise that the camp belongs to the church. We support and train their leaders but in no way take over. The church also contributes by providing lunch for the children.”
An average camp normally expects to cater for between 30-60 children, but sometimes up to 100 turn up! At the end of the week, the parents are invited to come and see what campers have been up to as the children share what they have learnt.
Training leaders, providing materials
OM holds training seminars for Sunday school teachers, lasting up to four days, with the aim of inspiring and helping the churches to continue the Sunday school work themselves. The training also helps to build relationships between churches and the children’s workers, using newly-introduced and taught materials. Tanya has written most of the materials herself, as she is responsible for programme development for the whole year, and making it available to the churches.
At the time of writing, the OM team is quite small; the last foreigners returned home after finishing their commitment. Local volunteers do provide invaluable help; in fact, several of the full-time OM workers started as volunteers, and many volunteers met Christ through Sunday school. Several short-term foreigners are expected on the field over the next few months; and national Ukrainians would love to join full-time as OM workers, if they could raise sufficient support. For it has proven difficult to finance missions from national giving, partly because of long-held expectations that missions come from outside to contribute to the nation’s churches, and not the other way around.
Please pray for the OM team in Vinnitsa, and for the seeds sown through the Sunday schools to bear much fruit. Pray also for more team members to join, both nationally and from overseas. Pray that God would reveal His strategy for future ministry, and provide for ministry and financial needs.
If you would like to join the team or contribute financially, please contact your local OM office.