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LCC on the road: Growth in Ukraine

November 13, 2012 No Comment

SELCU's 2012 Convention

by Robert Bugbee

Beloved sisters and brothers in Canada,

After flights from Winnipeg to Toronto, Toronto to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Vienna, and finally Frankfurt to Odessa, I arrived in Ukraine November 7. Bishop Viktor Graefenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) invited me to attend their annual convention, which took place November 8-9 at Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an suburb of Odessa.

I see real progress in the seminary building since I was last here for its dedication in August 2010. It is now a beehive of activity. Five gifted young men are in their third and final year of study, and are currently being taught by Rev. Colin Liske of Nanaimo, BC. He and his wife, Judith, are giving 12 weeks of their time this fall away from home to serve our partners. They’re doing it with a diligent and humble spirit, and I’m so proud and thankful we have pastoral families like theirs in LCC.

By Canadian standards, the SELCU convention keeps things fairly simple. They do not operate with advance printed materials, floor committees, or anything of that sort. They did, however, have a very full agenda, and the Thursday sessions went well into the night. I had the honour of preaching at the convention opening service Thursday morning. Then, unexpectedly (remember, this is Ukraine!) I was assigned to preach again Thursday evening. There was very intense discussion about how to prepare for the vicars who will now come into the congregations next spring when the academic portion of their studies have ended. This is a serious matter, since the church has virtually no funding to provide salaries for them, and any congregation accepting a vicar will need also to find a place for him and his family to live. In addition to the vicarage issue, the Synod also decided to establish a mission station in the city of Simferopol, the capital of the Crimean peninsula. With God’s blessing this may develop in time into a full-fledged congregation.

Of course, it’s a happy blessing to see brothers well known to our LCC people: Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko now serves the SELCU congregation here in Odessa, and actually lives in the seminary building. The work is going well, as are his contacts with university students and Muslims in the hope of bringing Christ to them in words and actions. Rev. Alexey Navrotsky was here from Dnepropetrovsk and will continue working on LCC’s behalf over the next several years with young adults at the Alpha and Omega Christian Student Society in that city, as well as pastoring the SELCU congregation there.

On the weekend, we took to the road. Bishop Graefenstein and a van-full of co-workers went with me 170 km north to the village of Ostrovka, where I preached for an afternoon service in the little house chapel. This congregation is hoping to establish a home for teenagers who need to learn how to manage everyday life in the vulnerable years after they leave orphanages. Children living in orphanages is a common situation in Ukraine because alcoholism and other problems sometimes prompt the civil state to take them from their parents.

Then, on Sunday morning, it was off to the city of Nikolayev, 140 km east of Odessa, where I preached for the regular service in our congregation there and spent time with the members afterward over coffee and sweet rolls.

It’s difficult to find the words to gather up everything experienced these past days. But it fills me with gratitude when I think of the bond of love between our church and this young Ukrainian synod, when I think of Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen and others who have sacrificed so much to provide pastoral training to this church, when I remember the early labours of Revs. Roland Syens and Keith Haberstock who forged ties in the early days of Ukraine’s independence which still exist for us to this day, and when I remember the generosity of the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society (CLMS), the Schwan Foundation, and many LCC pastors and congregations who have planted and watered here.

Well, friends, the garden is growing! Like all gardens, it doesn’t always grow as fast or as uninterrupted as we might like, but it is growing, just the same. I hope you’ll hold these people in your prayers and find ways to show them your love as God opens the door for you to do so.


Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.

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