From time to time in the Bits from the Branches you see stories from our brothers and sisters in Moscow, Odessa, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Kiev. This month we thought we’d introduce you to Irina Volodarska, a Jewish believer working with our Kiev branch. Originally from Chernobyl, she provides insight into life in Ukraine, as well as what a small world” it is for the family of Jews and Gentiles in Christ.
I was nine years old when the Chernobyl disaster hit. Everyone in Kiev was affected by it. The government hid all information from the population, so we continued to go outside and walk in the forests where the air and trees were contaminated. It was only after several weeks that the children were evacuated; I was taken to the Crimea for two or three months. Many people died back then and many continue to die from different forms of cancer.
We all know that our long-term health has been affected, and that our children will suffer too. We simply try to get on with living and not think about it too much.
If you visited Kiev, you would quickly notice that people don’t have much, as compared to your country. Some of our elderly die from neglect and malnutrition because they don’t have children to support them in their old age. Everybody is preoccupied with his or her own problems. Nobody would smile at a stranger in the street—people would think such a person was crazy. This affects people’s attitudes toward life: they feel they have only themselves to rely upon; they can’t trust anybody and it makes them very unhappy.
Another difference is that Jews like myself and my family, who were brought up under communism, did not have the traditional Jewish taboos regarding Jesus. Most of us simply did not (and many still do not) believe in God at all.
Imagine, then, how strange it is for people on the streets of Kiev to see a Jews for Jesus missionary smile and offer them a tract on the streets—and to hear an encouraging word about the God who loves them!
As Jews for Jesus we are already an oddity merely because of our background and belief. How much more odd we seem to strangers because of our commitment to demonstrate God’s love via street evangelism. While many are wary or suspicious, others are eager to know why we should smile, and why we should care to talk to them.
Another difference is the accessibility of the Scriptures, though that has changed somewhat. When I came to know the Lord, it was impossible to buy Bibles in the former Soviet Union. Churches had to acquire them secretly. My first Bible was supplied by an organization called The Society Distributing Hebrew Scriptures.
Speaking of that organization, I had a lovely encounter in England last spring as I was there to present Christ in the Passover at various churches. A father and daughter traveled a long distance to meet me at one of the church presentations. I was surprised and excited when the man told me that he had been a long-time supporter of The Society Distributing Hebrew Scriptures. I was face-to-face with a man who had helped make it possible for me to have a Bible of my own. His face shone when I explained what a blessing he had been to me.
I encourage you all to trust God in leading you. Wherever you are from and whatever way He chooses to use you, you can be sure that your service to Him will not return void.
Ed: I couldn’t help imagining that one of our Jews for Jesus readers, maybe even you, might one day meet a Jewish believer from Russia or Ukraine and introduce yourself as a long-time supporter of our ministry. And what a blessing it would be if that believer could tell you in return that it was a Jews for Jesus missionary who led him or her to Christ. Whether or not you’ll have that experience here, I don’t know. But I do know that when we are in heaven, we will meet many people whose lives we touched, through prayer, through supporting those who witnessed to them and many other avenues we may not even realize. Won’t that be fun!