Jews for Jesus in Dnepropetrovsk
From time to time you see the city of Dnepropetrovsk mentioned in our Bits from the Branches. We’ve reported on evangelistic campaigns there as well. Now we’d like to introduce you to this small, but very active missionary branch in the heart of Ukraine.
Dnepropetrovsk is situated near the middle of the Dneper River in the central part of Ukraine. The population of Dnepropetrovsk is near 1.2 million people, making it one of the biggest centers of Pridneprovie (the Dneper River region). It is also one of the most beautiful cities of Ukraine.
The Jewish population in this city is one of the most consolidated and least assimilated Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union. According to statistics 45,000 Jews live in Dnepropetrovsk.
Jews for Jesus had a summer witnessing campaign in Dnepropetrovsk in 1997, and we opened the branch the following year. We began with two outreach workers (branch leader Valery Bolotov and Sergei Koulakov, both Jewish believers in Jesus) and one administrative worker (not Jewish), Lena Soukhinina, who also loves to do evangelism. Recently, a third outreach worker, Eduard Granovsky, has come from our Moscow branch to join the Dnepropetrovsk team.
Dnepropetrovsk does not have as many crowded areas as some of our branch cities, but there are enough markets, major streets and railway stations where we can hand out our broadside tracts.
We serve the Jews of this city through one on one visits and a small Shabbat Bible study, usually attended by 10-17 people.
We also have Christian friends from evangelical churches who volunteer on a regular basis to help with monthly evangelism projects. We call this our Yadidim” (friends) program, and find that it works well throughout our various branches in Ukraine and Russia.
One of the challenges we face in Dnepropetrovsk is that we are short of workers, especially sisters, who can visit female contacts.
We also encounter opposition from some of the Jewish religious leaders who produced a special TV program in which the Jewish community is told that Jews for Jesus ministry is a sect (cult) to be avoided. However, we know that God can use all opposition for good.
Meet Our Missionaries
I am from a little mining town called Belozerskoye in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. I was born in 1953 and grew up in a Jewish atheistic family. My life was not unusual. However, a moment comes when a person begins to think about the purpose of his existence. Searching for answers, I began to read the Bible. I quickly realized that I was a sinner and started to seek God. In 1993 I came to an evangelical church, repented and was baptized. I have been a staff member of Jews for Jesus since 1999, after volunteering with the ministry for a year.
My father is Jewish but as I was growing up, our family never spoke about God. Nevertheless, by the age of 20 I believed in His existence. I met someone who told me about Jesus and His resurrection and I was drawn to his words. God gave me faith in Jesus and brought me to repentance some time later—in 1996, at the age of 24. I took part in the Jews for Jesus outreach campaign in my native town of Dnepropetrovsk in 1997 as a volunteer and became a staff outreach worker the following year.
I am a Jew who repented (received Jesus) at the age of 36, in 1994 in Kirovograd, Ukraine. In 1995 I became a member of Grace Church and in 1996-1997 I studied at their seminary in Moscow. From 1997-1998 I was a pastoral assistant. I joined the staff of Jews for Jesus in 1998 and served in Odessa and Moscow before moving to Dnepropetrovsk, where my wife, Lena Soukhinina, and I were married on November 8, 2003!
I was born in 1977. My grandmother was the only believer in my family. She prayed for me and tried to reach me with the Good News when I was still a child, but I didn’t take her seriously. However, her prayers were answered two years after she passed away. I met Jesus when I was 15. I moved to Dnepropetrovsk to study, and graduated from the University with a major in applied mathematics. I learned about the ministry of Jews for Jesus at a church presentation and I was invited to take part in street evangelism. I liked it and began to volunteer with the ministry in the beginning of 2000. A few months later I joined the mission as an administrative worker.
Bits from the Dnepropetrovsk Branch
Sergey Koulakov reports, “It was my first visit to husband and wife Yakov and Bella. When I asked, ‘What do you think of Jesus?’ Bella answered with confidence, ‘He is God!’ After more conversation it seemed to me that Bella was ready to receive the Lord so I suggested she turn to God with a request to forgive her sins. She replied that she continually turns to God with this request. Then she stood up, went to another room and brought back a worn, ragged and yellowed paper that had obviously been much read. It turned out to be an old follow-up letter from Jews for Jesus, explaining the gospel and inviting the reader to pray the sinner’s prayer. Bella explained that she reads this prayer every night before going to sleep. Praise God!
“I also had a wonderful visit with Yuri. Many years ago, he was very wealthy but now he hardly finds money for bread. He sees a chain of events that took place in his life as being from God, to help him understand and turn from his sin. Yuri prayed to repent on that visit. Please pray for his spiritual growth.”
Also from Sergey:
“I was coming to the end of a sortie (tract-passing expedition) when a student from a religious Jewish school began to try to hinder me from handing out my tracts.* He hadn’t been there for 30 seconds when a brother in Christ saw what was going on and drew the attention to himself. A group of teenagers from the same school came to join their friend, but they too became involved in talking with that brother. He was only two or three months old in the Lord, but he kept the whole group next to him, giving me an opportunity to finish the last half hour of evangelism unhindered.” (*Those who try to hinder our evangelism do not represent the majority of Jewish people, and their desire to stop our evangelism is because they misunderstand the gospel and believe we are a threat to Jewish survival.)
Eduard Granovsky reports, “Olga was described in our database as a new Jewish believer in Jesus. However when I visited her, it turned out that she was not Jewish (her great-grandmothers had been Jewish). I invited Olga to an evangelical church. ‘Thank you,’ she answered, ‘but I’m 91 years old; I can’t walk and don’t go out.’ Then she told me that about 20 people from her street have been reading our newsletter; some have a Jewish parent or grandparent. I asked her how it came about that so many in her neighborhood read our literature. It turns out that her grandson, Gennady, goes to her house to get mail, and he opens our newsletters. ‘Gennady likes reading about God,’ Olga explained. ‘Then he gives copies to friends on my street. That’s how it comes about that so many people read it.'”
Tatiana Shapiro, a Yadadim volunteer, reports, “While doing evangelism I met a Jewish believer named Svetlana. She asked me to come to her home to visit her mother, Tatiana, who is 79 years old, not a believer and was visiting from Germany. At first Tatiana flatly refused to meet with me, but she gave in to her daughter’s wishes. We talked about Jesus and Tatiana was curious. She has diabetes and she did a sugar test to see how much insulin she should take. I prayed that her blood sugar would be lower than usual and Tatiana said defiantly, ‘Let’s see who your God is!’ Her sugar was so low that she did not need an injection! She became open to the gospel and when her daughter came back, Tatiana exclaimed, ‘Now I’m a sister in Christ!’ A week later, Svetlana let me know that her mother agreed to come to a church service and made a public profession of faith. Despite her back problems she even stood up with everyone during the service. Praise the Lord! Please pray for this family and for Svetlana’s two sisters who still do not know Jesus.”
Please pray for:
- more workers and volunteers, particularly Jewish believing women, to visit our female contacts
- partnership with pastors of the city and opportunities to conduct presentations in churches
- God’s help with the opposition we face, both in terms of anti-missionary activity and governmental “red tape”
- spiritual growth for the new believers mentioned, and for many more to come to faith