The Middle of Somewhere
Dnepropetrovsk is located near the middle of the Dneper River in central Ukraine. With nearly 1.2 million people, it is one the largest cities in the Dneper River region. Dnepropetrovsk has been Ukraine’s main center for metallurgical and machine-building industry, and it is also a center for aerospace and rocket-building industry. Yet it is also reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine!
Some 45,000 Jewish people live in Dnepropetrovsk. The Jewish population in this city is one of the most concentrated and least assimilated in the former Soviet Union. In the summer of 1997, Jews for Jesus had our first evangelistic campaign in Dnepropetrovsk, and in 1998, a small but dedicated branch (a twig?) of Jews for Jesus opened there.
In 1999, Valery Bolotov was appointed branch leader and in 2004, Victoria Negrimovskaya and Tatyana Bolotova (Valery’s wife) joined the branch.
While Dnepropetrovsk isn’t as crowded as some cities, there are plenty of markets, major streets and railway stations where our missionaries regularly hand out our broadside tracts. They also conduct one-on-one visits and hold a small Shabbat Bible study. Christian friends volunteer on a regular basis to help with monthly evangelism projects. This Yedidim” (friends) program, works well throughout our various branches in Ukraine and Russia.
From time to time you may see the following Jews for Jesus staff mentioned in stories from our Behold Your God Israel campaigns as well. That is because many Jewish people have left Russia and Ukraine seeking a new life in Israel. Staff from various Jews for Jesus branches in Russia and Ukraine, including Dnepropetrovsk, circulate in and out of our campaigns in Israel.
Branch leader Valery Bolotov was born in 1953 in Ukraine. His atheistic Jewish family never spoke about God, yet in 1993, Valery visited a Protestant church in his village. He says, “I realized that I was a sinner, repented and received Jesus into my heart. God filled me with the Holy Spirit and love for His chosen people.”
In 1998, Valery met Jews for Jesus. He recalls, “When I was invited to attend Jews for Jesus School of Shlichim (Messengers), it was an answer to my prayers. I decided to become a regular volunteer and soon was invited to join the staff. In 2004, I married our (then) volunteer Tatyana who since then has also joined the staff of Jews for Jesus.”
Tatyana Bolotova was born in Dnepropetrovsk. She says, “For a long time, I struggled, both as a single mother and with an unsatisfying engineering career. In 1992, after listening to a series of sermons, I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior. I entered a Bible Institute in Sacramento, California, as a part-time student. My first theme paper was devoted to the Jewish people and from then on I had great love for God’s chosen people.”
In 2001, Tatyana met Jews for Jesus and in 2002 she began to volunteer with our ministry. She and Valery married two years later, and within three month she joined the Dnepropetrovsk branch of Jews for Jesus as an outreach worker.
Victoria Negrimovskaya was also born to a Jewish family in Dnepropetrovsk. As with Valery’s family, God was not a topic of conversation in her home. She graduated from a technical school that she says, “prepared me for no job at all. I went from job to job, seeking a higher salary. My marriage failed. I survived on 5 grivnas ($1) a week.”
A friend invited Victoria to a Bible study home group where she came to faith in Jesus. She met Jews for Jesus at a presentation in her church. She recalls, “I had my doubts about this way of serving the Lord but when I attended a Shabbat meeting of Jews for Jesus a year later, my doubts disappeared. During the Behold Your God campaign in Dnepropetrovsk, I watched the Survivors Stories video, and it confirmed my thoughts and feelings about the need for evangelism. In 2003, I took part in the Odessa Behold Your God campaign and in 2004, the Kharkov BYG campaign. After that, I joined the staff of Jews for Jesus as an outreach worker in the Dnepropetrovsk branch.
Bits from the Dnepropetrovsk Branch
A Jewish woman named Lena called me after her daughter gave her one of our broadside tracts. Lena is an invalid. We talked over the phone a few times and I sent her some of our literature. I also connected her with a local Messianic congregation, as they have a benevolence ministry for those in need. Elvira, who had brought Lena some aid from the congregation, told me that Lena had suddenly became angry, declaring that she didn’t want anything more brought to her. Elvira was puzzled and asked me to help her.
I came with Elvira to visit Lena—and found her ready to listen attentively to the Word of God! I explained the problem of sin and the need for salvation through the sacrifice of Yeshua. Lena paused thoughtfully, then told me she considered herself a sinner and needed Yeshua very much! She prayed the sinner’s prayer with tears. Then her eyes shone with joy as Lena turned to Elvira and, as if nothing unpleasant had ever happened, asked to arrange future visits.
After we left, Elvira understood she had an opportunity to learn about witnessing to Jewish people. I explained some of Jews for Jesus principles of ministry. Soon after, we received a call from the Messianic congregation, asking my husband Valery to conduct a Jewish Evangelism seminar. I was so very glad about that, because trained volunteers can enable us to do so much more.
Volunteers can be also be very effective on the streets and they certainly were when they joined us for our last Victory Day outreach. (Victory Day in Russia and Ukraine marks Nazi Germany’s capitulation to the Soviet Union in the Second World War.) The festivities give us ample opportunity to greet large crowds of people with the gospel. One Jewish woman, Tamara was attracted by our broadside, “I Want Proof.” When our volunteer Larissa began witnessing to her, Tamara received the gospel and repented of her sins right on the street. Praise God, as it was really a Victory Day of the Lord!
During campaigns in Israel, we have many ways of evangelizing, including phone calls. In fact I’ve found that some Jewish people will receive the gospel and repent in the course of a phone talk. Miriam was one such Jewish woman who prayed with me over the phone. She was very glad about my call and agreed to receive our Yeshua book but when I asked if she had received it she explained that she had been mugged on the way to the post office. Her passport, which was the identification necessary to pick up her package, was in the stolen bag.
I offered to meet with Miriam in person, and to bring her our Yeshua book as well as the Bible. She was very glad to receive both especially when she saw that the Bible was in large print. I was also encouraged that Miriam was interested in attending a local congregation of believers who could continue to care for her when I returned to Dnepropetrovsk.