Please pray for our Odessa Campaigners

This month marks the twentieth anniversary of the start of the work of Jews for Jesus in what is now the former USSR. In fact, as you read this note, my colleagues from Russia and Ukraine are celebrating with an evangelistic street campaign in Odessa; they’re calling it, “Operation Ne’manot.” Ne’manot means “faithfulness” in Hebrew, and it’s their way of saying, “Thank you, Lord,” for faithfully sustaining our work there since its beginning exactly two decades ago.

“…as long as it is day; night is coming…” (John 9:4)

Avi Snyder – 2008

My wife Ruth and I, along with our co-worker, Elizabeth T., had the privilege of pioneering the first Jews for Jesus branch in the USSR. From the very start, a sense of urgency characterized the work. In August 1991, just a month before we were to arrive, hard-line Communists seized Gorbachov in a last-ditch effort to resuscitate the dying soviet regime. By God’s grace, the putsch failed and the doors seemed to swing open even more. But how long it would be before the doors swung back the other way-no one could tell.

In September, Ruth, our three children, Elizabeth and I arrived in Odessa, Ukraine. We came with two goals; to bring the gospel to our people, and, if God allowed, to raise up an indigenous Jews for Jesus missionary team to continue the work of proclaiming the gospel so long as the “day” remained.

To accomplish the second goal, we knew that we had to give a full-hearted commitment to the first: preaching the gospel in a bold and forthright manner. The day after we arrived in Odessa we took the overnight train to Kiev, where Jewish people from all over the Soviet Union had gathered. They had come to mark the passing of 50 years since the Nazi slaughter of 100,000 Jews in a small wooded area outside of Kiev called Babi Yar. We spent the next two days proclaiming God’s message of eternal life to thousands of our people who had come to Kiev with nothing but memories of death on their minds.

The response was remarkable. Elizabeth soon found herself encircled by Chassidic Jews who tried unsuccessfully to block people from taking her gospel literature and from listening as she spoke in Russian about Yeshua’s (Jesus) love. At one point, a young boy of ten or eleven began to run around in a frenzy, crying out “Missionaries, missionaries! Don’t read!” An older man-possibly a survivor-halted the boy in his tracks, pressing his hand upon the youth’s shoulder. With a granite-like face and a resolute voice, he said, “Little boy, I don’t need you or anyone else to tell me anymore what I may or may not read.”

“Sun, stand still…” (Joshua 10:12)

We returned to Odessa where the gospel found fertile soil, people came to faith, and the work grew as young Jewish men and women joined us on the streets. By early summer of 1993, we hoped to establish a second branch in Moscow, and we wanted to begin the work there with a full-scale summer witnessing campaign. Then came the ominous news: the Duma, Russia’s parliamentary body, was making moves toward revoking the 1990 Law of Freedom of Conscience and Religion. If passed, this would cripple any evangelistic work there.

My heart filled with thoughts about the opportunities we’d missed and about the opportunities we might never have. So that night, we prayed. We asked God to forgive us for squandering the daylight, and we asked Him to hold back the setting of the sun, so to speak, even as He’d held back the sun for Joshua at the battle of Gibeon. God answered that prayer not just in the summer of 1993 when we opened the Moscow branch; He’s answered that prayer right up to the present day.

The “day” has seen its share of victories, and not only in Russia and Ukraine. Over the course of the years, God has sent Jews for Jesus missionaries from the former USSR into Russian-speaking mission fields in Israel, Germany and the US.

The “day” has seen its share of opposition, sometimes violent, from a wide range of people, including Jewish anti-missionary leagues; from hard-line communists and ultra-nationalists; and even from misguided members of the Russian Orthodox Church, not to mention visits from the heirs of the not-so-defunct KGB.

The “day” has also seen its share of disappointments and defeats. I still carry an ache in my heart for a young man named Sergei, the first local Jewish believer to join us in the work. He went through a crisis of faith, left the ministry, and ultimately walked away from the Lord altogether. Some years later, a mutual friend told me that the police had found Sergei’s lifeless body on a Kiev street – apparently, the victim of a drug-related beating.

But through it all, God held back the descent of the sun.

Ruth, the children and I left the former USSR in 1998. Our second goal-to see an indigenous Jews for Jesus missionary team in place-had been met in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev, Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk within seven years. When we first arrived in Odessa, we didn’t know if we would have seven months, much less seven years. Today, some twenty-five soviet-born Jews for Jesus staff workers and scores of local volunteers proclaim the gospel from our branches in the above-mentioned cities.

“Teach us to number our days…” (Psalm 90:12)

The Lord continues to give my colleagues new opportunities. Just recently, our Kiev office dispatched a missionary family to open a work in Belarus. The reports from the first two months have been exceedingly encouraging. But as with the very beginnings of our efforts in 1991, an urgency undergirds the work. Belarus is home to the most oppressive regime among any country in the western part of the former Soviet Union. So, we continue to pray that God will hold back the descent of the sun.

Meanwhile, I’m so grateful that our Odessa team is choosing to mark Jews for Jesus’ 20th year in the former Soviet Union with a big evangelistic campaign. Please join us in celebrating what God has done and continues to do. And please pray for the campaign that’s going on right now as well as for the general work of Jews for Jesus in the former USSR, that our hearts will always be filled with gratitude and confidence in the God who holds back the sun. Pray that we’ll rejoice over all that He’s done while we ready ourselves for what He may call us to do in the future. But most of all, pray that the “day” will remain so that men and women may hear the Good News and be saved.

Jews for Jesus leaders in Russia and Ukraine

Staff Portrait of Avi Snyder Staff Portrait of Leonid Vasserman
Avi Snyder is our European director, overseeing the work of many countries including Russia and Ukraine Igor Barbanel, deputy director of Jews for Jesus in Russia and Ukraine Leonid Vasserman, branch leader, Odessa, Ukraine
Staff Portrait of Maxim Ammosov Staff Portrait of Mikhail Vayshengolts Staff Portrait of Valeriy Bolotov
Maxim Ammosov, branch leader, Moscow, Russia Mikhail Vayshengolts, branch leader, Kharkov, Ukraine Valery Bolotov, branch leader, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
Staff Portrait of Anatoly Emma
Anatoli Emma, Kiev, Ukraine

Recent scenes of Jews for Jesus work in Russia and Ukraine

Not-so-recent photos of Jews for Jesus workers from Russia and Ukraine

New York City Behold Your God Grand Finale in 2006