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 25 Apr 2015  Ukraine Mission Project, April 2015 part#1 (19th-24th)  

Also, there is a blog with daily updates and prayer requests at www.smonct.wordpress.com

 

Ukraine Mission Project, April 2015
by Pastor Devin Butts, Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church of La Vernia, Texas

The six chapters of the Singing Men of Texas are jointly participating in a mission project to Ukraine.  The Singing Men of Texas are made up of Ministers of Music and church musicians from churches all over Texas and are an arm of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.  Evangelist, Michael Gott, has been working in Ukraine for many years and he, and his staff, through the power of the Lord, have made this mission project a reality! 

Unfortunately, it is only possible in this write up to get one perspective.  However, I believe our experience is basically representative of others on this project.  Also, I’d like to remind you of the prayers our ancestors prayed, asking God for the opportunity to take the message of the gospel behind the iron curtain.  Praise the Lord for answered prayer as we go and do exactly that!

I’d like to remind you that God is not bound by time.  Your prayers for this project, even offered after the fact, still have great value.  Therefore, as you read, please pray for the Lord’s work in each situation.  Also, as you know, the work of the Lord continues long after the concerts and preaching are over.  The local churches will be following up on the people that fill out cards at our concerts.  Please pray for the Lord’s work in Ukraine.  God is using the war to draw people to Himself.

19 April – Sunday

Planning for this project began more than two years ago.  As a matter of fact, I signed up and paid my part in April of 2013 in anticipation of this effort.  We continued to pray as the time approached.  The war news from Ukraine was also keeping our attention.  However, we knew that God would watch over us, so we never were apprehensive about “going on mission” in a war zone.

Because of the busyness of life, the trip seemed far away until it was suddenly upon us.  We spent the previous week getting things together and ready to travel. Then this last Sunday, it all became real as our church prayed over us.

It really made an impact on me as I saw the church come forward and pray over Alison and me.  It was quite emotional as I saw so many work their way through the crowd to pray over us.  I don’t have words to describe the warmth and love I felt, as I even saw one man in the balcony run down the stairs to make it to the front in time for the prayer!  It was quite humbling and empowering, all at the same time.  We know that many at home are praying for us, both to be safe and effectively used by the Lord.  And, we feel their prayers…  Unless you have been “on mission”, it is difficult understand the strength and peace you get from the Lord as you know so many are praying for you. 

Two years ago, the planned project would have taken us to cities on the river from Kiev.  However, because of the war in the south and east of Ukraine, they rescheduled us in cities west of Kiev.  Ukraine is roughly the size of Texas.  We will stay in three different hotels and have 12 concerts in 10 days.

20 & 21 April – Monday & Tuesday

Monday and Tuesday all ran together as it took us more than 24 travel hours to get from Texas to dinner at the church in Ukraine.  The almost 11 hour flight from Houston to Munich was uneventful, but not extremely pleasant.  Being stuck in a cramped chair so long is usually the worst part of overseas mission projects!  Unfortunately, the entire plane is seats, so there is not an area where you can stand and stretch! 

We flew from San Antonio to Houston, then to Munich, and then to Kiev.  The passport officer at the Kiev airport was exactly what I expected.  She was quite pretty, with jet black hair, and light skin.  She looked very western European.  The three hour bus ride from the airport to the church was interesting.  Kiev is very clean.  The buildings and architecture remind me of what we saw several years ago in Moldova, which is a border country of Ukraine.  The people on the highways seem to drive very safely.  Most cars and trucks were simply content to follow the car in front of them.  It seems like they were all content to get there when they get there.  Very few cars sped past on the three and four lane highways in and out of Kiev.  We saw many birch (white bark) and tall pine trees along the road.  And almost all the available land is obviously farmed.  And most of the houses with backyards have gardens.   At one point, we passed a series of electric poles with huge nests on top.  These are stork nests and we saw several with storks sitting in them.  It alternated rain and sunshine several times between the airport and the church.  It even sleeted for a while, at one point.

Our bus was the first to arrive at the Central Baptist Church in Zhitomir.  While we were the last bus to leave the airport, the others had gone to the hotel and then came back to the church.  We went straight to the church.  When we arrived, the pastor met us out front.  He had hoped that we would all arrive at the same time, as he had planned a special reception for us.  It was about 50 degrees at about 6:30pm, so he showed us into the church to wait for the rest of the group.

The chairs in the sanctuary had been moved out and dining tables had been set up.  The church was decorated with colorful streamers, table cloths, and chair covers.  They had gone all out in decorating and preparing for us.  In the choir loft, we saw a band!  It is the youth band from the church.  They had uniforms and even marching band hats with feather sticking up!  When the rest of the busses arrived, the band began playing and was wonderful!  We were welcomed and the band played several selections for us. 

We were welcomed by the pastor in the traditional way with salt and bread.  A young man and young lady, dressed in what looked like authentic Ukrainian traditional clothing, presented our leader, Jay Ghormley, with a beautiful loaf of bread.  It was huge and decorated masterfully.  It was explained that it was tradition to welcome important people with bread and salt.  Jay was encouraged to take a piece of bread, dip it in the salt, and eat.  He came around later and we all got a piece.  It was much like King’s Hawaiian bread, sweet and soft.  The pastors then welcomed us.  An elderly pastor also welcomed us with much emotion.  It seems that many others have canceled their trips to Ukraine because of the war.  They were very thankful and appreciative at our coming.  Using a translator, the elderly pastor praised the Lord for bringing us as tears fell from his eyes.  Our evangelist, Michael Gott, also welcomed us!

We were served a wonderful dinner in eight serving lines, buffet style.  They had obviously been cooking all day and set a beautiful table.  Potatoes with dill and butter, rice, and pasta were served at each meal.  At the end of each table was a large pot of potato soup.  There were some chicken, vegetable platters, and a tray of sliced oranges and kiwi.

Following our great meal, we went to our hotel and I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.  We were very tired from our travels and slept well.  The hotel was nice and our room had two twin beds pushed together and a large balcony with bright green Astroturf!  

The view was very interesting and was just as you would expect.  We could see three churches from our balcony.  The Greek Orthodox churches have gold roofs and are very pretty.  It seems that the Orthodox churches have no pews and the Catholic churches have pews and that is the easiest way to tell them apart.

 

22 April – Wednesday

Breakfast was buffet at the hotel.  There was a ham type bacon, frankfurters, poached eggs, hard boiled eggs, and scrambled egg like muffins.  There were all kinds of other things, including nuts, honey, mustard, bread, and yogurt.  We can only drink bottled water here, so we spent the first few days refilling our drinking bottles from a large gallon jug in each room.  Fortunately, we had small bottles at the church and backstage at our concerts.

Several Singing Men wives came to help on this project and almost 40 other people came as Mission Partners to help as well.  They are responsible for praying over the venues and also for passing out the brochures, pens, and free CDs.  I will collectively refer to all of these as Mission Partners.

The Mission Partners met at the hotel for their instructions and we took the busses to the church and began our first rehearsal at 10am.  I enjoyed watching the Pastor of the church, Central Baptist Zhitomir, standing in the sanctuary like a captain of a ship.  You could tell he was very proud in Christ of all his helpers and the presentation they had prepared for us.  He was very regal and as we got to know him, we found him a very nice, humble, wonderful servant of the Lord!

The choir and the orchestra practiced for a while, doing our best to learn to blend in this new choir.  The choir is made up of Singing Men from all over Texas.  There are almost 100 singers and orchestra.  Rehearsal was great.  I was particularly impressed with Lanny Allen as he led part of the group in a clapping sequence in one of our songs.  I personally can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but Lanny was very confident in his rhythms and helped our guys become even more confident.  Todd Wilson and Dan Baker are our directors for this project.  They each direct several songs.  Don Blackley is in charge of making sure the instruments and the guys are all on the stage in the proper place.  And as I mentioned, Jay Ghormley, is our fearless leader, making sure everything runs smoothly.

The mission partners arrived at the church and our morning devotional began at 11:30am.  Pastor Michael Gott gave a great devotion based on I Samuel 4.  He reminded us of the story of how the Israelites sent the Ark of the Covenant into battle before them because they wanted IT to protect them and give them victory.  They forgot that whatever IT is, without the Lord, IT is nothing.  He said that many times, even in our churches at home, we think that IT: a new sound system, a new building, a new program, will get us the results we are after.  He reminded us that even on this project we may have planned everything the very best we can, we may have great abilities, we may have everything we need, but if we depend on IT, as the Israelites did, we will fail.  Too many times we make symbols more important than substance and plans more important than God’s power.  Pastor Michael quoted C.H. Spurgeon, “Anytime we think we can do something without God, the only thing we will get from God is the opportunity to try!”  It was a great devotion and reminded us all to keep our focus on the Lord and His work, and not on whatever we think IT is…He then led us in prayer.

As a group, we haven’t had any extended times of prayer.  This is unfortunate, but because of our schedule, it has just worked out that way.  However, our Ministry Partners are spending much time in prayer for us, and those that will attend, before and during concerts.  And we know that there are literally thousands of you back home praying for us.  But in the times of prayer we have had, I can honestly say there hasn’t been a prayer time that didn’t include some tears.  I was reminded as Pastor Michael encouraged us to keep our focus on Christ. And asked us to remember how few times at home we find ourselves weeping in prayer for our church, for the people of our community, or even our own selves and our own families.  Think about it.  When was the last time you wept in prayer for the work of the Lord in your church?  When is the last time you wept as you prayed for your pastor, or for someone who needs Christ?

Then we had another grand meal at the church, Central Baptist. I understand that the church borrowed plates and flatware from churches all over the city to have enough for our almost 200 group.  It was quite a production to feed us all and prepare so much food.  At 1:30pm we went back to the hotel for some rest before it was time to leave for the concert.  At 3pm we walked down the street about three blocks from the hotel to the concert hall.  On the way, we passed out flyers, advertising the concert.  Then as the musicians went in for a final rehearsal, the Mission Partners stood out in front of the hall and passed out more flyers. 

We sang two concerts that evening, one at 5pm and one at 7pm.  There were very few empty chairs in the first concert. There were people there of all ages and all backgrounds.  They all seemed to truly be seeking.  At the end of the concert, one of the local pastors again welcomed us and thanked us for coming.  He mentioned that he appreciated our willingness to come to a war zone to share Jesus.  A war zone!  I guess I had seen the news and knew a lot of what was happening over here, but I never really thought of it as a war zone!  There is certainly a sense of unrest here and the economy is not doing well.  Many people are out of work and there is not an abundance of anything, except poverty.  I had breakfast with two of the Ukrainian young men who are helping as translators, etc.  In our talks, we found that all persons between 18 and 65 have been notified by the government of the possibility of their being drafted into the army.  These young men, both attending seminary and working in churches could be drafted any day.  At the same time, the 60 year old President of Irpin Biblical Seminary, Dr. Igor Yaremchuk, could also be drafted!  They all have some time to justify why they shouldn’t go.  The only excuse I heard was if you had three small children.  I’m just a bit too young to remember the draft in our country.  But the feeling of knowing these men, new friends, servants of the Most High God, could be drafted at any time brought some reality to the situation.

The concerts went well.  We sang about 45 minutes and Pastor Michael spoke for about 20.  With introductions and welcomes, the whole concert lasted about an hour and twenty minutes.   We sat back stage between concerts. Logistically, we couldn’t get out front between them, but the Ministry Partners represented us, themselves, and the Lord very, very well! 

There was some concern about singing in Russian, because of the conflict with Russia.  We unfortunately, we didn’t learn the song in Ukrainian. But you should have seen the people light up as we sang one song in Russian.  I saw one young woman singing with all her heart with us.  The people even stood and sang along at one point.  After the second concert, we got to go out and greet the people.  They were so very thankful that we came.  It was really indescribable.

The next day, we got the stats.  There were 1,100 seats, and the official count was 1750 total people at the concerts in Zhitomir and 1,037 written decisions for Christ (they filled out cards) and will be contacted by local churches.  At the end of the concerts, the people are encouraged to fill out a card with 1) a grade for the Singing Men (0 to 10), and then checkmarks if they 2) want the Singing Men to come back, 3) if they have made a decision for Christ, and 4) that they got their CD and Bible in Ukrainian for free.  Then there is a place for them to put in their names and email or postal addresses if they want to be contacted.  They then trade the card in for their free CD and Bible.  They are told that they don’t have to write anything on the card to get their free CD.  So, we feel pretty confident that our count of the ones who are checking the boxes in regard to their new relationship with Christ is correct.  We were told that we could have had a third concert and it would have also been filled.

Then we went to the hotel for dinner and falling into bed.

Side note: There has been a problem at my work with one of my programs.  I’ve been trying hard in the mornings and evenings to respond to the questions from the office, but I find myself waking up in front of my computer! Thanks for your prayers that I can get this fixed and be able to totally concentrate on the Lord’s work.   Also, thank you for your prayers for our, shall we say, digestive systems.

 

23 April – Thursday

Breakfast at the hotel and then to rehearsal by 10am.  The Mission Partners arrived and we began our devotion at 11:30am. 

It is difficult to describe to those that haven’t participated on a mission project before, the way you become emotionally raw because of the combination of fatigue and the Holy Spirit at work.  I’ve never been on a mission project that didn’t result in a greater blessing for me than for those whom we went to serve.  Of course, they believe they were the ones who received the blessing.

Side note:  I’ve really asked the Lord to speak to me on this project.  To illuminate in me things that I need to see and to allow me to see His hand on my life clearly.  I’ve asked Him to do what it takes to move me to the place He wants me, spiritually.  As a result, there hasn’t been a devotion time when God didn’t bring a tear to my eye as He spoke to me in love.  I wish you all could be here…

Pastor Michael spoke on Joel 2:25 where God says that He will restore what the locusts have eaten.  Pastor Michael had us consider that maybe some years have gone by which we might feel were wasted.  Wasted either by the work of the devil or by our own choices.  We were encouraged to see in the Word where God promised to restore those years as we focus on Him.  The verses in Joel and Romans 8:28 give us great hope that God will be using us in the future.  He said, “How will this happen?  God can add years to your life and He can add life to your years!”

We had another great meal at the church!  As I mentioned, they decorated the sanctuary for us.  They tied sashes on the chairs and changed them to a different color for each meal!  First they were blue and yellow to match the Ukrainian flag, then a peach color, then blue and pink, and finally gold for our last meal there. About 45 minutes of rest and then a couple of hours drive to Berdichev.  We were welcomed again with a fancy bread loaf with salt and had a wonderful dinner at the church.  Then to the concert hall, passing out flyers in front, and getting ready for the concert.

Concert #3 was in Berdichev at a theater that had about 1,000 seats.  The concert went really well, with people even standing against the walls.  I heard that they even turned some people away.  After the concert, we got to go to the lobby and greet the people.  It was amazing to see the happy faces, glad of our coming, shaking our hands with both of their hands.  I remember thinking how most of them had very rough, calloused hands.  It is obviously a very hard life here.  Later, we found out that there were 1,200 people with 516 decisions for Christ!

I heard later that there was a 31 year old woman with two small children who came to the concert.  She told Pastor Michael that her husband had been killed recently on the western front.  She said, “You all came here for me!”

A two hour bus ride back to the hotel in Zhitomir and to the hotel.  Again, I tried desperately to write some on this, but kept waking up at the computer!

 

24 April – Friday

We could sleep in a few minutes this morning, so naturally, we were awake at 7am.  We got packed and took our luggage downstairs about 9:45am and had some time for a walk.  We were told that there was a great chocolate shop near the hotel.  Armed with instructions from a hotel employee who barely spoke English, we set out to find it.  Naturally, we didn’t find it.  We did however, see a couple of nice churches and some of the city.  Just before we left the hotel, John Coleman and I found a Greek Orthodox church near the hotel.  We went in and took a few photos.  It was very, very ornate and had big gold domes on top.

The busses took us back to the church for our devotion time.  Pastor Michael had the kitchen staff brought up to the sanctuary so we could thank them.  We sang them a “thank-you” song we had rehearsed in Ukrainian.  Several of them wept as we gave them a standing ovation and sang our song in Ukrainian.  Michael explained that these women had prayed over the food each morning before they began cooking.  And because of their service to Christ, they had blessed many people and assisted in God using us to bless many people!

Pastor Michael spoke on John 4, the woman at the well.  He told us about Jesus going to this place where no Jew with any self-respect would go.  He mentioned that the disciples, as they left Jesus at the well and went into town, had to pass the outcast woman on the road.  He wondered if they shunned her too.  Because Jesus went there, generations were changed for the better!  Michael reminded us that the original plan for this project was that we were going to ride on a river cruise ship between our concerts.  But because of the war, that was now impossible. Instead, we have traveled west from Kiev and have had concerts in cities where we had not expected to.  We would have had all our meals on the boat instead of being served meals at the church.  Michael explained that while the food on the boat would have been fine, it would not have been sanctified by the prayers and tears of these faithful servants of God.  He also explained that our being there allowed them to shine and be used by the Lord.  We came here to love these people. And we came here to be loved by these people.  They, and we, would have missed out on great blessings if we had not come!  He also explained that if we had been on the boat, we would not have sung in the places that we did on this trip.  So, the many people who have responded to Jesus through the Lord working in us might never have ever heard the message of The Gospel.  God used the war to send us to this place.  Even in the worst situation you can think of, God is in control!  Pastor Michael asked us to pray that the next generation Billy Graham equivalent in Ukraine would be lifted up in the next few years and we are hoping that we possibly have been used of the Lord to accomplish that.

Pastor Michael talked about how the tears of the pastors and our team have been seen and felt this week. He mentioned that George Whitfield never preached a sermon without tears as he pled with the lost and hurt for them.  As I mentioned, I believe the Holy Spirit is using our fatigue to strip our emotions raw.  Lance Brown (PaintedChrist.com), a performance artist painter, is with us this week.  He paints a picture of Jesus as we sing the Ukrainian Alleluia song.  Then as we sing, “How Deep the Father’s Love”, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by the thought of His love.  Seeing the painting and singing the song, it is again, indescribable!  “How deep the Father’s love for us.  How vast beyond all measure.  That He would give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.”   Pastor Michael asked us about the last time we wept for someone to know Christ.  He told us the story of the pastor who had preached that his congregation should bring lost people to worship.  After the service a devout member, who attended every time the door was open at the church, came up to him and explained that he didn’t really know any lost people. The pastor said to the man, “You need to spend less time in church!”

After our devotional time, we had a great lunch at the church.  They were such wonderful people and as Tommy Lyons would say, “They treated us like we were somebody, and we know we aren’t!”  With lots of hugs for our new Ukrainian brothers and sisters, we boarded the bus and set out to Rivne, a 2.5 hour drive. 

We had two great concerts in the hall that seats 700.  The first at 5pm was full.  The second at 7pm wasn’t quite full.  The crowd was amazing.  There were many young adults at the concert.  Many recorded the whole concert using their cell phones.  I saw several wipe tears during the concerts.   And I saw several singing with us on several songs.  Two young ladies sang at least three of our songs with us!  Again, we got to greet the people after the last concert.  There were so many thankful people!  Alison said that one man kissed hers and Gail’s hands.  As I was thanking the people for coming as they left, one young lady hugged me and gave me a kiss on the cheek!  She obviously had an encounter with Jesus at the concert!

We loaded up the bus and set out for Lviv, 3 hour bus ride!  We had ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies on the bus.  We arrived at the hotel about 1am and will sleep well after being used by the Lord.

We saw quite a bit of countryside on our drive.  It was interesting to see the farmers still using horse pulled carts.  There is every conglomeration of carts found, some pulled by horses, some by old tractors, and even some by rigged up engines and wheels.  We saw a lot of farming on our drive.

 

 
 31 Mar 2015  April 9 Concert at First Lockhart Baptist Church  
 
 10 Feb 2015  Newsletter for Feb. 12 Concert in McAllen  
SMOST Concert Thursday, Feb. 12 at Calvary Baptist Church, McAllen at 7:00 p.m.
Newsletter Attached
 
 14 Oct 2014  2015 Ukraine Choir Project  

JOIN US IN GOD'S WORK IN UKRAINE

The six combined chapters of the Singing Men of Texas will return to Ukraine April 20 - May 1, 2015 to sing for a potential audience of 20,000 people. In our past missions over forty percent of those attending the concerts made decisions for Christ, 14,000 written decisions for Christ!

Your offerings and purchase of SMOT recordings will help send us. Your prayers will empower us. Your presence as a ministry partner will complete our team. Partners will distribute publicity, serve as greeters, receive decision cards and distribute CDs and Bibles. Registration begins January 2014 at www.michaelgottinternational.com . Cost is $1,950 ship/land costs, plus airfare (available May 2014).

SMOT must also underwrite additional expenses. All six regional chapters are united in raising funds for these expenses:

ARENA RENTAL: 3 - five-thousand seat arenas: $5,333/each.

HALL RENTAL: 3 - 1,500 seat concert halls: $1,700/each

AUDIO/VIDEO/VAN equipment rental: $4,500

CDs: 20,000 with SMOT music & translated Gospel: $8,400

PURCHASE of 4 CHORAL RISERS: $1,250

SHIPPING of 4 choral risers to Kiev: $3,000

ADVERTISING in six cities at $1,500 per city – total of $9,000

PUBLICITY PRINTING: $4,000

PROGRAM PRINTING: $3,000

BALL POINT PENS for decision cards: $3,100

(Your gift is tax deductible. SMOT is a 501(c)3 organization.)

Checks may be made payable to Singing Men of South Texas and placed in the offering plate any concert.

Checks may also be made payable to the Baptist Executive Board and mailed to: Tim Studstill, Baptist General Convention of Texas, 333 N. Washington, Dallas, TX 75246-1798

Please note Ukraine and specific need in the memo line.

For additional information, visit www.smot.org or email the Mission Trip Coordinator at [Email:smot2015@gmail.com].

 

 
 09 Dec 2013  Ukraine 2015 Poster  
Click on this item for a link to the Ukraine 2015 poster you can use to advertise the project.
 
  
  Recordings (click for more)
Order My Steps  2008  CD $11  
 
Were It Not For Grace  2005  CD $11  
 
This Must Be The Place  2002  CD $11  
 
 
  
  Events (click for more)
Sat 16 May 2015  Concert - 6:30 pm Singing Men and Singing Women Combined Concert  Shearer Hills Baptist Church  San Antonio  
 
  Prepaid Downloads

 

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