Our Church Partnerships initiative started in 2020, when Mike Roper, UCM Trustee and Elder of Bethel Baptist Church in Farnham, visited Ukraine and spent time with Dima and Nastya, who lead the church in the village of Kadena Gora. This personal connection developed into a relationship between the two congregations which is flourishing despite the constraints of the pandemic and the war. In the past year two more partnerships have been established, linking Denghi Church with Chiddingfold Baptist, and Christmas Church in Cherkasy with Ruwach Christian Church in Haywards Heath.

Regular Contact
One of the best ways of maintaining and growing the partnerships is through personal contact. “I am in regular contact with Dima on Facebook Messenger,” Mike explains. “The frequency varies with what is happening in our churches and what needs there are.  As a church we meet occasionally (although more frequently during the early days of the war) for prayer with Dima, to encourage him and share what’s happening. Sometimes we exchange videos with messages, and Dima sends us videos of his aid work and testimonies from people he has helped. I share clips in our church services, mission meetings and so on.”

Dima reiterates the importance of personal connection. “We pray for each other and share our needs. We exchange news and pray for everything that is happening in our churches.” Sasha Ponomarenko, leader of Denghi church, echoes those thoughts. “We recently met on Skype and shared how our ministry is going. We shared our experiences and listened to each other. We’re friends.”

The blessings of technology
Thanks to the availability of translation software, the language barrier is relatively easy to manage in written communications between the leaders and churches. Extra support comes from UCM Director Ella and Cherkasy-based friend of UCM Anna Sikorska, who are both gifted interpreters and help out in online meetings.“

Sasha and I mainly use WhatsApp to communicate,” explains Pastor Joao Bolzan from Chiddingfold. “We try to send news with reasons to celebrate, pictures and prayer points once every month. It has been an exciting and delightful experience and I have learned many things about what God is doing in that part of the world. We were already praying and helping when we could, but things got a bit more personal with the partnership. We have narrowed our attention to Denghi and Pastor Sasha without losing sight of the bigger picture of the challenges all churches in Ukraine face.”

For Tom Partis, Lead Pastor at Ruwach Church, and Pastor Oleg, at Christmas Church, the contact has been mostly through email updates, sharing news, prayer requests and words of encouragement between the congregations, but recently they were able to bring together their wider leadership teams through a Zoom call. “We got to know each other and share the experiences of our ministry,” explained Oleg. “We shared the prayer needs and challenges that every church family has.”

Even though they are grateful for the blessing of technology and the ways it provides online connection, all the leaders agree that it will be even better when travel restrictions are lifted and visits can be arranged. “We look forward to the day we can meet Sasha and have him share a bit of his story in person with us,” Joao says.

Inspiring faith
Although the plan for church partnerships was initiated before Covid struck and Russia invaded Ukraine, these events have been the backdrop to the developing relationships between congregations. For those in the UK, it is both humbling and inspiring to walk alongside their Ukrainian friends through this particularly difficult time. Joao says, “I thank God for Sasha’s hard work and determination in promoting God’s Kingdom under such challenging circumstances, for what he is achieving and the lives he is impacting through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Reflecting on the news Bethel Church receives from Dima and Nastya in Kadena Gora, Mike shares, “We are often brought to tears when hearing about the things they or the people around them are suffering, and this stimulates interest and prayer. The church has become much more engaged in mission as a result, and many have said how much they are inspired by Dima’s persistence and faith in sometimes very trying circumstances.”

Hopes for the future
We would love to facilitate more partnerships, and see this model of mutual support extend even further. As Mike points out, “This is how the New Testament churches supported each other across the Mediterranean. The Apostle Paul and others travelled from church to church in different countries and knew each other personally; this is so important when ‘partnering in the gospel’ across the miles.” If this is something your church would be interested in, please get in touch with us at info@ucm.org.uk to discuss possibilities.

Partnering in the Gospel

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