How CCX Ukraine began. A testimony of the first missionary.

CCX Ukraine ministry began as a result of InterVarsity USA outreach programs to Ukraine in early 90-s. Groups of American students were coming for a short mission trips under the Global Project program. Some of them became our first staff and mentored the next generation of Ukrainian leadership. Below is the story of David Wehrle, one of the first IV students to come to Ukraine.

"I joined the Global Project to Kiev in 1990 because of my wife’s influence. It was following our Freshman (first) year in college.

Janet and I had been high school sweathearts. I was already dreaming of marriage – crazy! – and knew that the Lord would only allow me to marry a woman of faith. For these very selfish reasons, I shared my faith with Janet and encouraged her to come to faith in Jesus. While we were in high school, Americans’ understanding, interest, and relationship with the USSR began to radically change. This was directly related to the 27th Congress of the Communist Party and the beginning of Gorbachev’s reforms – perestroika and glasnost. We had always been taught that “Russia” (by which we meant the USSR) was exactly like America, but that borsht was used instead of ketchup, people had to wait for years to buy a car or get telephone service, and the government was evil. We also were taught that it was very likely that Russia would initiate a nuclear war and that millions in the US and Russia would die as a result. In March of my freshman year of high school, things began to change and kept on changing. We began to get a real impression of what the Soviet Union was like and the result was less fear and better understanding. A significant minority of us in the US became highly interested in the Soviet Union. Classes in Russian language and history began to be offered at some high schools – like the one Janet and I attended. Americans began to take tourist trips to the Soviet Union. Janet took Russian in high school – in addition to Spanish – because of her curiosity. Her Russian language class took a trip to Moscow and St. Petersburg that was both controlled by Intourist and included meetings with pro-communist youth, but also included some rather obvious and intentional “lapses” on the part of handlers that allowed for contact between the American students and some non-party Russian young people. Janet was hooked.

At the same time, I was thoroughly into cycling and travelled for a month in Scotland, England and Wales by bike.

Janet and I graduated from high school in June 1989 and went to separate colleges. It is important to note that the Berlin Wall was opened and symbolically “fell” on November 9, 1989, right in the middle of our first semester in college. The Soviet Union came to an end almost exactly two years later while Janet and I were living in Ukraine.

At her school - The College of William and Mary - there were more than 300 students involved in InterVarsity. She got involved in a small group in her dorm, and those women continued to encourage and support and pray for Janet. She also participated in Large Group and perhaps some other IV activities. Janet came to faith at some point that Fall. She also continued to study Russian. Though she had originally thought that she might major in computer science, Janet decided to major in Russian Studies that year. At some point in the late Fall of that year, Janet became aware that IV offered missions projects in other countries. She discovered that there would be a Global Project in Kiev the following summer, and she and another IV member and fellow-freshman studying Russian decided to sign up.

At my school – Taylor University – I was having a serious spiritual crisis that pushed me toward a more orthodox faith, a higher view of scripture, and serious missionary concern. I felt God calling me to be involved in the community, and so I began to lead the youth program at a nearby church. I also sensed that God was calling me to mission. When I learned that Janet was going to Kiev, I wanted to be with her, but I also wanted to answer this calling I felt. The trouble was that I had little interest or knowledge about Ukraine or the USSR. However, the project sounded very intriguing because it was so furtively mysterious and adventurous to venture behind the Iron Curtain for the sake of Christ. I decided to sign up.

Our experience that summer on the Global Project was one of the most shocking, eye-opening, and spiritual experiences of my life. It really stretched my faith. Following the trip, I don’t think I had any intention of ever returning to Ukraine, but God had other plans.

In the Fall of 1990, Janet and I decided that we would remain friends, but that we would break up. It was also an Urbana year. Many of our Global Project team were planning on attending Urbana, and many students from Taylor University and IV at William and Mary were also planning on attending. Janet and I went though we did not spend any time together at Urbana. It was at Urbana that I clearly saw how the Lord had been at work in me to get me to the mission field. While I had been dreaming of Africa most recently, at Urbana, I suddenly understood that the Lord wanted me back in Ukraine. I was aware that one of our team members had stayed on in Ukraine for a year, so on the response card at Urbana, I wrote that I felt God was calling me to spend a semester in Ukraine. Janet and I travelled home together from Urbana since we were both heading back to New Jersey, and on the bus, I learned that Janet had written the same response on her card. Somehow, those cards, out of the thousands that were handed in, made it all the way back to the IV-Link office. Janet and I both received letters and calls inviting us to join an experiment and spend a semester abroad in Ukraine – Janet in Nikolaev and me in Kiev. When the other student from William and Mary who had been on our Global Project learned about the semester abroad, he signed on as well and was assigned to Kiev. Janet preferred to be on a team with a team member she already knew, and so she asked if I would swap assignments with her, which we did.

On August 18, 1991, the famous coup attempt to depose Gorbachev began. By August 24, the coup was over and the CPSU was dissolved forever on August 29. This created quite a bit of chaos for us and we had to delay our departure from the US to the USSR until things settled, but we had moved to Ukraine by September.

That’s the whole ugly story of how and why I ended up in Ukraine.

During my academic-year-long stay in Nikolaev, Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union itself was soon dissolved. It was a strange thing to sit with the Popovich family and watch Gorbachev’s resignation speech on TV. Yuri Nikolaevich and “Mama Valya” were both party members. Yuri was employed by the Oblast government and was part of the nomenklatura. It was such a strange experience. It was December 25, 1991 – Christmas Day for me as a Western Christian. Quite a Christmas present for me and for Ukraine. Quite a grief-filled and terrifying experience for the family that was generously hosting and supporting me with no remuneration.

 
My time in Nikolaev was largely spent with students from the pedagogical institute. I did spend some small amount of time assisting the faculty in English classes as a sort of native-speaker demonstrator. I quickly tired of the Russian tutoring I was receiving every day from professors as our team leaders were not having much success learning Russian and were slowing the sessions to a crawl. By December I had miraculously moved from no knowledge of Russian at all to spoken fluency of probably 2+ on the ILR scale. I was able to converse with my hosts, who knew no English, and with students beyond those studying English at the institute. I had stopped using interpreters in large group and small groups. And, I spent most of my time involved in leading InterVarsity-like program – weekly large group, and different small groups nightly. I also spent a large amount of time casually with students and meeting new people. Though I would not be trained in church planting for another 15 years, what I did in Nikolaev was very similar. At the end of our team’s first academic year, a group of 30 - 60 students would gather weekly for large group and a half-dozen student-led small groups were meeting (mostly working through the Navigators Design for Diiscipleship series, I’m ashamed to admit. But, it was what we had! J) weekly in homes. We also had the support of a few local churches including the registered and unregistered Baptists and a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church with a very young priest I had befriended.

It was an amazing experience and still feels like one of the most fruitful years of ministry in my life, which has been an interesting thing to live with in the years since. The whole experience related above feels to me to have been completely orchestrated by the Lord. The timing of our work in Nikolaev in relation to the political and cultural change in Ukraine, and the intersection of the particular leaders – Ukrainian and American, Student and Adult – was extremely special. I don’t think that I have ever been part of more compatible, mature, flexible, hard-working teams than the 1990 Kiev Global Project team or the Nikolaev CCX team. Out of those very first students in Nikolaev came CCX staff members, one of whom was even considered for the position of general secretary. My experience in Ukraine also included intense spiritual growth for me. My faith was greatly encouraged as I witnessed the Holy Spirit moving in so many hearts and minds to bring dozens of students and adults to faith through the mission work in Nikolaev. It was simply amazing.

One last thing: during December of 1991, Janet and the team from Kiev visited Nikolaev. During that visit, Janet and I rekindled our romance. In the summer of 1992, I proposed and we were engaged. We graduated in May of 1993 and were married in July. In August 1994, we moved to Tyumen, Russia where we served as IV-Link staff for two years. We also led a Global Project to Irkutsk in 1997. That was the last of our “official” work for IV.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it".

David Wehrle.