A Ukrainian Church of the Nazarene pastor has been “going where the church is not yet” for the past four years as he ministers in a remote mountain village where the people had never heard of Jesus.
The isolated people live in a mountainous region that reaches an elevation of 7,649 meters (25,095 feet) as it winds through China, Afghanistan, and several central Asian nations. Tucked in these mountains, an evangelical missional association found a small group living high above sea level in a climate that does not allow trees to grow.
“The mountains are really high and have a harsh climate," said the pastor of the Vinnitsya Church of the Nazarene in central Ukraine. "There is a 50-percent deficiency of oxygen and, because of its climate, it is hard to get there. They have a challenging economic and political situation. [They] have no medical care and have never had electricity. Their usual meal is tea and bread, so when we came and offered candy they were all very happy. We want to bring the Word of God to them and show His love for them.”
For eight months a year, the village is covered in snow, making travel there dangerous. The mission team can only access the village from May to September on a three-meter-wide road with no protection. Cars must be careful not to fall off the cliff.
“There is no plane or train to go up the mountain. Every time we travel, we pray for our driver and those also driving.”
During their repeated visits, the team has seen how this ethnic group has been long isolated from the world. The residents live in humble homes.
“The scariest thing is that, over the history of Christianity, they have never heard of the gospel,” the pastor said.
An ecumenical team was sent to this previously unreached village, as well as other areas where the gospel had not yet reached, by the Association of the Missionary Churches of Ukraine.
“This association includes different churches that belong to different denominations and they are united by the idea of preaching the gospel to countries that have not yet been reached by it," the pastor said. "It is not about the countries that have a few churches or few Christians, but about the countries or ethnic groups that have not heard of the gospel [at all].”
After seeing the people’s physical and economic struggles, the association decided to respond to the people's needs.
“Our main mission is to help poor and disadvantaged people and kids,” the pastor said. “The most unprotected layer of society is children, therefore we buy food and clothes [for them]. Through this social help, we’ve begun to work with the families as well.”
The mission group has gained trust with local administrators of the small community after providing 200 desks and 400 chairs for schools and orphanages in the past year.
“This way, we have been able to create relationships with directors and teachers of the schools. They have opened the doors to their homes for us to come. The ethnic group has opened their homes. They allow us to share meals with them at their table. They are open to hear the gospel, and they now allow us to pray for their lives. They are experiencing God’s love.”
After working four years with this ministry, the pastor from the Church of the Nazarene in Vinnytsya has seen God working not only in the ethnic group in the mountains but also in the local congregation that has sent him.
“God has encouraged the people at our church because they realized that they are part of something much bigger," he said. "They are part of God’s big mission. Being Christian is not just about having a good life, but there is so much more. The church has realized the impact they can have on others’ lives.”
He said that some members of his congregation have also responded to the call of God by joining teams going to minister to the people.
Scott Rainey, who leads Nazarene churches in the Commonwealth of Independent States Field (former Soviet Union countries), said the Vinnytsia church’s missional heart is shared by Nazarenes across the field. That is why they are making a concerted effort to plant new churches and open work in countries where the Church of the Nazarene was not previously present.
“It is a blessing to have pastors in the CIS, like our Vinnytsia, Ukraine, pastor, who have a heart for missions and reaching the unreached people of the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Rainey said. “I am convinced that the future of missions in the CIS, especially to the Central Asia countries, is not through Western missionaries, but through our own CIS Nazarenes. The shared history of the Soviet Union and the shared language of Russian open natural doors for the gospel that are not afforded to all.
“I am also thankful to JESUS Film Harvest Partners for donating 15 Papyrus [Audio Bibles] for this outreach. Each Papyrus is capable of sharing an audio version of the Scriptures in the people’s heart language, to up to 200 people!”