It has been the great blessing and privilege of the Singing Men of Texas (North Central) to experience wonderful mission efforts to the great land of Ukraine. April 2017 marks the fourth time since 2010 that the choir and orchestra has partnered with evangelist Michael Gott to various cities across Ukraine, singing concerts and presenting the Gospel of Christ.
Michael and Jan Gott of Michael Gott International (MGI) have been traveling to Ukraine for many years, preaching, teaching and loving the people there. They provide English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, Bible studies and minister alongside local churches in cities across the nation.
The Singing Men of Texas (SMOT) provide the music at each concert and Michael presents a simple Gospel message with an interpreter. The concerts are free and all attendees receive free music cd’s and New Testaments, if they would like to have them.
The first two trips, in 2010 and 2012, were via river cruise ships as they cruised the Dnieper River, stopping at the various ports to minister in concert. These were the easier days of these mission trips. Eating all meals and bedding down in comfort on a cruise ship seems almost laughable when compared to the 2015 and 2017 mission trips.
As the military conflicts between Russia and Ukraine escalated in the eastern part of Ukraine, river traffic ceased and the trip in 2015 was reorganized and more cities in the western interior were visited by these evangelical efforts. So, the blessing in disguise was that these interior cities would not have been reached if the concerts had been limited to the cities along the Dnieper. These cities included L’viv, Zhytomyr, Rivne and Lutsk.
The ports along the Dnieper included the capital, Kiev in the north to Odessa at the Black Sea in the south, as well as across the Black Sea to the Crimean Peninsula, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is harbored at Sevastopol. The team would present their message of hope in song and sermon at each concert, then board the ship to cruise to the next port.
However, in 2015, the eastern regions were closed, and continue to be closed, to the efforts because of all the hostilities, and the river cruise ships are not operating. But these men all believe that God has directed them to this work and they have anticipated their return and are excited to continue the work in Ukraine. They know they have seen God bring victories in every concert venue as many attendees indicate a positive commitment to Christ.
In 2017, the team of over 100 consists of singers and musicians of SMOT, some of their wives and numerous ministry partners. The wives join the ministry partners in their prayer time, preparation and coordination of each concert. It is truly a logistical challenge to transfer to and from three tour buses as they work their way from hotels, to churches and concert halls. Although the team greatly enjoys the country, people and history of Ukraine, the trip is not a pleasure vacation trip. Of course, they love singing, but It is an intense, demanding tour for all the team.
The churches that MGI and SMOT partner with during these mission trips spend much time in prayer before, during and after the events. And when they attend the concerts, they bring unchurched Ukrainians with them. This result is that approximately 50% of each concert is attended by folks who do not attend church and are likely to be seekers of hope for their lives. And approximately 50% of each concert’s responses are commitments to follow Jesus. These are in turn followed up with and discipled by the local churches.
Hope is what the Ukrainians need. The continuing military conflict and the devaluing of their economy has left many in a hopeless and helpless state of existence. Families have been devastated as fathers, sons and husbands have been lost in the war and it is no wonder that bitterness and confusion can engulf lives. Even though the publicity of the war has waned, there are still on an average two Ukrainian soldiers killed each day on the front with Russia.
There are efforts to support the Ukrainian troops in the war and there are occasional donation places in the large cities for people to donate needed items for the soldiers. It is said that the Russian President believes that if he keeps a Russian presence in the area, even without an open war, he can drain the Ukrainian economy, because of the cost it takes to keep the Ukraine military on alert, and bring a final collapse of the country into his hands.
As they toured Kryvyi Rih, where the main industry is Iron ore mining, the tour guide described the tragic situation among many of the miners in that city. Sadly, she said the normal life of the miner is to work hard, get his paycheck and consume it on vodka. Then the cycle repeats. She is a committed Christian young lady and she said, “Look at the faces that you see in our city. They are all dead people that need life.” Her church has been praying extensively for the outreach and they know the message is of hope, encouragement and that of receiving life that is truly fulfilled life. There were approximately 1400 in attendance at the concert in Kryvyi Rih and 774 of them indicated a positive response to Christ. Yes, these dear people were desperate for a life of purpose. They found it that evening.
A young mother of two came to a concert and afterwards was reported to have said, “You came here for me and my two children today.” Her husband had recently been killed in the war with Russia. One gentleman said, “When you sang The Lord’s Prayer, I had tears streaming down my face and I felt as if my spirit was leaving my body.”
The Baptists in Ukraine have had propaganda spread concerning them for many years, stemming from the Communist Soviet Union days. It is still deeply entrenched and they battle misinformed mindsets as they continue to minister. One thing is that people have been told the Baptists are a cult and they drink the blood of their children in the basements of their churches. This, of course seems ridiculous to us in the west, but it is very believable to them. When the Gott organization brings folks to the churches for ESL classes and tells them the class is held in the basement…well, it is somewhat disconcerting for some until they are assured this is not true.
The land of Ukraine has been fought over and struggled against for hundreds of years. In World War II, the Germans held the crucial city of Kharkiv two separate times before being driven out both times by the Russian army. The war front passed though that city four times during that conflict. Twenty million Russians were killed in World War II. Over 270,000 Ukrainians were killed during these struggles.
At times, Ukraine has been divided between Poland and Russia or others. It was the first republic in Europe. When it was part of Russia, it was called “The Ukraine,” indicating that area of Russia. Now, it is a free and independent country and all things that relate to Soviet Russia have been banned. So, now it is simply “Ukraine.” Even Russian pronunciations have changed. The capital city, Kiev, is pronounced Kee-ev in the Russian. The Ukrainian pronunciation is Keev.
All statues of Russian Communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin have been torn down. The largest statue of Lenin in Ukraine was on the square in Kharkiv. It finally came down two years ago and now, each day at 7:00 AM, Christian churches of all denominations meet at that square to pray for Ukraine.
The Singing Men of Texas support Ukraine’s struggle to secure its freedom and desire to see her thrive. And they believe their evangelistic tours help those efforts and bring hope and encouragement. They are already anticipating their soon return, as God leads. They have fallen in love with the Ukrainian people and they ask you to include Ukraine in your prayers.