Report of Winter Visit
Rev D. A. Ross
ON Tuesday, 3rd November, Mr Alastair MacRae and I left for Kiev, going on this occasion, and for the first time, on the ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden in Holland. One reason for taking this route was to pick up Eastern Europe aid, in the form of clothing, from friends in Holland.
The round journey, from Inverness to Kiev, then to Odessa, and back to Inverness, amounted to a total of 6,300 miles. It is great cause for thankfulness to the Most High that we were kept safe over that long distance.
At one point it was questionable if we could return to Scotland at the time we had planned. For some days we had to travel through a heavy snowstorm and, along with other vehicles, were snowbound for a time and had to be assisted by towing. At one stage we had to be reconciled to waiting for six hours, along with endless queues of traffic, at the roadside, until treacherously icy roads became a little less dangerous. These were only some of the hazards we had to endure on this journey, and which caused not only delays but also more than usual wear and tear on our truck, contributing to the clutch burning out altogether – but only after we arrived back in this country. We were thankful that it did not happen on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains. We could not but feel for those road travellers whom we had left behind and who have to endure such severe conditions for long periods.
We were thankful too that we were able to deliver our load of aid to Pastor Grichenko in Kiev. We had hoped to take aid to our friends in Odessa – the group which wishes to belong to our Church and which has embraced Presbyterian principles. However, it was not possible on this occasion to bring them any aid, apart from some of our own private belongings. One condition laid down by the Ukrainian Customs with regard to aid is that the church to which the aid is to be taken must be registered with the State. Although our Odessa friends have applied for registration, it has not been granted.
To the church of Pastor Grichenko in Kiev and to others we delivered 10,000 Russian and 7000 Hungarian Words of Life calendars – a grant from the Trinitarian Bible Society. We also delivered 361 Bibles and approximately 1000 pieces of Reformed literature – for example, The Shorter Catechism, The Mother’s Catechism, and Boston’s Fourfold State. Pastor Grichenko will distribute most of the material which he has received, but will pass a considerable amount to other churches over a wide area, as he has been doing in the past. The load also included clothing, a knitting machine, a sewing machine, typewriters, and small pieces of furniture. On this occasion we did not take food and medicine because articles of that nature cause endless problems and protracted delays when dealing with the Customs.
It was our intention to hold our first Sabbath service in Borispol, a large town outside Kiev, where a few families gather for worship when we visit them. We were not able to do so because we were delayed by our vehicle breaking down in Nagydobrony, a village not far from Cop, the border crossing from Hungry to the Ukraine, and a day’s journey to Kiev. However even if we had not broken down, there was such dreadful flooding in the region that it was questionable if we would have been able to travel. By Monday morning the flood had subsided and we got though safely. Thankfully, we did not have to take the long detour which we had planned to take had the flooding continued.
Rev Horkay Laszlo of the Hungarian Reformed Church in the Ukraine kindly provided for us during the few days we had to stay in Nagydobrony until our truck was repaired. As is common in the Ukraine, spare parts are not readily available, but the mechanics in the local garage were able to machine the required parts, a skill largely lost in our own country because of the easy availability of spare parts.
On our first Sabbath, then, we attended the services in Rev. Horkay Laszlo’s congregations in the Nagydobrony area. The Psalms were sung, and the precentor loudly read each line of the psalm before it was sung by the congregation, proceeding from line to line as we still do on occasions in some of our congregations. A gift of an organ was sent to this congregation, but the old elders would have none of it and promptly disposed of it. Sadly, this was not the mind of another congregation in the area, as we discovered.
At the conclusion of one service I was asked to speak to the congregation. I endeavoured to address them on the centrality, in the worship of God, of the Word of God and of Christ Jesus in the Word, and, flowing from that, the Scriptural manner in which we are to worship God. Some people in the congregation seemed to appreciate what was said.
Our next Sabbath was spent with the Odessa friends. They worship God each Sabbath in the same manner as we ourselves do in Scotland. They have a number of Metrical Psalms in Russian. My sermon for that Sabbath, which was on Isaiah 63:9, had to be written out beforehand. On Saturday it was given to Mrs Inna Livitsky who translated it from English into Russian. On Sabbath both the English and the Russian versions are read to the congregation, phrase by phrase, as in interpreting. After public worship we had a question and answer session on various Scripture subjects, which proved to be very helpful.
This people of this little group are not without their great trials in trying to maintain the stand they have taken on the side of the Reformed faith. While they look to our Church for support and to be established, some of them are very conscious that they need much grace and strength from the Most High if they are to endure in the path they have taken.
On alternative Sabbaths an address is given at the service by Mr Igor Zadoroshney, the leader of the group and father of Mrs Levitsky. On the other Sabbaths a sermon by a minister such Rev. Donald Macfarlane or Robert M. M Cheyne is read. Of course, it has first to be translated into Russian by Mrs Levitsky and written out – a very demanding and time-consuming task. On occasions, a piece from the Russian translation of Boston’s Human Nature In Its Fourfold State – material which was first preached as sermons by Boston, and which the Odessa friends find to be most useful – is read during the service. How much we should pray for this struggling little group, seeking that true religion would prosper among them.
While we were in the Ukraine, a grant of 12,000 Ukrainian Bibles for Odessa, directly from the Trinitarian Bible Society, arrived in the country. Although the donors have stated that the Bibles have no commercial value and are for free distribution only, the Customs Department is demanding that £7,500 sterling be paid in taxes before they are released. The Trinitarian Bible Society is presently negotiating with the Ukrainian Embassy in London in an attempt to overcome the problem, and similar negotiations are going on in the Ukraine. We ask that our readers take this matter also to the throne of grace, seeking the release of these Bibles for free distribution.
During our stay in the Ukraine there was dreadful flooding in the south-west region of the Ukraine which has affected 400,000 people. Some have died, while many are suffering deprivation and increased poverty. Our Church, being one of many which take aid to the Ukraine, has been appealed to by the Ukrainian Embassy in London to give some help to these stricken thousands. In responding to their appeal we have asked that the aid we give be not directed to a Government department for distribution but to Rev. Horkay Laszlo, who is one of the main persons in his area for helping flood victims. This was acceptable to the Embassy, so we intend to send a load of aid as soon as weather conditions improve for travelling, possibly in mid-January, God willing.
It is hoped that Mr Alastair MacRae and Mr Edward Ross will go out on that occasion. At the same time we intend to include in the load hundreds of Bibles in Russian, Hungarian and Ukrainian, considerable grants of which have been given by the Trinitarian Bible Society. Again we ask that you would be bringing to the throne of grace the work of distributing the Scriptures, and also that you would seek that the humanitarian aid to be given to the flood victims will open doors for the furtherance of the gospel in those regions.
“Brethren pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified,” 1 Thessalonians 3:1.