Slaves must obey their master and do their best to please them. . . They must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.
This was the challenge Michael Gott gave at our first team devotion in Lviv, Ukraine on July 21. It is the reason that 18 people from 6 different states traveled to Lviv, Ukraine to participate in an English language evangelism event. Because the New Testament says we are slaves of Jesus Christ, we want to "make the teachings about God our Savior attractive" – to those who may not be aware of their need for a personal relationship with God through Jesus. Many in Ukraine are trusting in their relationship to a church organization to make them OK with God.
As many of you know, I have been participating in English language events with the Michael Gott International Evangelistic Association since 1994. This was the 14th school I have been privileged to teach in – and the last 7 have been in Ukraine. Since the political situation in Ukraine is somewhat unstable right now, there was some concern expressed about safety. However, Lviv in on the far western side of the country, away from the fighting in the east. While the pro-Russian forces have recently changed tactics and have begun using some terrorist tactics even in Lviv, none of us on the team felt threatened or unsafe at any time. In fact, the uncertainty of Ukraine's future has made the Ukrainians more open to spiritual things. They were especially amazed and grateful that we Americans were willing to be there and encourage them at this time.
Michael Gott is a Southern Baptist evangelist with a calling and passion to reach people in Eastern Europe. He and his wife Jan have been ministering in that part of the world since 1967.
The idea for the English language schools as a tool for evangelism came to Michael after the fall of Communism. Since English is the international business language, many people in Eastern Europe are eager to improve their job opportunities by learning English; and they are also eager to practice English with native speakers. They will attend English classes taught by Americans, even if sponsored by and held in a Baptist church. This is friendship evangelism – where we as teachers not only provide quality lessons to help students improve their English, but also build bridges of friendship that open doors to sharing the gospel.
The English schools are always held by invitation of a Baptist church, and are usually held in the church building – except where the church has no building of its own, but rents space for worship. This was the case in Lviv: Hosanna church is a fairly young, contemporary Baptist church. They rent the Palace of Culture for their meetings. The sponsoring church always has huge responsibilities in preparing for the school: advertising, arranging housing and meals for team members, making sure classrooms are adequate for teaching, transportation of team members – the list goes on. The group of young adults from Hosanna who worked with us did an unusually excellent job of seeing that every detail was covered.
The process for the schools is always the same: From Day 1, we want Jesus to show up on our faces, in our words, in our teaching – so that students are attracted to him. Each student comes for a personal interview on Sat. or Sunday of the 1st week, before classes begin on Monday – to determine English speaking level. From the minute we first greet them at the interview, we try to create an atmosphere of warmth, genuine friendship, a desire to help and encourage them.
Because of the large numbers of students who attend these schools, we generally have to offer four 2-hour class sessions per day. This way we can assign 6 to 20 students to each teacher, which makes building bridges of friendship very do-able. It is amazing how quickly each class becomes a little "family," and how special each student becomes to us.
Classes meet every day Monday through Friday of the 1st week. Then at the end of the 1st week, there is a special group meeting of all sessions on Sunday – called "Super Sunday." Then classes meet again on Monday through Wed. of the 2nd week, with Thursday being graduation/diploma day.
Classes are usually 10 am, 1 pm, 4 pm, and 7 pm, and students must register for the time slot when they can attend. Each two-hour class time begins with a group assembly – which includes announcements and words of encouragement form Michael (using an interpreter). Singing is an important part of this group time, since singing is an effective way to improve pronunciation of any language. Next students spend one hour in their individual classes, where teachers try to present good quality lessons with lots of opportunities for students to practice speaking. Then the final 20-30 minutes is spent in group assembly for more singing and Michael's messages.
We sing secular songs at first, then as the first week progresses, we add Christian songs with a strong spiritual message. This feeds into Michael's gospel messages, which begin at the "Super Sunday" event. Using questions asked by the students, Michael shares a brief but clear gospel message on each of the three remaining class days. His messages include:
- the feeling of being lost, or having no direction in life.
- the fact that all have sinned and the wages of sin is death, but God's gift is eternal life, paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross;
- Jesus stands knocking at the door of every life, because he wants to come in and have an intimate relationship with you – but only you can open the door; it requires a personal, conscious decision.
We as teachers also have the opportunity to share a brief word of personal testimony in our classes on the last day. Then on graduation day, students are given a questionnaire. One of the questions says:
"After hearing Michael and the teachers talk about Jesus in their lives, have you invited Jesus into your life?"
Students are able to respond to this question honestly without fear of embarrassment.
In a moment, I'll share the results of that questionnaire, but first need to tell you about the children you have seen in the photos.
We had a unique opportunity on this trip. Amy Gott Pannell, Michael and Jan's 40 something daughter, has been holding English schools for kids for the last 4 summers. Her organization is called "English 4 Youth." In Lviv, for the 1st time, they decided to conduct joint schools for kids and adults, and Amy's 14 year old daughter Lauren Grace was a member of the team. So the first two classes of the day were for kids and young teens;10 am for kids 6-11 (I had 18, 8-11 year olds in my class) and 1:30 pm for young teens (12-15) – [I had 8 in my class]
There are a few differences in the kids and adult schools:
- Kids' school lasts only one week (graduated on Sat.)
- With the young kids, puppets are used for spiritual lessons. Little Lamb puppet told about his Good Shepherd – who took care of him, warned him of dangers; and went looking for him when he wandered away. The children were enthralled! There are no questionnaires for the young children, and no effort to get any kind of spiritual response.
- With teens, Amy shares truths about God our Creator, how he know each of un intimately and loves us and wants us to know him personally. Teens are given the opportunity to respond on a questionnaire, and a little over 50 of the young teens who attended gave a positive response.
Having two different schools presented some special challenges for us as a team. But that's where we can praise God for his faithfulness: when he asks us to do something, he ALWAYS gives us what we need to do it. [God has proven this to me on every mission trip I have participated in.]
We were "living" in a hotel, eating in a nearby café, holding school for kids at an elementary school, and the school for adults at the Palace of Culture. Our feet were our transportation, and once we left the hotel at about 7:15 each morning, we did not return until after the last class, usually around 9:45 pm. We walked back and forth between the school, café, and Palace of Culture throughout the day.
Obviously that first week was very demanding. But many of you were praying, and each time I felt depleted, God showed up with new energy, or wisdom, or whatever I needed to keep going. So He gets all the praise for every good thing accomplished – I certainly have no power in me to do any of this.
What was accomplished? What did I see God do?
- Ukrainians who attended were encouraged during this time of crisis in their country. They also received serious help with their English, and many improved in their speaking confidence.
- Hosanna Church was greatly encouraged – especially the pastor and those members who worked with us:
- About 250 children were enrolled in the English school. At the end of the school, the pastor announced about follow-up English camps they will have in August. Immediately, both the kids camp and the teen camp was filled to capacity.
- Also, parents were invited to parenting classes held at their church, and over 20 families registered to attend.
- In the adult school, we enrolled just over 550. 478 of those finished the school, and heard the gospel clearly presented. Of those, 21 indicated they were already believers, and 267 gave a positive response to inviting Jesus into their lives. Only 75 indicated they had not made that decision. All those who said "YES" to Jesus will be contacted by Hosanna Church, invited to ongoing English clubs and Bible studies.
For me, this was again an amazing privilege to participate in what God is doing. Only He fully knows all that was accomplished – He did it, and He gets the glory!
Always looking for new volunteers – come go with me next time!