We visited my parents to say goodbye. I didn’t know how to say we were leaving, but as I began to talk I saw how hard it was for them. It was August 1991, the time of the tank putsch in Red Square, Moscow.
Dad said, ‘What are you doing? Where are you going? There’s a war in Moscow and you are going there!’
But it didn’t stop us. We had an aim; we had decided to go as missionaries. I held my little daughter in my arms and, as I was getting into the car, my Dad with love and compassion tried to hold me back. He didn’t want to let me go. Mother’s eyes were full of tears; she couldn’t speak. I was torn in two, but with pain I sat in the car and we left.
Sixteen years later, on the eve of new year 2007, we packed our bags, ready to show our now grown children the place we had often thought about, while living as missionaries.
I knew we were going to celebrate New Year on the train, so I cooked a meal and took a green twig to put on the table instead of a tree. Our little kids were going by train for the first time. Forty-eight hours travelling from Tatarstan, where we had lived for so many years. What would we find?
I was born in a small village in Ukraine, into a Christian family; an ordinary village girl who after graduation went to work and live in the big city of Lutsk, in western Ukraine. I went to church there, where I met my future husband, Volodya, and in 1989 we married.
This was the time when the Soviet Union disintegrated and great opportunities opened up for preaching the gospel. In Russia the gospel was unknown in many places.
We decided to go as missionaries to the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, in the Russian republic of Tatarstan and 2500 kms from our home in Ukraine. I understood that this was good, a command of God, but it was difficult for me as a young mother.
‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). I preferred to be a witness in ‘Jerusalem’, rather than ‘the ends of the earth’!
It was difficult to go so far away from my country, family and friends. I was close to my family. As a little girl, I always dreamed of getting married and living close to my parents so I could visit them often — but 2500 kms!
Our first daughter was only four months old. I had no experience of taking care of a child, and to go somewhere so far away, to a place where I didn’t know anybody, was really difficult. But, I thought, ‘If that is what God wants, then I need to obey him’.
We travelled to Naberezhnye Chelny by car, along with a van which carried all our luggage, Christian literature and Bibles. The difficult trip took five days. The van needed to be repaired a few times. There were no disposable nappies, so we needed to stop in forests to wash and dry our daughter’s clothes. We had to cook food in the forests.
When we arrived, other problems were waiting for us. We found a flat with one room to rent for six months, but, one week after we arrived, the hostess returned and said we needed to move out soon, as she herself didn’t have anywhere to go.
It was September. There was already snow on the ground and the weather was really cold. We couldn’t find a new flat immediately. We changed flats three times during that year. They were not in the best condition; often dirty, with a lot of cockroaches and no furniture. We needed to clean everything.
It was a difficult period, and in those times when I thought I couldn’t stand any more, I remembered the reasons we had come there for.
We started our mission work in Tatarstan, along with friends of my husband — Alexander, and his wife Lena. We invited people to study the Bible, rented rooms in public institutions and advertised our meetings.
During the week days there were Bible study groups and on Sunday we gathered together in a big meeting where we taught people Christian songs. I organised children’s musical groups that performed concerts in the culture centre for Christmas and Easter.
Our numbers quickly reached about 800. The first baptism was in the sports complex, where 30 people were baptised. It was exciting! All the difficulties were forgotten, because of the joy we felt.
Most of Tatarstan’s population is Muslim. People didn’t know who God is or about the Bible, but the Lord worked in people’s hearts and a new church was formed, which has over 300 members today.
Then others churches started to form. Christians from our city went to other cities and villages and the Word of God spread. The Lord added to the church those who were being saved.
It was not at all easy for us; it was hard financially and spiritually. Volodya needed to work in the evenings to earn money to live. Also our car was stolen. We thought, ‘Why this? We came here for God’s glory, but there are so many problems!’
Often when we were at home we sang a song with these words, ‘Even though there are no sheep in the pens or grapes on the vine, I will still praise the Lord’. We received great help and care from our Christian friends from Poland, who regularly visited us.
Three months later, friends came to us and said that they had found the car! This was the car we returned home to Ukraine in.
So 16 years went by, before we returned home to Tatarstan with our three now older children. There we had many different meetings, talking together and remembering how it all began.
Our years spent in Tatarstan were not wasted. The seed was sown and we give glory to God. I knew that the Lord had sent us to Tatarstan and had wanted us there. God took care of us then and he still takes care of us now.
Instead of having a dirty, small flat, we now have a large, clean house. In our mission years we had one gift from God — our daughter. Now we have two more daughters and all of them serve God with their musical talents.
We have a church, where we serve God and people and where my husband is a pastor. We have eternal life in Christ. Our journey continues.
Nadya and Volodya minister with Central Eurasian Partners, an indigenous mission network dedicated to support local leaders in mission, from everywhere to everywhere, believing that they will go places and do things Westerners cannot — often at a fraction of the price. If you would like more information or a visit to your church, see http://cepartners.wordpress.com or email [email protected]