Praying for Ukraine
Citizens of Heaven
A Conversation between Providence pastor Dwight A. Moody and ministers Gennady and Mina Podgaisky of Kyiv, Ukraine. Sunday morning, November 13, 2022
Dwight A. Moody: Grace and peace to all of you who have gathered from near and far at PBC. Early in the week, I sent to Marcy and Michael the sermon text and title which I want to read for you from Paul’s letter to the Philippians…. One of the wonderful phrases from chapter four in the book is “citizens of heaven.” The same Greek word, or a form of it, is used in chapter one, but it is not normally translated that way. I want to read beginning with verse 27…. I encourage you to pull out your Bible and follow along. The translation I use is the New Living Translation…. “Above all you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting your selves in a way that is worthy of the gospel….”
In my sermon planned for today, I was going to tell the story of the first time I saw the Statue of Israel when we were coming back from our year in Israel. I will save that story until later. We have two guests today, one who began in Mexico and ended up on Ukraine and the other who began in Russia also ended up in Ukraine: Gennady and Mina Podgaisky. I want you to help me give them a warm reception as they take their places right here.
Dwight: We are delighted you have come back to North Carolina. You have come to NC many times. Tell us what your connection is to NC.
Gennady: The first time we came was 2005. We had visitors in Ukraine who said to us, “You must come to western Carolina.” So we came and we visited them and they said, “You can stay here in Black Mountain. They have a missionary house and they can provide it for you.”
Dwight: This is not your first visit to Providence
Mina: The first thing I want to say is “Thank you.” Thank you for the offering of global missions. It provides funds for us in Ukraine. Thank you for inviting us to your church today. Most of all, we thank you for your prayers. Our children were 7 and 5 and 4, and we were seeing the [missionary] house for the first time. We heard a big noise. Our young daughter was in the back of the house and she came in and said, “Even the toilet is pink!” That was a sign for God for us to stay in the missionary house!
Dwight: That is a very unusual sign from God!!
Mina: So every time we come, we stay in that house. That is the only house [in the United States] our children remember.
Dwight: Tell us about your first visit to Providence church.
Gennady: It as 15 years ago. [Founding pastor} Gail will remember. Gail took us to the Toyota dealership, and after that we decided we needed a Toyota car. And so we bought one!
Dwight: How many of you were here when they first came? One, two, three, four, five.
Mina: After we got married, I studied at the University of Louisville. We were working with Russian speaking Jews.
Dwight: Gennady you started out in Russia
Gennady: Yes, that is where I was born and grew up. I am a third-generation Russian Baptist. Which is unusual for us. Many people think we [Russians] are only communists.
Dwight: Do you know of Norm and Martha Lytle?
Gennady: Yes, we do.
Dwight: Norm and Martha Lytle were Baptist missionaries in Israel when Jan and I lived there. And they are graduates of Georgetown College where I went to school and later taught. And they were influential in sending you to Louisville where they went to school
Gennady: They were a good connection. It is a small world. I grew up in Russian Baptist family. I had to serve my time in the military, which everybody has to do…. Afterwards, I felt called into gospel ministry. I was expected to get up and preach without any preparation. I wanted to get an education, but in Russia it was impossible. Then I was praying to God because I wanted to get an education… God opened the door. The Soviet Union was collapsing…. But the opportunity came open to attend a Bible school. Then, through the Baptist Union, there was an opportunity to come here [to the United States] for a year for study. I came here, to Louisville, met Dina, we dated, and married; and the rest of it is history.
Dwight: It is a great story. What brought you from different parts of the world, to Louisville KY? You are Russian. You speak Russian. How is it living as a Russian in Kyiv? In the current social and political situation?
Gennady: It is a complicated situation. About 20% of Ukrainians are Russian citizens. 80% of Russian speaking people Ukrainians, but there are many other people in Ukraine including Hungarians. There is a mixture of languages and people. In eastern Ukraine people speak mostly Russian because Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. More and more the Russian language was adopted by people. When the Soviet Union collapsed, families collapsed and social and economic systems collapsed. There were lots of kids which were placed in the orphanages. It was such an unwelcome situation because the kids were running away. So the Ukrainian Baptist Union Social Services decided to do something with them. They formed a partnership with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of NC. We came along and were the connecting link.
Dwight: Perhaps at the end of this Ukrainian implosion you were describing, while I was pastoring a church in Pittsburgh, a family of four came to Pittsburgh and our church received them. One was a medical doctor and one was director of the national orchestra. They had two sons, and the four of them sang together. They had quite good voices. One of them is living in California and has a video on YouTube, still singing the gospel. So I have a connection also with Ukraine.
Mina: Things about our work have changed a little bit. In the beginning we were feeding children on the street. We realized we were not solving the problem with just feeding the kids. There was a movement around the world, teaching the way you do ministry in the streets. We founded shelters so the children have to come to us. From there, we could see which children would be able to stay with a family. Through our partnership with CBF/NC, we were able to rent some buildings. We started the Village of Hope. We have families that would take these children. All of the children came through the government, so they came in and stayed with the families until they graduated high school, until, they go to college, or get married, and moved on. Then the families can move on when the children leave. We have had several families once in the Village of Hope, and we had some families leave the Village of Hope. So the first family we had had six boys. All the boys graduated high school. They all became Christians. They all went to college. One of them got married and this December had a child. Right now we have another ministry, to couples. It can be an adult and an adult, or an adult and a child as long as the child is older than eighteen. The program focuses on relationships and healing within themselves and with their partner…. That is one thing we are doing, and we also are doing a lot of counseling: individual counseling and we also do family counseling. …There is a lot of depression in the world and in Ukraine. So we have been doing a lot of counseling….
Dwight: Do you live in Kyiv now?
Mina: We have always lived in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
Dwight: But that is not where you started. You started in Mexico. Give us the short version of your story of how you got from Mexico to Kyiv.
Mina: I grew up in a Baptist family. That is not common. I accepted Christ when I was ten years old and started discipleship classes. I learned at a very early age. I took discipleship classes and learned that all of us are called to be missionaries…. So I never considered myself a missionary because this is what we all do. So I said at an early age, “I will go wherever you want us to go, to the ends of the earth.” Then my family moved to El Paso, Texas, and I was involved with the Hispanic ministry. Then we moved to Norfolk, Virginia and was involved in ministry. When I went to seminary in Louisville, I was involved with Hispanic students. I was also involved with Anglo students, which was also a mission field to me for so I was not an American by birth. I have always been involved in ministry. When I was serving, we both met at orientation and two years later, we got married. We were both wanting to go where few people wanted to go. And there was an opportunity to go to Ukraine, so we ended up going to serve the Lord in Ukraine. After we got married I started studying Russian at the University of Louisville. Gennady was invited to come [to Louisville] with a group from Russia to Louisville. While there on a one year study, he learned of a group of Russian-speaking Jewish emigrants. He got involved in that ministry and after we got married I joined him in that ministry too.
Dwight: You started out in Russia. Tell us how you got to Louisville.
Gennady: I was born in Russia, and I am only a third generation Russian Baptist! Which is unusual for us. Many people think Russia is only Communists. But there are Russian Baptist Churches, mostly underground, because it is forbidden to worship God openly…. What happened is this: because the Ukraine was part of the USSR and was moving toward unification, more and more the Russian language became dominant language. But only 20% of Ukraine is Russian.
Dwight: Most of your ministry is in the Russian language?
Gennady: Yes, because in Kyiv, 100% of the people speak Russian and maybe 98% of them speak Ukrainian as well. But most of our church is Russian so it is much easier for me to use Russian language. Of course, I know Ukrainian but being in Kyiv, I really don’t need to use it…. But basically, nobody asks you of your nationality, whether you are Ukrainian or Russian or something. It is more important that we are together. The people know I am Russian by birth.
Mina: But there is no conflict.
Gennady: There is no conflict. There is no pressure to become this way or that way. But because of the political situation, it has become more and more confusing.
Dwight: We are concerned about the situation in Ukraine. We are very anxious about talk of war. We pray for our president and other leaders as they try to navigate these hard times. You had to leave Ukraine. You came over last November. Tell us about why you left and what you left behind. Are any of your children still in Kyiv? Tell us where your children are.
Mina: Our oldest son Bogdan is doing a master’s degree at Gardner Webb University. Our middle son Mark finished at Marquette University in Milwaukee and he is planning to enter medical school in North Carolina. Our youngest is a daughter, Ana Maria, and she is a junior at Columbia University in Chicago. She is doing musical theater. So, the kids grew up in Ukraine. When the say, “back home” they are referring to Ukraine.
Dwight: Do you expect them to go back to Ukraine?
Mina: No. I don’t expect them to go back. I always said, “Go where the Lord calls you.” That’s where you should serve the Lord. We were already scheduled to come to the United States, so that was a good thing for us. We were to come in early December until the middle of March . By the middle of November, we debated whether to come. What most people don’t know is that in November we were ready to evacuate. We had our suitcases ready just in case. Through November, we kept taking things out of the suitcase, saying; “We really don’t need this. We need this and this.” We called the children and said. “What do you need?” We were living there for 18 years. The kids grew up there: toys, books, high school yearbooks; everything is there. They said, “can you bring this, can you bring that?” So we were taking clothes out and putting things in, irreplaceable things, for them. The big thing was, we already had plans to come to the States. Before we left, we were just praying that we will make it out on our regular schedule …. Now we have a hope to go back in Spring, but nobody knows. Now we have to wait for the news. I just got an email right before we came this morning. One of my Mexican friends in Kyiv, part of my ministry to the Mexicans ...
Dwight: Wait a minute: There are Mexicans in Ukraine?
Mina: There are Mexicans everywhere!!
Dwight: In your ministry to the Mexicans, do you speak Spanish?
Mina: Yes. We meet one a month in a home. We have a fellowship. It all started because there was a group of eight Mexicans women that had moved to Ukraine. They did not know the language or the culture. I met one of these ladies who expressed interest in meeting with me. I said, "Come, Please come!" When I went to pick her up, there were eight or nine of them, and we started meeting once a month. One of them is staying in our home to take care of it while we are here. And we had conversations with others about what to do if the war should happen. I got the message this morning that there is now a video from the boarders; and the video shows a group of Russian helicopters flying into Ukraine. We don't know how true it is. But already one of these major airlines have stopped flying into and out of Ukraine.
Dwight: It is a very tense situation over there, I assume. your Village of Hope and your Baptist community: what is their attitude and disposition toward the political situation? Is there a division in your Baptist world between those loyal to Russian and those loyal to Ukraine?
Mina: No. There is no division.... The younger generation wants to unite with the European common market and have more freedoms.... The older generation, they just want peace, for the most part. The young people are in the struggle for full independence. It is important to realize that his is not new for the people of Ukraine. Early on, there was the Orange Revolution. Eight years ago, there was The Instability as we call it. The people wanted the president to push back on the Russians. Since then, there was the trouble in the East of Ukraine. The Russians came in an took all the Ukrainian passports and gave the people Russian Passports. This is how Russia can say, "We are going to protect the Russian people." There have been wars in that area for ages. We had a member of our bible study group that served [in the military] in that region. It has just gotten worse.
Dwight: We want to pray for you today and for your children. Your children are scattered. They are all in the United States as you have told us. But you have a network of people in Kyiv and in Ukraine, people that look to you for leadership, that are missing you. You are not really sure if you will be able to go back, are you?
Gennady: No. At this point, we can't say either way. We want to go back. The Lord has a call for us and a ministry. We are in almost daily communication with those in our Bible Study and in Mina's network. They need fresh water every day. That's what we are going to provide them while we are here. We are using Zoom when we can. So that is another thing, about our involvement in the ministry there. We feel God still has a place for us there. We just don't know when we will be able to return.
Mina: I want to close with a verse that is very, very important to us. It is Romans 12:12. "Be joyful in hope. Be patient in trouble. Be faithful in prayer."
Dwight: Let us pray: Lord Jesus, we thank you for bringing Mina and Gennady to Providence today. We thank you for their testimony. We thank you for the journey they have been on together. We pray you will open up a future for them back in Kyiv. We pray for those in a position to stop the war that seems so imminent. We pray for our President, Joe Biden, and for those advising him. We pray for leaders in Ukraine, Russia, and Europe. We pray that your Spirit might intervene and bring peace and understanding. The gospel calls for us to live in peace with one another. We pray this might be true in Ukraine. We thank you for bringing Mina and Gennady to our congregation today. Guide us as pray, and support them, and connect with them in the global ministry that You have given them. I ask your blessing upon them and upon their children, scattered as they are. Protect them. Bring friends, and resources, and a blessing in them, through them, and around them. Lord, hear our prayer today: not only on behalf of these two messengers you have sent to us, but for all our congregation that are sick or traveling or cannot be here today. We pray for them. Touch their minds, hearts and souls today. Draw them close to you. This is the prayer I lift up on behalf of all of us here at Providence Church. May your will be done in our lives and in our church. And this we pray in Christ's name. Amen.