My first connection with Ukraine came in 2017 when I served the orphan ministry with OM in the Black Sea coast city of Odessa.
I had been blessed with the opportunity to go to South Africa with Hillview Community Church, Aberdeen in the summers of 2015 and 2016. God showed me how much I loved serving and adventuring with Him overseas but also breaking my heart for suffering I saw and leaving me in awe of the intimate relationship with God the locals had in their tough circumstances.
In 2017, I wanted to try a solo mission trip where I didn’t know anyone prior to going. I browsed the OM website and selected to go to Athens to work with Syrian refugees. I was approved but then subsequently received a phone call to confirm Athens no longer needed me. However, they offered a place to help with the orphan ministry in Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
I spent three weeks in Ukraine in 2017 helping to build and run OM’s camps for orphans and kids with disabilities in the Odessa region.
I was chatting to some American short-term missionaries who were with me there. They were keen to introduce me to Wayne, head of OM Ukraine, who they had just visited near Kiev because he was “into engineering and cricket” like me. Within a few days I heard Wayne was travelling six hours down to Odessa for an OM team meeting where I had the opportunity to meet him and hear about his engineering and cricket projects.
I had fortunately booked a long layover in Kiev for my flights home since it was the cheapest option. This allowed Wayne to quickly take me to his home in Kaharlyk, an hour from Kiev, and show me his engineering and cricket projects first hand. I knew I needed to return one day.
Wayne is from Australia and planned to join the Royal Australian Air Force growing up. He failed the medical and came to Ukraine on a gap year, hoping he would get into the Air Force at the second attempt. However, God had a different plan for him, so he is still in Ukraine more than twenty years later with his wife and their four sons.
He started out establishing Bible based English classes in former Soviet schools. This was shut down by the government for its “religious content”. He then got involved with a church in Kiev. Wayne’s boss from the English classes invited Wayne to join a church he was planting in Kaharlyk. This guy then went back to Australia on furlough only to return a letter informing Wayne he was not coming back to Ukraine. So quite quickly Wayne became pastor of this church in Kaharlyk where he remains today.
His congregation seemed to all be in severe poverty with a very high unemployment rate with nobody taking initiative for the problems around them and significant disengagement between the church and the community. He started looking for ways to facilitate his congregation to start creating something to help them “put bread on the table” and gather for Bible teaching.
In 2003, Wayne began a number of projects to engage his congregation in taking initiative to create solutions to their community's problems to help them alleviate the problems, earn a living for their families and gain gospel access through relationships to those in the community who engage with the projects.
A list of the projects is as follows:
With the need to harvest enough food from local gardens to survive the winter, he started producing compost from organic waste taken from overgrowing plants beside the road and mowing local lawns to clean up the town. This disruptive behaviour was recognised by the mayor as nobody would have voluntarily cleaned up the town before.
The weeds and green waste were also fermented to produce biogas for heating the church through cold Ukrainian winters.
They also started producing mushrooms which could be achieved and replicated quickly in a local warehouse basement. The best yield was 10 tonnes in a month.
A deal was struck with McDonalds to be able to collect waste cooking oil from their Kiev restaurants so they could convert it to biodiesel.
With the disruption to Ukraine in 2014, McDonalds withdrew their deal. Wayne swiftly moved onto the pyrolysis of plastic waste returning it to its oil and gas origin - this project will be the focus of my gap year.
His passion for cricket has led him to build Ukraine's only permanent cricket facility and engage with the thriving cricket community of Indian medical students in Kiev. Tournaments are run regularly with the Indians staying in the church over a tournament weekend. For many of them, they have never played with a hard cricket ball or on grass so the Kaharlyk pitch feels like playing at Lord’s for them.
When OM Australia visited Wayne in 2018, they made a video about the cricket ministry which you can watch below. It really helped to give a full picture of the facilities they have developed and the existing established cricket community. We are praying for God to call a cricket missionary to Ukraine to take the reins of this fantastic opportunity. If you think this could be you or someone you know, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me here.
From the initial trip to Ukraine in 2017, I had a yearning to return as it was a place where I saw a clear answer to prayer of where I could combine engineering with mission. In 2018, I read Scatter by Andrew Scott (Head of OM USA) which encourages Christians to consider where they may be able to use their professional skills among those least reached by the gospel. You can find out more about how this book has inspired me here.
At the start of 2019, I was again reminded to make the most of my singleness for God. These both reinforced my desire to return to Ukraine and see what God had planned next. So I got in touch with Wayne again in January 2019 to begin organising another trip for that summer. In June 2019, my mate Calum joined me and we returned to see the latest progress with the Pyrolysis project. We were able to get involved with shredding some raw plastic waste and analysing the cooling capability of the pyrolysis unit.
God showed me how I could directly apply the knowledge and skills from my degree, for which I had spent much of my fourth year despairing over whether I really wanted to continue engineering. God also showed us this firsthand example of the innovative ways that we can bring together all of life and the passions God has given us and use them for His kingdom. We took a lot from absorbing what Wayne had to share with us about his story and seeing his day-to-day life.
It became clear what an opportunity a gap year would be to serve God as I transition from university to work and so after the summer, I began the application process with OM. This gap year is such a gift from God to allow me to combine my skill of engineering with making disciples of Jesus.
The Gap Year 2020/21
I am delighted that God has opened the opportunity to serve OM’s goal of making vibrant communities of Jesus followers amongst the least reached in Ukraine using the skill of engineering he has gifted me.
From the start of university, I longed for God to show me how to combine engineering with Christian mission. I can see how God so clearly weaved together the path to this gap year: In 2015 and 2016 in South Africa He showed me how much I loved the idea of serving Him overseas. He redirected me from Athens to Odessa in 2017 so I could meet those American short-term missionaries who led to me meeting Wayne. He gave me the time in my layover on my way home to see what Wayne was doing firsthand to fuel my desire to return. Then with reading Scatter and returning in 2019 trip, it really confirmed the call that I should indeed go after university as that is the most natural transition point before I am stuck in work.
The goal of this gap year is to continue development of the Pyrolysis project to drive it towards financial sustainability so that it may be expanded, and its impact reach the rest of Ukraine and beyond.
This impact which we would like to increase is:
To see the gospel reach all those relationships we build through the Pyrolysis enterprise.
To create jobs which provide the opportunity for locals to fulfil God's good desire for them to work and provide for their families.
To steward the resources God has given us through making use of the prevalent waste form of plastic.
I'll be working day-to-day with Wayne and the Pyrolysis team in designing, testing and improving the pyrolysis unit. I will be building relationships with my fellow workers and external suppliers and customers giving me opportunity to share the gospel through sharing why I have come to Ukraine to be involved with this project.
I’m sure there will also be opportunity to get involved with other ministries in Kaharlyk such as the cricket and with other OM Ukraine ministries such as those in the war zone and with orphans and those with disabilities.
I would also like to take any opportunity I can to inspire students before, during and after the gap year to consider the reality that they can use their professional skills to go to those least reached with the gospel overseas if that is where God is calling them.