I met a remarkable young man who has a passion for young people in Ukraine. Usually we hear about people after they have achieved some significant goal. Chris Loux’s significance is not his achievement (yet) but his relationship to the Lord. He is a work in progress and by reading his story, you get an inspiring insight into the transforming work of the Lord in a young man’s life. He’s an American, a Gringo, who’s been to Ukraine twice. Now he’s got a vision that infects others.
Okay, where’s Ukraine. Geography lesson (that I just gave myself): check out the map!
Now give his story a read . . . and consider praying for him.
Two years ago I was asked to step in, at the last minute, and lead a team overseas to Ukraine to teach English to Ukrainian youth at a summer camp in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains. I had never been overseas and I had never been on a proper mission trip before. So, at first blush, I was inclined to say, “No.” However, there was a sense of adventure and a tug upon my conscience not to pass this opportunity up. So I agreed to lead the team and start the support raising process and training with my new team. My prayer was simple, “God, if this is meant to be, you will bring everything to pass. I trust you.”
My church back home has a long-standing partnership with Josiah Venture, a missions organization concentrated in Eastern Europe whose vision is to see the youth of that post-communist region affected and transformed by the Good News that only Jesus Christ can bring to the weary, the tired, and the lost. My trip in 2010 was no exception and we continued to partner with Josiah Venture to provide them a team to teach English at one of their many summer camps.
My experience in 2010 was nothing short of a revelation. Having never been overseas to experience what life, or Christianity, is like in another culture, I was unprepared for the divine surprise and adventure that was given to me in those seventeen days. For one, even getting to our destination was an adventure; we traveled on a train for over seventeen hours from Warsaw, Poland to L’viv, Ukraine with nothing but the trust that God would provide and allow us to arrive safely in L’viv. True to form, the Lord proved to be right there alongside us as we overcame language barriers and switching trains in five minutes and the many strange and peculiar characters we encountered along the way.
Josiah Venture’s model for English Camp is to empower the local church by providing them the resources necessary to host camps throughout Eastern Europe. God’s Design Church was the name of the church that we partnered with in 2010. They are a small church out of Lutsk, Ukraine whose numbers barely crest fifty. They actually only meet once a month corporately. The rest of the time they choose to meet in each other’s homes.
My first impression of the men and women of God’s Design Church was that they acted more like a family than a church. Ironically, that is the way that God would have us relate to one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ. Throughout camp I was astonished by the love that was expressed in their interactions with each other and with us. Although an enormous language and cultural barrier threatened to divide us (only a handful of Ukrainians actually spoke English) the Lord worked to unite our hearts together in a display of Spirit-filled friendship that swooned my heart like nothing else.
I was moved so deeply by my experience in Ukraine that summer that, upon returning to America, I began praying for God to allow me to return in 2011. I believe that once you’ve tasted the sweetness of God’s fruit in foreign missions you will hunger for more. I was never convinced of the wonder of the phrase “God’s heart for the nations” until I was actually there, in another culture and another country, witnessing men and women worship and pray in another language to the same God I love and adore. Words would escape me when I tried to translate the emotions that ran through my heart when I would think of those Ukrainians and how they stole my heart away at English Camp. So I resolved to allow God to move in spite of the circumstances that stood to challenge my return.
By God’s wondrous grace he moved in the hearts of men and women at my church and those in Ukraine for another adventure in Ukraine! God’s Design Church had previously told Josiah Venture that they would not be returning to camp in 2011, but the youth from camp demanded to have camp again and they promised to make it even better. What a thrill! Through Skype calls and Facebook messages I was able to see the excitement in the eyes and words of many of those Ukrainians and how much they looked forward, in eager anticipation, for another camp.
God provided another team for me to lead in 2011 and we set out on a trip marked with even greater thrusts of adventure and bellows of divine love. To this day I cannot express to anyone the overwhelming joy that overtook me as I stepped off a bus and into the arms of the men and women that awaited my return. In the embrace of my brothers and sisters I was struck with a feeling of undeserved gratitude to a Father that loves to give his little children gifts. And the greatest gift he has given me was a place in the hearts of those Ukrainians. It is a wonderful thing to be known, to be missed, and to be welcomed back. Moreover, to share that experience with my team was truly a delight for me; it was like having the most delicious dessert you can ever imagine and giving everyone at the table a bite.
I could barely sleep throughout camp because I knew that my time in Ukraine would be short. So I slept little and loved as much as I could in the time that God had given me. There are far too many memories from camp to list here, but I want to share one vivid memory with you that I continue to cherish. The night before we were set to leave Lutsk we were told, by the church’s pastor, to say our final goodbyes because our bus was leaving early the next morning. The room of that church was filled with what I call “good tears”; you see, there are tears that are shed that express the sadness of having to say goodbye but also the joy of the time spent together. It reminds me of the words of A.A. Milne in Winnie The Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” I know of few truer statements than that because my heart was wrenched in that room in the arms of countless Ukrainians, exchanging the three most beautiful words ever spoken, “I love you.” But my heart was also full because God had allowed our stories to become one story again.
As our team’s taxi pulled into the bus station the next morning we saw our friends waiting on us for one last goodbye. One last goodbye. How often we wish for that and how rare it is to have one more opportunity to say the things you need to say to the ones you love. In that moment I realized something: that friendship is more powerful than romance and that the marvel of Christianity is that God would call us friends and allow us the opportunity to share in the beautiful, holy friendship that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have with one another. Some people call it community. Others call it fellowship. I call it friendship.
One week after my return to America I packed up everything I own and moved to Dallas, Texas to attend grad school at Dallas Theological Seminary. Through the upheaval and change that the previous months have brought to my life, I am still moved with deep affection for my friends in Ukraine. Thousands of miles separate us but I believe that, in spirit, our hearts continue to be knit together by the joy and love that only comes from Christ. If I am being honest with you, I never truly understood the strength and beauty of God’s love until my heart ached because I missed my friends in Ukraine. In their absence I pray one day to be near them again and, by God’s will, I will return.
Recently, I spoke with my friend Ben, the missionary in charge of Josiah Venture’s English Camps and summer internships. I informed him of my interest in Josiah Venture’s summer internship and told him that I would be in prayer about the decision over the course of the next few weeks. Well, the more I thought and prayed about the prospect of spending a summer in Ukraine, the more excited I got. I contacted Ben a few days ago and told him, “I’m in. I’m committed to pursuing this internship no matter what.” So now I wait, I pray, and I look forward to what God is preparing for my life this summer in Ukraine. I anticipate that he will surprise me and draw me even closer into his love through the experience. Two years ago God allowed me to play a role in the story he is writing in Ukraine. By God’s will there is still a place for me on the stage in Ukraine this summer.
If you would like to know more about Josiah Venture’s work in Ukraine or in Eastern Europe, you can contact me at: (501) 205-9591. You can also visit Josiah Venture’s website at: www.josiahventure.com.