“My journey towards serving the Jewish people started 15 years ago,” explains Yvonne, who ministers to Jews in Rivne, a city in western Ukraine. “I visited Israel, and this gave me a desire to know more about the Jewish people and to pray for them.”
Yvonne was born in South East Asia and came to faith aged 19, whilst she was studying at University. Following her graduation, Yvonne worked in various government departments, before receiving a call to become a pastor. After pastoring a church for many years, she went on to serve with a Christian organisation, doing educational work in her home country.
The possibility of going to Ukraine first came to Yvonne’s attention through a Ukrainian family in her home country. “They invited me to visit their country if I was free from my work,” she recalls. “At first, I did not take the suggestion seriously as I was not familiar with the country and it was so far from my home.” However, during the month following the family’s initial invitation, Yvonne experienced the name ‘Ukraine’ show up more than ten times! She had been praying for several years that God might lead her to serve Him in other countries. “I prayed and asked God to confirm that going to Ukraine was His will and He answered me with a Bible verse.” The verse she received was John 9:4 which says, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” It reminded Yvonne of the urgency to share the gospel and she knew was the confirmation that she had been seeking.
She visited Ukraine on a short-term mission trip and during the visit, she had further confirmation of God’s calling. In September 2019, Yvonne returned to Ukraine to join the OM team in Rivne.
Since Yvonne’s visit to Israel, she had sought to learn more about the Jewish people. “I attended courses about Jewish ministry and learned about the antisemitism that has caused much distress and anguish for Jewish people throughout history. I find it sad that some Christians are opposed to sharing the gospel with Jews due to their theological views. Jewish people are God's chosen people and have a part in God's salvation. I believe that the Bible clearly teaches this.”
Many areas of western Ukraine have large Jewish populations. Before the Second World War, approximately half of Rivne's population was Jewish. In November 1941, 17,500 of these Jews were shot by the Nazis in a forest on the outskirts of the city.
Yvonne’s ministry revolves around building relationships with people in the local community. Together with a small team of local volunteers, she regularly visits people in their homes, both Jews and non-Jews, many of whom are elderly. She talks with them about faith and cares for some of their needs, by providing food and occasionally medicines, financed by churches and supporters in other countries. “The most precious moment is sharing my faith with the elderly,” Yvonne shares. “Most of them suffered when they were young. I wish that they may experience God's love, which can surpass all of their previous suffering.”
In the few months that Yvonne has been in the country, she has already seen the impact of her work. “The elderly Jews respond very positively to our visits and what we share,” tells Yvonne. She shares about one elderly man that she and the team visits, and her desire to care for people holistically. “This man is paralyzed and lonely and when we visited him, I shared the gospel and gave him a hand massage. When we invited him to believe in Jesus, he immediately said he wanted to do so. I hope he can experience God's comfort, mercy and grace, especially when he feels pain.”
Another man passed away a month after he had prayed with the team to receive the Lord in his heart. “We really feel the urgency to share our faith and love with the elderly,” shares Yvonne.
The large difference between Ukraine and her home country has been a challenge, especially learning the language. “I am learning Russian, but it is very difficult for me as it is totally different from my language,” explains Yvonne. Although she can speak some basic vocabulary, most of the time local workers help her with translating. She hopes to improve her Russian, in order to communicate easier with the people she meets.
“Of course, I hope more Jewish people will come to the Lord and that more local Christians and the local church will be encouraged to join in serving the Jewish people,” says Yvonne in closing. “I hope that they will get the wider vision of mission, not just that of Jewish ministry, and be equipped to reach others with the gospel.”