Our brethren, the Subbotniki of a small town in Transcarpathia, are setting an example for us in what they are doing for the community in their
ministry, which they call Light of Love.
We begin the history of the Subbotniki in Vynogradow in the 1990s, when freedom of religion at last became a reality.
In Transcarpathia, before the emergence of glasnost in the old Soviet Union in 1986, at least 2,500 scattered Subbotniki had lived their faith under
The congregation in 1992--more than 12 years ago now--acquired a small building for Sabbath worship. Here the brethren began coming together weekly
for prayer, singing, Bible study and sermons.
At noon on the Sabbath the Subbotniki would share a meal.
In spite of a fence around the building, vandalism was a problem. Destructive children ran rampant. Time and again the Subbotniki chased away the
children, so when the youngsters saw a Sabbatarian approach they yelled at each other: "Watch out! The believers are coming!"
After much prayer, the congregation decided to stop chasing the children and instead invited them to Sabbath services (Mark 10:14).
As a result, the children, reluctant at first, began participating in the noontime meal. Some were apparently so hungry that they ate ravenously.
Most of these children were from what we might call problem families, where alcoholism, drug addiction, crime, prostitution, begging and violence are
normal. Most of these problems are caused by divorce, single-parent families and unemployment.
Because of the dire straits in these families, care for their children was minimal, and their only daily food was chunks of bread and water.
However, the children discovered the food the congregation shared with them was so delicious that their fear disappeared. The brethren then invited
the children to Sabbath services.
The relationship between the children and the congregation, with their own children, improved quickly, and soon the vandalism stopped.
The children loved to visit on the Sabbath. They had found a home away from home where people cared for them, fed them and even clothed them, all with
an absence of violence.
Soon the congregation was inspired to extend its love for these children by beginning classes for them each Sunday, including a Bible program and
meals. The children now had access to a peaceful and educational environment and could cling to some hope for a better future.
The Sabbatarian brethren decided they needed to do still more for the children, so they laid plans to construct housing for them so they could stay
for extended periods, especially during the summer holidays.
The facilities could double for seminars and a location to administer humanitarian help, including health care, for other people: orphans and disabled
and elderly people.
About 12 years ago the Subbotniki bought land for this purpose and began planning construction. However, after all these years the building is not yet
finished. The main problem is a lack of funds and, almost paradoxically, the huge success of the meals-and-education program for the children. The cost of the classes and food depletes all
the funds the Subbotniki have been able to raise.
Perhaps the brethren have dreamed a dream that can never come true. But they began the project in faith, and faith can bring wonders, as we will see.
The congregation decided to enlist, if possible, the help of local authorities. Could local political leaders help the congregation set up a soup
"Give us the possibility for a soup kitchen," they said, "and the addresses of socially deprived families, and we will continue to help the poor
The authorities decided to allow them use of a building that was once a police station, which stands not far from the congregation's building. The
terms: rent-free use for 10 years, as long as the congregation uses it for the stated purpose.
Today the old police station is a children's center. Every day, after school, which in Ukraine is only in the mornings, the children ride in a school
bus from the school to the center.
After a rest stop that includes visiting the toilet and washing their hands, they enter a room for singing joyous songs, hearing great stories from
the Bible and prayer.
After a meal the children do their daily housekeeping chores.
Another meal and more activities and housekeeping duties come later in the day.
The schedule has evolved so that the center accommodates the children seven days a week all year round.
They take home a good attitude. They continue their prayers at home and tell their families the wonderful stories from the Bible they have heard at the center.
Over the years some of the children have come into the faith and been baptized. Some now work to serve the younger children. Others have married Subbotniki and live in other towns and villages.
Some of them, as well as some of their parents, attend Sabbath services as part of the Subbotniki. This has been the result of their seeing the positive growth of their children and how fond their children are of the center and the people who operate it.
The Subbotniki have decided they would like to set up similar projects in other towns and villages, although money and personnel are lacking.
Our own experience
It was a few years ago, during one of my travels to the Sabbatarians in southern Germany, that I met Vasili Polytschko, a Subbotniki pastor from Vynogradow, who told me of the brethren and their work with the children. He had invited me to visit to see the situation myself and stay as long as I liked.
Because of language, visa and scheduling difficulties, it was quite a while before I could make the trip.
Last year Tine van der Meijde, our eldest sister in Christ in the Netherlands, died at the age of 92 and endowed me with a legacy to help further the gospel, in word and deed, for the children in Eastern Europe.
After initial discussions with Sabbatarians in Germany who are almost all related to the Subbotniki and Szombatosok in Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics, I decided it was appropriate to use the funds to help out in Transcarpathia, which apparently had more of a need than did the brethren in Hungary and Romania.
With the help of my advisers, I decided to see the children's project up close before making up my mind.
I, along with Andre van der Geest, another resident of the Netherlands, made the necessary arrangements, packed our car and headed for the Transcarpathia region of Ukraine.
Since we traveled through Hungary, we had planned to stay the weekend with our Sabbatarian sister Regina, who lives close to Lake Balaton. There we were received with a cordiality and hospitality that is unknown to us as Dutchmen.
For the Sabbath services we went with Regina to the KeresztŽny Imah‡z (the Christian Chapel) of the ƒlš Isten GyŸlekezete (Congregation of the Living God) in Budapest, where we greeted the brethren with news from our homeland and from the Hungarian Szombatosok living in Germany.
This congregation numbers about 80 persons. Their services start early in the morning and again after the shared noon meal.
The congregation is joyous in its worship, with lots of music, including singing. As good Hungarians, they have an orchestra of about 14 violin players, together with a mandolin, guitar and keyboard.
The sermon we heard was about the joy that should live within us and radiate from us because we are God's children.
On the road again
The next Monday we had to tear ourselves away from the hospitality of Regina and were back on the road to Transcarpathia.
At the Ukraine border we had no problems, and after about an hour we entered Ukraine. There waiting for us with a big hug was Pastor Vasili and Rudi, our contact man from Germany.
Immediately it was clear to us that we had left our comfortable civilization and had entered another world. Cyrillic characters had replaced the familiar Latin alphabet. The road was missing most of its asphalt, looking more like the surface of the moon than a highway.
When we arrived at Vasili's home we were received by Vasili's and Rudy's wives as the brethren of long ago had received the apostle Paul (Galatians 4:14).
After a festive dinner we got to know each other better and learned more of the situation in the village and in Transcarpathia.
We decided that the next day, Tuesday, we would visit the children's project, inspect the building under construction and have a Bible study in the evening.
But first we visited the building the congregation uses for Sabbath services.
Kudos to LifeNets
We inspected the soup kitchen at the former police station. We learned it had been transformed from a shambles to a respectable building for Bible classes for the children.
The funds for this transformation have come from the LifeNets organization, founded by Victor Kubik of Indianapolis, Ind. (See "Chernobyl-Plant Blast in 1986 Led to LifeNets in 1999; Ministry Ships Aid for Pennies on Dollar," The Journal, June 30, 2002.)
The building under construction is planned to be a holiday resort and location of a summer educational program for the children and for the rest of the year serves as a facility for training people to administer humanitarian help to others and to teach health care and theology.
Because of the slow rate of funding, the brethren expected completion of the building projects in a matter of several years.
We had lunch with the children, which was quite an experience. First they met in the classroom for singing, which they did beautifully, and a short devotional service.
(The children have grown so adept at their music-making they are invited to perform for weddings.)
Iryna Polytschko, Vasili's wife, led the Bible class by first asking the children about the previous study.
I found it amazing that the children could readily recite by heart the Ten Commandments, the plagues of Egypt and, verbatim, many chapters of the Gospel of Matthew.
Stolen our hearts
It is almost unbelievable that these nice, normal children come from broken families. In fact, some of them were discarded and disowned children.
These children have stolen our hearts, and our lives will never be the same. We cannot forget them and the work Vasili and Iryna Polytschko are doing for them.
Before the meal, a little girl said the blessing, thanking God for the guests and praying for their safety in travel.
After dinner some of the children began some household chores, cleaning up the dining hall and floors. Others brought food to children who could not attend the formal sitting of the meal.
After further visiting, we went into town and took a stroll in the marketplace.
After the evening meal we went to the building for another study, along with several members of the congregation.
I was surprised to see most of the children also attending this study and enthusiastically participating in it.
After the study it was time for the children to go home, but they obviously found it difficult to leave. We, along with some of the children, were walking back to the Polytschko residence in the dark and encountered here and there several drunken individuals, including a woman. Rudi recognized her as the mother of one of the Subbotniki-sponsored children.
The next Wednesday we met with Ivan Yurischko, a Sabbatarian from Khust, Ukraine, at a luncheon with the children and discussed afterwards with him some of the programs undertaken by the brethren in Transcarpathia.
We had already concluded that the program for the children was the most important and that we would try to raise funds for it in our country in an effort to finish the building sometime this year.
Therefore we have allotted funds for the building so that it will be finished in November, and the training school for administrators of humanitarian aid and health care can start January 2005.
Important questions remain: What, exactly, will the educational program consist of? Who, exactly, will direct it day by day? I proposed that my friend Dr. Thomas McElwain of the Turku Sabbatarian Church in Turku, Finland, be drafted to answer this challenge. I promised that I would talk with Dr. McElwain, who is an honest and sober man, about the project as soon as I returned home.
Thomas later did accept the challenge, which may turn out to be the biggest one of his and my life.
What about you?
You have read a greatly condensed story concerning your brethren among the Sabbatarians of Ukraine.
We're back home now, and we're convinced that the Subbotniki are living the faith and are performing many good works, setting an example for us. We are allotting every month funds for the well-being of the thrown-away children of Transcarpathia. For us that means simply every now and then eating one fewer hamburger or less junk food. As a result, we live healthier while helping the hungry children of Transcarpathia. If you do the same God will bless you.
To donate to this worthy cause, the following is information your bank will need to help you wire money into the account from which the children's needs are funded:
Bank: Rabobank Noordoostpolder-Urk; IBAN No.: NL47 RABO 0312 0937 99; BIC: RABONL2U; account No.: 3120.93.788.
The entire amount of any wire transfers will go to the Light of Love ministry in Ukraine for helping more and more poor children.