My apologies for being so long in writing this report following our mission to Ukraine. I was unwell with chest an infection when I returned, laid me low for about two weeks. However, back on the grid now as we say.
We, Peter Cotton and myself, travelled to Ukraine on Saturday 8th July as planned. The journey was pleasant. Our first week of the mission was spent in Kiev, the capitol city of Ukraine. We were yoked with Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church there. The Pastor, Sergey and his wife Olga looked after us very, very well. We were accommodated in the church premises and joined Sergey and his family for meals daily. The Ukrainian cuisine is somewhat different to ours in the West but very nice. Some of the literature we distributed was designed by Pastor Sergey and was linked to their Reformation 500 celebrations that they are having. We gave out over 5000 pieces of literature, including a number of New Testaments. On our first Lord’s Day there we joined with the believers in Church although we couldn’t understand what was being said. Sergey interviewed us after the service, asking us for a report of how things were in the West. Their interest was mostly in the LGBTQ stuff that’s going on. They find it unbelievable, so do I. Ukraine still has a very strong family tradition. We began for real on Monday morning outside the railway station, very busy. Lots of tracts taken and a surprisingly good number of conversations, most of them limited by the language barrier, but good nonetheless. On Tuesday we went into the city centre of Kiev to preach, at University Square. We were told a good number of folk there would understand English. We were pleasantly surprised at the number we did indeed connect with. I had no sooner began to preach when this young man came up to me threatening me with all sorts of violence. In perfect English. We encountered the same young man later in the week, totally different. Peter was able to share the gospel with him and give him some literature. I think perhaps the first time he was under the influence of ‘something.’ Whilst preaching another young man, again with good English came to me saying he had appreciated what had been said, he took a New Testament. Another man phoned Pastor Sergey asking for information as result of one of our tracts given. A very good number of people sat around the Square, and some evidently listening. So each day through the week that was the pattern, early at the railway station giving out many tracts. Then down into the city to preach the gospel. We had one day off when Sergey took us sight-seeing in Kiev, some of the historical sights, mostly of a religious nature. The religious idolatry in the country is huge (but we’re not lacking in our country either). We visited one monument, quite sad, it was erected in memory of the millions of Ukrainians who perished in Stalin’s forced famine in the 1920’s. I was quite surprised at the liberty we experienced in preaching, I thought it would have been quite hard. One encounter we had with a young American man who went passed me when I was preaching, he was mocking, I told him to repent and believe the gospel. A while later he passed by again, cursing and swearing at me. I told him to go wash his mouth out with soap and water, at which he turned and threw his cup of hot coffee all over me. But, a good number of Christians encouraged us too. Our last Lord’s Day there I was invited to preach at Grace Reformed Church with Pastor Sergey translating, it was a joy. That evening Peter and I went down to Kiev again, this time to Independent Square where traffic on a Sunday is closed off. It’s like Vanity Fair, all sorts of bands, clowns and acts going on (we’re pretty used to it in the West). But there was something about it that made me very happy. Because freedom to the people of Ukraine is quite a new commodity. For years they have lived under the thraldom of Russian/Communist oppression. It would be an even greater joy to me if they were obeying the Lord on the Sabbath Day, maybe that will come later. We found a corner to preach and had a most wonderful time, lots of tracts and New Testaments taken. One very good and lengthy conversation with a serious young Dutchman. We went through the apologetic thing with him and preached Christ to him, he also took a New Testament.
On Monday we travelled down to Ternopil, about six hours train ride south west from Kiev. A smaller town, and much more religious. Pastor Volodymyr at Grace Baptist Church is our link there. Again the week was pretty similar, tract distribution in the mornings and preaching over and through lunchtime. And again many good conversations and New Testaments taken. On one of the occasions when I was preaching I noticed a man with a camera filming the scene. I didn’t think much of it, but he was from the local press and his video clip ended up being broadcast on the local media (can’t imagine that ever happening here). Volodymyr also took us out for a day’s sight-seeing. He took us to a Catholic shrine about 45 miles from Ternopil. He told me that people walk there from Ternopil (with an overnight stop along the way) to this shrine, in order to obtain forgiveness of sins. It just filled me with such sadness. Something like a hundred thousand people will gather there at times at this shrine. Again preaching in Ternopil we had three Muslims from Egypt listen to us, and again, very good English. One, in particular, showed a good interest. He asked for a New Testament in English, which we gladly gave him. Finally, one day in the Square in Ternopil we encountered an American couple sitting holding up a sign ‘Do You Want to Learn English.’ So I went over to them and asked, “excuse me, but do you think you could teach a Scotsman to speak English?” They were rolling about the place laughing. I think they were from a church, using the language thing as a form of outreach.
So that’s pretty much the bones of it, a good mission, very worthwhile. I couldn’t bring to mind never mind record all the conversations had over the fortnight. On boarding the plane to come home I had one Ukrainian tract left. An elderly Ukrainian lady sat next to us, she must have been in her eighties. She was flying to Boston, in the USA on her own, bless her. She gladly received our last Ukrainian tract. It was a joy to have Peter’s fellowship in the gospel and that too of local Christians who warmly embraced us and the work we were seeking to do. My sincere thanks to all who support us financially, prayerfully and by words of encouragement, thank you. I hope this finds you all very encouraged in the Lord in your own sphere of service. I look forward to returning to Ukraine next July, Lord willing. God bless you all.
The death of Dr Gordon Wilson, former leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, who took a public stand for Christian moral values in society, was mentioned in the BCN (7 July).
A memorial service for him was held in St Peter’s Free Church, Dundee, on 5 July. It was conducted by the minister, the Rev David Robertson. Prominent figures in the Scottish Parliament were present, including the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr John Swinney, who gave the eulogy. The service followed the modern fashion of fulsome praise of man, informality and a degree of humour and laughter. Hymns, readings and prayers were intermingled with the tributes from the family and others but there was no sense of solemnity.
The most disturbing aspect of the proceedings was the participation in the service of a Roman Catholic clergyman, Bishop Vincent Logan. He began his read prayer by praying for the soul of the departed. Towards the end of the service, Mr Robertson spoke briefly on Christ as the only way to the Father but later, on his blog, he had to give a kind of an apology for the contribution of the Bishop as follows:
‘The Roman Catholic view of salvation is not as full as the Protestant (Biblical). Bishop Vincent Logan is a lovely man who has served Christ for many years but in his prayer, he reflected something that was really quite sad. He prayed that Gordon being called from this world would be brought safely home to God’s kingdom and that he would be cleansed and given a place at the heavenly banquet. In this he was reflecting the Catholic doctrine of purgatory and that believers don’t go directly to heaven. But the biblical view is “today you will be with me in paradise.” He was praying for something that Gordon already has. When he came to believe in Jesus he was given eternal life.’
This sad incident calls for several observations: (1) How was a Roman Catholic clergyman permitted in the first place to take part in the service? In this year of the commemoration of the birth of the Reformation in 1517 are we saying it was all a mistake? (2) How can the Bishop be described ‘as a lovely man who has served Christ for many years’ when by his teaching he has been dishonouring Christ by withholding the glory due to Him as the only Saviour of Sinners? (3) This is not the first time that Mr Robertson has revealed his ignorance of the nature of the papacy. On the 16 September 2010, on BBC radio Scotland, he welcomed Pope Benedict to Scotland as ‘a fellow Christian’ (see What Would John Knox have to Say to Us Today? (2014 p4). When will Mr Robertson’s associate ministers and colleagues in the Free Church of Scotland recover from their apparent laxity in dealing with those who deviate from the Westminster Confession? (5) The entire proceedings lacked a vertical dimension and therefore virtually no impression of the things of spiritual and eternal could have been left on the minds of the state dignitaries and others. Oh for a John Knox-like voice in Scotland again!
(By permission of the author: Rev John Murray, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
# Footnote is mine: This is what happens to churches, denominations when they let go of their Confessional foundations.