Also, there is a blog with daily
updates and prayer requests at www.smonct.wordpress.com
Project, April 2015
Pastor Devin Butts, Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church of La Vernia, Texas
The six chapters
of the Singing Men of Texas are jointly participating in a mission project to Ukraine. The Singing Men of Texas are made up of
Ministers of Music and church musicians from churches all over Texas and are an arm of the Baptist General Convention of
Texas. Evangelist, Michael Gott, has been working in
Ukraine for many years and he, and his staff, through the power of the Lord,
have made this mission project a reality!
it is only possible in this write up to get one perspective. However, I believe our experience is
basically representative of others on this project. Also, I’d like to remind you of the prayers
our ancestors prayed, asking God for the opportunity to take the message of the
gospel behind the iron curtain. Praise
the Lord for answered prayer as we go and do exactly that!
I’d like to
remind you that God is not bound by time.
Your prayers for this project, even offered after the fact, still have
great value. Therefore, as you read,
please pray for the Lord’s work in each situation. Also, as you know, the work of the Lord
continues long after the concerts and preaching are over. The local churches will be following up on
the people that fill out cards at our concerts.
Please pray for the Lord’s work in Ukraine. God is using the war to draw people to
April – Sunday
this project began more than two years ago.
As a matter of fact, I signed up and paid my part in April of 2013 in
anticipation of this effort. We
continued to pray as the time approached.
The war news from Ukraine
was also keeping our attention. However,
we knew that God would watch over us, so we never were apprehensive about
“going on mission” in a war zone.
Because of the
busyness of life, the trip seemed far away until it was suddenly upon us. We spent the previous week getting things
together and ready to travel. Then this last Sunday, it all became real as our
church prayed over us.
It really made
an impact on me as I saw the church come forward and pray over Alison and
me. It was quite emotional as I saw so
many work their way through the crowd to pray over us. I don’t have words to describe the warmth and
love I felt, as I even saw one man in the balcony run down the stairs to make
it to the front in time for the prayer!
It was quite humbling and empowering, all at the same time. We know that many at home are praying for us,
both to be safe and effectively used by the Lord. And, we feel their prayers… Unless you have been “on mission”, it is
difficult understand the strength and peace you get from the Lord as you know
so many are praying for you.
Two years ago,
the planned project would have taken us to cities on the river from Kiev. However, because of the war in the south and
east of Ukraine, they
rescheduled us in cities west of Kiev. Ukraine
is roughly the size of Texas. We will stay in three different hotels and
have 12 concerts in 10 days.
& 21 April – Monday & Tuesday
Tuesday all ran together as it took us more than 24 travel hours to get from Texas to dinner at the church in Ukraine. The almost 11 hour flight from Houston to Munich
was uneventful, but not extremely pleasant.
Being stuck in a cramped chair so long is usually the worst part of
overseas mission projects!
Unfortunately, the entire plane is seats, so there is not an area where
you can stand and stretch!
We flew from San Antonio to Houston,
then to Munich, and then to Kiev.
The passport officer at the Kiev
airport was exactly what I expected. She
was quite pretty, with jet black hair, and light skin. She looked very western European. The three hour bus ride from the airport to
the church was interesting. Kiev is very clean. The buildings and architecture remind me of
what we saw several years ago in Moldova,
which is a border country of Ukraine. The people on the highways seem to drive very
safely. Most cars and trucks were simply
content to follow the car in front of them.
It seems like they were all content to get there when they get
there. Very few cars sped past on the
three and four lane highways in and out of Kiev.
We saw many birch (white bark) and tall pine trees along the road. And almost all the available land is obviously
farmed. And most of the houses with
backyards have gardens. At one point,
we passed a series of electric poles with huge nests on top. These are stork nests and we saw several with
storks sitting in them. It alternated
rain and sunshine several times between the airport and the church. It even sleeted for a while, at one point.
Our bus was the
first to arrive at the Central Baptist Church
in Zhitomir. While we were the last bus to leave the
airport, the others had gone to the hotel and then came back to the
church. We went straight to the
church. When we arrived, the pastor met
us out front. He had hoped that we would
all arrive at the same time, as he had planned a special reception for us. It was about 50 degrees at about 6:30pm, so
he showed us into the church to wait for the rest of the group.
The chairs in
the sanctuary had been moved out and dining tables had been set up. The church was decorated with colorful
streamers, table cloths, and chair covers.
They had gone all out in decorating and preparing for us. In the choir loft, we saw a band! It is the youth band from the church. They had uniforms and even marching band hats
with feather sticking up! When the rest
of the busses arrived, the band began playing and was wonderful! We were welcomed and the band played several
selections for us.
We were welcomed
by the pastor in the traditional way with salt and bread. A young man and young lady, dressed in what
looked like authentic Ukrainian traditional clothing, presented our leader, Jay
Ghormley, with a beautiful loaf of bread.
It was huge and decorated masterfully.
It was explained that it was tradition to welcome important people with
bread and salt. Jay was encouraged to
take a piece of bread, dip it in the salt, and eat. He came around later and we all got a
piece. It was much like King’s Hawaiian
bread, sweet and soft. The pastors then
welcomed us. An elderly pastor also
welcomed us with much emotion. It seems
that many others have canceled their trips to Ukraine because of the war. They were very thankful and appreciative at
our coming. Using a translator, the
elderly pastor praised the Lord for bringing us as tears fell from his eyes. Our evangelist, Michael Gott, also welcomed
We were served a
wonderful dinner in eight serving lines, buffet style. They had obviously been cooking all day and
set a beautiful table. Potatoes with
dill and butter, rice, and pasta were served at each meal. At the end of each table was a large pot of
potato soup. There were some chicken,
vegetable platters, and a tray of sliced oranges and kiwi.
great meal, we went to our hotel and I was asleep before my head hit the
pillow. We were very tired from our
travels and slept well. The hotel was
nice and our room had two twin beds pushed together and a large balcony with
bright green Astroturf!
The view was
very interesting and was just as you would expect. We could see three churches from our
balcony. The Greek Orthodox churches
have gold roofs and are very pretty. It
seems that the Orthodox churches have no pews and the Catholic churches have
pews and that is the easiest way to tell them apart.
April – Wednesday
buffet at the hotel. There was a ham
type bacon, frankfurters, poached eggs, hard boiled eggs, and scrambled egg
like muffins. There were all kinds of
other things, including nuts, honey, mustard, bread, and yogurt. We can only drink bottled water here, so we
spent the first few days refilling our drinking bottles from a large gallon jug
in each room. Fortunately, we had small
bottles at the church and backstage at our concerts.
Men wives came to help on this project and almost 40 other people came as
Mission Partners to help as well. They
are responsible for praying over the venues and also for passing out the
brochures, pens, and free CDs. I will
collectively refer to all of these as Mission Partners.
Partners met at the hotel for their instructions and we took the busses to the
church and began our first rehearsal at 10am.
I enjoyed watching the Pastor of the church, Central Baptist Zhitomir,
standing in the sanctuary like a captain of a ship. You could tell he was very proud in Christ of
all his helpers and the presentation they had prepared for us. He was very regal and as we got to know him,
we found him a very nice, humble, wonderful servant of the Lord!
The choir and
the orchestra practiced for a while, doing our best to learn to blend in this
new choir. The choir is made up of
Singing Men from all over Texas. There are almost 100 singers and
orchestra. Rehearsal was great. I was particularly impressed with Lanny Allen
as he led part of the group in a clapping sequence in one of our songs. I personally can’t walk and chew gum at the
same time, but Lanny was very confident in his rhythms and helped our guys
become even more confident. Todd Wilson
and Dan Baker are our directors for this project. They each direct several songs. Don Blackley is in charge of making sure the
instruments and the guys are all on the stage in the proper place. And as I mentioned, Jay Ghormley, is our
fearless leader, making sure everything runs smoothly.
partners arrived at the church and our morning devotional began at
11:30am. Pastor Michael Gott gave a
great devotion based on I Samuel 4. He
reminded us of the story of how the Israelites sent the Ark of the Covenant
into battle before them because they wanted IT to protect them and give them
victory. They forgot that whatever IT
is, without the Lord, IT is nothing. He
said that many times, even in our churches at home, we think that IT: a new
sound system, a new building, a new program, will get us the results we are
after. He reminded us that even on this
project we may have planned everything the very best we can, we may have great
abilities, we may have everything we need, but if we depend on IT, as the
Israelites did, we will fail. Too many
times we make symbols more important than substance and plans more important
than God’s power. Pastor Michael quoted
C.H. Spurgeon, “Anytime we think we can do something without God, the only
thing we will get from God is the opportunity to try!” It was a great devotion and reminded us all
to keep our focus on the Lord and His work, and not on whatever we think IT
is…He then led us in prayer.
As a group, we
haven’t had any extended times of prayer.
This is unfortunate, but because of our schedule, it has just worked out
that way. However, our Ministry Partners
are spending much time in prayer for us, and those that will attend, before and
during concerts. And we know that there
are literally thousands of you back home praying for us. But in the times of prayer we have had, I can
honestly say there hasn’t been a prayer time that didn’t include some tears. I was reminded as Pastor Michael encouraged
us to keep our focus on Christ. And asked us to remember how few times at home
we find ourselves weeping in prayer for our church, for the people of our
community, or even our own selves and our own families. Think about it. When was the last time you wept in prayer for
the work of the Lord in your church?
When is the last time you wept as you prayed for your pastor, or for
someone who needs Christ?
Then we had
another grand meal at the church, Central Baptist. I understand that the church
borrowed plates and flatware from churches all over the city to have enough for
our almost 200 group. It was quite a
production to feed us all and prepare so much food. At 1:30pm we went back to the hotel for some
rest before it was time to leave for the concert. At 3pm we walked down the street about three
blocks from the hotel to the concert hall.
On the way, we passed out flyers, advertising the concert. Then as the musicians went in for a final
rehearsal, the Mission Partners stood out in front of the hall and passed out
We sang two
concerts that evening, one at 5pm and one at 7pm. There were very few empty chairs in the first
concert. There were people there of all ages and all backgrounds. They all seemed to truly be seeking. At the end of the concert, one of the local
pastors again welcomed us and thanked us for coming. He mentioned that he appreciated our
willingness to come to a war zone to share Jesus. A war zone!
I guess I had seen the news and knew a lot of what was happening over
here, but I never really thought of it as a war zone! There is certainly a sense of unrest here and
the economy is not doing well. Many
people are out of work and there is not an abundance of anything, except poverty. I had breakfast with two of the Ukrainian
young men who are helping as translators, etc.
In our talks, we found that all persons between 18 and 65 have been
notified by the government of the possibility of their being drafted into the
army. These young men, both attending
seminary and working in churches could be drafted any day. At the same time, the 60 year old President
of Irpin Biblical Seminary, Dr. Igor Yaremchuk, could also be drafted! They all have some time to justify why they
shouldn’t go. The only excuse I heard
was if you had three small children. I’m
just a bit too young to remember the draft in our country. But the feeling of knowing these men, new
friends, servants of the Most High God, could be drafted at any time brought
some reality to the situation.
went well. We sang about 45 minutes and
Pastor Michael spoke for about 20. With
introductions and welcomes, the whole concert lasted about an hour and twenty
minutes. We sat back stage between
concerts. Logistically, we couldn’t get out front between them, but the
Ministry Partners represented us, themselves, and the Lord very, very
There was some
concern about singing in Russian, because of the conflict with Russia. We unfortunately, we didn’t learn the song in
Ukrainian. But you should have seen the people light up as we sang one song in
Russian. I saw one young woman singing
with all her heart with us. The people
even stood and sang along at one point.
After the second concert, we got to go out and greet the people. They were so very thankful that we came. It was really indescribable.
The next day, we
got the stats. There were 1,100 seats,
and the official count was 1750 total people at the concerts in Zhitomir and 1,037
written decisions for Christ (they filled out cards) and will be contacted by
local churches. At the end of the
concerts, the people are encouraged to fill out a card with 1) a grade for the
Singing Men (0 to 10), and then checkmarks if they 2) want the Singing Men to
come back, 3) if they have made a decision for Christ, and 4) that they got
their CD and Bible in Ukrainian for free.
Then there is a place for them to put in their names and email or postal
addresses if they want to be contacted.
They then trade the card in for their free CD and Bible. They are told that they don’t have to write
anything on the card to get their free CD.
So, we feel pretty confident that our count of the ones who are checking
the boxes in regard to their new relationship with Christ is correct. We were told that we could have had a third
concert and it would have also been filled.
Then we went to
the hotel for dinner and falling into bed.
Side note: There
has been a problem at my work with one of my programs. I’ve been trying hard in the mornings and
evenings to respond to the questions from the office, but I find myself waking
up in front of my computer! Thanks for your prayers that I can get this fixed
and be able to totally concentrate on the Lord’s work. Also, thank you for your prayers for our,
shall we say, digestive systems.
April – Thursday
Breakfast at the
hotel and then to rehearsal by 10am. The
Mission Partners arrived and we began our devotion at 11:30am.
It is difficult
to describe to those that haven’t participated on a mission project before, the
way you become emotionally raw because of the combination of fatigue and the
Holy Spirit at work. I’ve never been on
a mission project that didn’t result in a greater blessing for me than for those
whom we went to serve. Of course, they
believe they were the ones who received the blessing.
Side note: I’ve really asked the Lord to speak to me on
this project. To illuminate in me things
that I need to see and to allow me to see His hand on my life clearly. I’ve asked Him to do what it takes to move me
to the place He wants me, spiritually.
As a result, there hasn’t been a devotion time when God didn’t bring a
tear to my eye as He spoke to me in love.
I wish you all could be here…
spoke on Joel 2:25 where God says that He will restore what the locusts have
eaten. Pastor Michael had us consider
that maybe some years have gone by which we might feel were wasted. Wasted either by the work of the devil or by
our own choices. We were encouraged to
see in the Word where God promised to restore those years as we focus on
Him. The verses in Joel and Romans 8:28
give us great hope that God will be using us in the future. He said, “How will this happen? God can add years to your life and He can add
life to your years!”
We had another
great meal at the church! As I
mentioned, they decorated the sanctuary for us.
They tied sashes on the chairs and changed them to a different color for
each meal! First they were blue and
yellow to match the Ukrainian flag, then a peach color, then blue and pink, and
finally gold for our last meal there. About 45 minutes of rest and then a
couple of hours drive to Berdichev. We
were welcomed again with a fancy bread loaf with salt and had a wonderful dinner
at the church. Then to the concert hall,
passing out flyers in front, and getting ready for the concert.
Concert #3 was
in Berdichev at a theater that had about 1,000 seats. The concert went really well, with people
even standing against the walls. I heard
that they even turned some people away.
After the concert, we got to go to the lobby and greet the people. It was amazing to see the happy faces, glad
of our coming, shaking our hands with both of their hands. I remember thinking how most of them had very
rough, calloused hands. It is obviously
a very hard life here. Later, we found
out that there were 1,200 people with 516 decisions for Christ!
I heard later
that there was a 31 year old woman with two small children who came to the
concert. She told Pastor Michael that
her husband had been killed recently on the western front. She said, “You all came here for me!”
A two hour bus
ride back to the hotel in Zhitomir and to the hotel. Again, I tried desperately to write some on
this, but kept waking up at the computer!
April – Friday
We could sleep
in a few minutes this morning, so naturally, we were awake at 7am. We got packed and took our luggage downstairs
about 9:45am and had some time for a walk.
We were told that there was a great chocolate shop near the hotel. Armed with instructions from a hotel employee
who barely spoke English, we set out to find it. Naturally, we didn’t find it. We did however, see a couple of nice churches
and some of the city. Just before we
left the hotel, John Coleman and I found a Greek Orthodox church near the
hotel. We went in and took a few
photos. It was very, very ornate and had
big gold domes on top.
The busses took
us back to the church for our devotion time.
Pastor Michael had the kitchen staff brought up to the sanctuary so we
could thank them. We sang them a
“thank-you” song we had rehearsed in Ukrainian.
Several of them wept as we gave them a standing ovation and sang our
song in Ukrainian. Michael explained
that these women had prayed over the food each morning before they began
cooking. And because of their service to
Christ, they had blessed many people and assisted in God using us to bless many
spoke on John 4, the woman at the well.
He told us about Jesus going to this place where no Jew with any self-respect
would go. He mentioned that the
disciples, as they left Jesus at the well and went into town, had to pass the
outcast woman on the road. He wondered
if they shunned her too. Because Jesus
went there, generations were changed for the better! Michael reminded us that the original plan for
this project was that we were going to ride on a river cruise ship between our
concerts. But because of the war, that
was now impossible. Instead, we have traveled west from Kiev and have had
concerts in cities where we had not expected to. We would have had all our meals on the boat
instead of being served meals at the church.
Michael explained that while the food on the boat would have been fine,
it would not have been sanctified by the prayers and tears of these faithful
servants of God. He also explained that
our being there allowed them to shine and be used by the Lord. We came here to love these people. And we
came here to be loved by these people.
They, and we, would have missed out on great blessings if we had not
come! He also explained that if we had
been on the boat, we would not have sung in the places that we did on this
trip. So, the many people who have
responded to Jesus through the Lord working in us might never have ever heard
the message of The Gospel. God used the
war to send us to this place. Even in
the worst situation you can think of, God is in control! Pastor Michael asked us to pray that the next
generation Billy Graham equivalent in Ukraine would be lifted up in the next
few years and we are hoping that we possibly have been used of the Lord to
talked about how the tears of the pastors and our team have been seen and felt
this week. He mentioned that George Whitfield never preached a sermon without
tears as he pled with the lost and hurt for them. As I mentioned, I believe the Holy Spirit is
using our fatigue to strip our emotions raw.
Lance Brown (PaintedChrist.com), a performance artist painter, is with
us this week. He paints a picture of Jesus
as we sing the Ukrainian Alleluia song.
Then as we sing, “How Deep the Father’s Love”, I’ve found myself
overwhelmed by the thought of His love.
Seeing the painting and singing the song, it is again,
indescribable! “How deep the Father’s
love for us. How vast beyond all
measure. That He would give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure.” Pastor
Michael asked us about the last time we wept for someone to know Christ. He told us the story of the pastor who had
preached that his congregation should bring lost people to worship. After the service a devout member, who
attended every time the door was open at the church, came up to him and
explained that he didn’t really know any lost people. The pastor said to the
man, “You need to spend less time in church!”
devotional time, we had a great lunch at the church. They were such wonderful people and as Tommy
Lyons would say, “They treated us like we were somebody, and we know we
aren’t!” With lots of hugs for our new
Ukrainian brothers and sisters, we boarded the bus and set out to Rivne, a 2.5
We had two great
concerts in the hall that seats 700. The
first at 5pm was full. The second at 7pm
wasn’t quite full. The crowd was amazing. There were many young adults at the
concert. Many recorded the whole concert
using their cell phones. I saw several
wipe tears during the concerts. And I
saw several singing with us on several songs.
Two young ladies sang at least three of our songs with us! Again, we got to greet the people after the last
concert. There were so many thankful
people! Alison said that one man kissed
hers and Gail’s hands. As I was thanking
the people for coming as they left, one young lady hugged me and gave me a kiss
on the cheek! She obviously had an
encounter with Jesus at the concert!
We loaded up the
bus and set out for Lviv, 3 hour bus ride!
We had ham and cheese sandwiches and cookies on the bus. We arrived at the hotel about 1am and will
sleep well after being used by the Lord.
We saw quite a
bit of countryside on our drive. It was
interesting to see the farmers still using horse pulled carts. There is every conglomeration of carts found,
some pulled by horses, some by old tractors, and even some by rigged up engines
and wheels. We saw a lot of farming on our