CRIMEA, Ukraine (BP)–When Victor and Lana Girard* first began praying for an unreached people group in southern Ukraine, they had no idea God would soon call them to live among this people.
In fact, when Victor Girard agreed to head up the virtual strategy coordinator efforts of Houston Northwest Church in Texas, he envisioned a couple of 10-day volunteer trips to Ukraine each year.
But not long after his first volunteer trip to Crimea, Ukraine, his vision began to change.
“That started a journey that wound up bringing us here to the field for three years,” Girard said. “I think God was in charge of all of that at the beginning, but [He revealed] it a little bit at a time to me.”
When the Girards first set foot on a Crimean university campus in April 2005, they were greeted by a group of 13 students who immediately “adopted” them and began to ask questions in English.
God used the relationships that developed to draw the couple back to the country, Girard said.
When Dwight Davis, Houston Northwest’s missions pastor, contacted International Mission Board worker Mick Stockwell about becoming strategically involved in people group work in 2004, personnel caps had prevented the IMB from sending a career missionary to serve in Crimea.
As a result, IMB workers in Central and Eastern Europe recruited the church to serve from a distance as a “virtual” strategy coordinator for the unreached people group.
Plans turn to a virtual strategy coordinator when there seems to be no possibility of getting any IMB personnel in with a people group, a people segment or a large city, said Stockwell, an IMB strategy associate for Belarus, Ukraine, and the satellite countries.
“And we just don’t want to see them all go to hell without at least doing something, so … we go out and recruit people,” he said.
In this case, the personnel restriction soon lifted, and a position became available for an IMB missionary to serve in Crimea.
Through the IMB Masters Program, which allows Southern Baptists age 50 and older to serve a two- or three-year term in overseas missions, the Girards were able to fill the position less than a year after taking their first volunteer trip to Ukraine.
Although Houston Northwest’s role as a virtual strategy coordinator has changed since the Girards began serving in Ukraine full-time, the church is still heavily involved in reaching the people group with the Gospel.
“If you’ve adopted a people group,” Davis said, “then you really have a long-term commitment to those people, to walk beside them, to get to know them and to become who they are when you’re there.”
As the Girards walk beside this unreached people group on a daily basis, members of Houston Northwest continue to provide prayer support and volunteer teams with the hope of planting multiplying churches among the population.
With the partnership of stateside churches, Stockwell and field missionaries throughout the region are striving to build what Stockwell calls a “church-planting movement foundation.”
“We can never say where a church-planting movement is going to be,” Stockwell said. “[It is] going to happen where the Holy Spirit moves and where the nationals join in and are used by God. But we do have a checklist of things you should be doing to build a foundation upon which that could happen.”
In order to increase the likelihood of a church-planting movement emerging in the region, IMB missionaries are seeking strategic partnerships with stateside churches.
“Instead of people just going and doing one-time little bursts of projects on their own, out in the middle of nowhere,” Stockwell said, “we’re trying to bring them together, get them developed in part of the strategy and also get them plugged in and helping the nationals, specifically in strategic church-planting efforts.”
One way the missionaries hope to involve stateside churches in their work is through the introduction of Key Partner Consultations across the United States.
Each Key Partner Consultation is designed to provide Southern Baptist churches with the tools necessary to become strategically involved in bringing the Gospel to the Central and Eastern Europe region.
Those interested in partnering with field missionaries or simply learning more about prayer advocacy, strategic partnering and virtual strategy coordination, can speak with members of the regional leadership team at these events.
For more information about how to partner with field missionaries in Central and Eastern Europe to reach the lost, visit www.hope4cee.org.
*Names changed for security reasons.