Yura’s Testimony and Calling

I was born in 1973 to Christian parents in the country of Ukraine while it was still part of the Soviet Union. My grandfather was a Baptist deacon for about 10 years and a pastor for 23 years until his death. My parents gave me a Christian upbringing during a time of severe persecution in our country. At that time, churches could only exist under very strict requirements: Christians were not allowed to bring their children to church meetings, minors were forbidden to receive any formal Bible training, baptism under the age of 18 was never permitted, preachers were not allowed to preach in any church other than their own and musical instruments were not permitted in churches. Back in 1961, many Christians withdrew from the Baptist Union, which had been pressured into complying with the government’s requirements, and started the underground church, desiring to obey God rather than men. These were the Christians who were persecuted. Large groups of them would meet in the woods and smaller groups were able to meet in believers’ homes. My parents belonged to an underground church and our home was used as a regular meeting place, for church services, young people’s and children’s meetings. I remember one time, as a 10 year-old boy, being terrified when I answered the door and saw men in black: KGB agents had shadowed a young man who was coming to our home for a Bible study. Pushing their way past me, they interrupted the meeting and proceeded to search the house. They found literature printed underground and fined my father 25% of his monthly salary.

In 1988, Christians gained a measure of liberty due to the 1000 year anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine and they used this opportunity for evangelism. I got saved at the age of 15 during one such evangelistic campaign in our church. Since the age of 9, after reading Jack Chick’s gospel tract “This Was Your Life”, I had been under strong conviction and would pray every night that God would not let me die and that He would give me one more chance to get saved. I knew that I needed to repent, but just did not understand how. I continued in that inner struggle for six years until I found forgiveness and rest in the Savior on June 18, 1988. Shortly after that, I got involved in different ministries, such as preaching (in churches, evangelistic meetings and publicly), teaching youth Bible studies and Sunday School, playing my violin in the church orchestra, visitation, and hospital and care home ministries. Often I would go with a group of young people to minister in village churches which were many times without a preacher. The Lord gave me the opportunity to participate in these ministries both before and after my required time in the military.

In 1997, I was invited to work in leadership with American missionary Jessie Beal and his team of young people for a 5-month mission project in Ukraine. My responsibilities included teaching them the language, organizing evangelistic meetings, interpreting, preaching, and handling the writing and printing of gospel literature. It was during this evangelism in the villages that I realized the need for a Ukrainian Bible. During our meetings, people kept asking for Ukrainian Bibles but we had no reliable translation to offer. (One must understand that Ukraine is a bilingual country, both socially and geographically: in major cities of central and eastern Ukraine, people speak predominately Russian; whereas in western Ukraine and in the villages of central Ukraine, they speak Ukrainian. For a number of reasons, Christians in the former USSR used the Russian Bible almost exclusively.) Existing Ukrainian versions were full of mistranslations and textual corruptions, but the real problem was their poor language, which had left them practically unread (for more details, see “The Need for the Ukrainian Bible”). I realized that the lack of a good Ukrainian Bible was the biggest hindrance to evangelism among Ukrainian speakers, which make up 69% of the country’s population. I felt compelled to do something about it and shortly thereafter I received assurance from the Lord that He had called me to translate the Bible into Ukrainian.

I knew that for the work of Bible translation, I needed to learn Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Unfortunately, no course was available that offered all three languages at once. In fact, Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic are not available in Ukraine at all. So in 1998, I enrolled in Kyiv State University, majoring in Greek, Latin and Ukrainian. I completed the 5-year program in 2003 and received a master’s degree with honors. During my school years I was able to write all my papers on New Testament translation. One of my year papers was about the idioms of the New Testament. My bachelor’s thesis – “The terms of the New Testament” – dealt with how generally-used Greek words came to denote Christian terms, such as, salvation, redemption, justification, righteousness, sin, etc. In my master’s thesis – “The Formation, Functioning, and Translation of New Testament Terminology” – I summed up my research on the subject.

After finishing my studies in Kyiv, I was able to translate the gospel of John which is now in its second printing. As I have already mentioned, Hebrew and Aramaic were not available for study in Ukraine, so in 2004 my family and I relocated to Moscow and I enrolled in the Russian State University for the Humanities, Department of Oriental Studies, majoring in Hebrew. In the course of my studies, I translated the following portions of the Old Testament for my classes: the books of Ruth, Amos, Song of Solomon, 24 chapters of I Samuel, 20 chapters of Job, 15 chapters of Proverbs and several chapters from Genesis, Judges, and I & II Kings. In my Aramaic class, I translated the Aramaic portions of the books of Daniel and Ezra. Besides Hebrew and Aramaic, the university program included several other Semitic languages such as, Syriac, Arabic, Akkadian, Ugaritic and a few others. These languages will be helpful for the translation of the Old Testament.

During the short term mission project of 1997, I first met my future wife, Wendy Knudson. However, we did not really get to know each other back then. After a year of missionary work with her brother in Southeast Asia, Wendy returned to Ukraine in 1999, again with the Beal family and a few other young people for missionary work. We were able to get better acquainted since I was again their language teacher. After several months, I told Wendy that I believed God wanted us to be together and to continue our ministry as a couple. We were married on September 30th, 2000. God has blessed us with four sons: Sashko, Yurko, Andriy and Matviy.

Upon completion of my education, we relocated back to Kyiv, Ukraine to resume my translation work. Also, I am regularly preaching in our church.