Ukrainian pastors and Christ-followers see their pressures as a privilege.
That’s what Pastor Valodya told Bob and Carol Marsh, who support indigenous leaders in 53 European countries. The Marshes cut short a successful career with Marriott Hotels to plant a Converge church in Germany. After eight fruitful years, they embraced a different opportunity to influence Europeans who could shape the continent’s spiritual future.
Just recently, the Marshes spoke to Pastor Valodya. Russia has mobilized soldiers on Ukraine’s far eastern border, stimulating some to believe an invasion is imminent. One thousand miles to the west, a pluralistic, post-modern culture squeezes the Ukrainian church.
Despite the bind, Valodya isn’t asking God for safety or security. Instead, Ukraine is the sweet spot of the gospel right now in all of Europe, the pastor told the Marshes.
“Ukraine is getting sandwiched between a military thing and a social thing,” Bob said. “The church there is having great moments in expansion and evangelism, so it shouldn’t be surprising they’re under a lot of pressure and seeing a lot of attack.”
Even in that condition, there’s gratitude and confidence during the moment God has orchestrated in the trying time.
“We have the most freedom and tolerance for evangelicals in all of Europe, Valodya told them.
“They are saying, ‘Let’s prepare for the difficulties, rather than pray God stops it,” Bob added.
It’s Not About You
The Marshes know starting a church in Germany was God’s will. They loved those people and enjoyed their ministry.
The Marshes felt their call to ministry was moving into a new era, meeting the challenges of both God’s eternal priorities and the global church. And they know their role as Converge global workers is a good fit for them.
Steve Valentine, a Converge global worker in Poland, has known the Marshes for several years.
Recently, he and the Marshes sought training on making disciples. The teacher had a very different approach than what the Marshes practiced for decades. How the Marshes responded, Valentine explains, revealed who they are.
“What I saw from them were two incredibly faithful, servant-hearted people who were willing to wrestle deeply with God and be challenged and learn and be taught,” Valentine said. “When I’m where he is, I want to have that same attitude.”
Ukraine is not the only country in the Marshes’ area of service where cultural pressures challenge global service. There is a growing concern, they explained, in the minds of many European governments about granting visas to religious workers. Extremists fuel this angst, as does a relentless tolerance for all worldviews to be honored but unexamined.
“The day of us being able to send waves of Western missionaries is going to come to a screeching halt,” Bob said. “I’m talking about even to the ones that are friendly to us.”
“If we’re going to continue to have an influence around the globe, it’s going to have to be through encouraging and equipping and coaching the locals to do it,” he added. “I believe it’s a better way to do missions because when it comes from within the culture, it becomes part of their own soul, their own spirit.”
Learning from a young servant
Ashraf (last name withheld for security reasons) is someone Bob and Carol Marsh quickly think of who has the spirit for training his people to know and follow Christ. Ashraf works with believers in his native Egypt, primarily investing in those who will move to other countries to accept service jobs.
Ten percent of Egypt’s population is Christian, meaning the country’s believers can have a fruitful impact in the Arab world. So even when they leave their home country, the Marshes and Ashraf know there’s potential for them to share Christ.
One way they help others meet Jesus comes during life’s rougher moments. The model Ashraf uses to train these believers is through the example of Naaman’s servant girl in 2 Kings 5.
Naaman, a powerful, prominent army commander for Aram, has leprosy. And his wife’s servant girl, a native of Israel, says, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.”
“They’re using her as an example,” Bob said of these Egyptians employed in many jobs. “I wish you knew Jesus the Messiah the way I do.”
There are Europeans who’ve never heard of Jesus
On the other side of Europe, the Marshes recognize Estonians need Jesus more than many might expect.
“It’s not our grandparents’ Europe,” Bob said, referring to the lack of Christian experience among the people. “You can go into Estonia and meet young people who’ve never heard the name of Jesus.”
The nation is culturally atheist, not that unique in Europe, which the Marshes are prepared to say is the least evangelized continent on Earth.
There are three summer camps in Estonia where Converge staff have served for a long time. Emma Giles served at one of those camps in 2021. She saw teenagers and adults in their 20s grasping for the hope of Jesus.
Giles and the Converge team have seen how momentum is building. The work done over many summers is influencing Estonians to ask questions about Jesus.
Bob and Carol Marsh know what God can do. When Bob was eight years old, his father surrendered his life to Christ. He was a semitruck driver who eventually connected to a Christian community of truck drivers. The witnesses he met there influenced him to trust Christ, changing the life and direction of the Marshes forever.
“Even at 8, I knew things had really changed,” he said.
So, he prayed with his Sunday School teacher to accept Christ, knowing his dad had something he didn’t.
“I can vividly remember the joy and the sense of new life that came to me,” he said. Not long after, he read Mark 16, where Christ says to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone.
“I felt in that moment God wanted me to go into missions,” Bob explained.
When he met Carol in college, the two agreed missions was in their future, if they were going to have a future. However, even after they married, student debt and God’s direction delayed their deployment into missions.
But, after Bob had invested 12 years with Marriott Hotels, the Lord showed them it was finally time to go. So, they planted two churches, including the one in Darmstadt, Germany.
They had people from more than 40 nations and dozens of denominations that would come together. “My elder board was Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal and Anglican,” Bob said.
“Everybody just came together and laid aside the disputable issues. They gladly set that aside and focused on the stuff that was really important,” Bob said. “We had such unity and such harmony in the most diverse group of people you can imagine. It was an amazing experience to have all these people gathered together, genuinely engaged with one another in encouragement, mutual growth and mission.”
Whether church planting or training pastors, in America, Germany or over Zoom since the pandemic, the Marshes know the local churches of Europe and Converge have the same goal: to share the gospel that has been transforming Europeans for 500 years.
The Gutenberg Press in the 1400s made gospels and Christian writings a tremendous force. The printed gospel and Scriptures in common languages fueled the Protestant Reformation from Germany throughout the continent.
However, even as cultural pressures test the Ukrainian church’s faithfulness, the same gospel and Scriptures inspire another generation. On the country’s eastern border, a mighty army moves and organizes and trains.
Inside the country, the nation’s Christ-followers trust Christ and treasure obedience. The Ukrainian Baptist Union has six seminaries around the country. New churches have started and leaders have been trained, including those the Marshes serve.
“It’s breathtaking how God is moving in that country,” he said. “The people are excited about what God is doing there.”
That excitement inspires the Marshes to equip Ukrainians now to be mature and independent, ready to make disciples.
“We need to be shifting toward raising up local leaders,” he said. “They know they have to raise up leaders and equip them because they don’t know how long the window’s going to be open for international global workers to come.”
Converge International Ministries is praying for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. Learn more about how you and your church can partner with Converge to help more people around the world meet, know and follow Jesus.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.