Under Pressure

Feeling overwhelmed by the weight of my responsibilities and things to do before we head to the States for the next three months.

To our dear supporters,

Graduation is next Saturday. We are a week away from the end of my first year as director of the Ukrainian Bible Institute. It’s been a good year, a blessed year. But it’s also been a very challenging year.

I knew taking on the role of director would be difficult. Nothing about the job offer sounded easy to me. But knowing something with your head and feeling it with your heart are always two different things. Lately, I’ve been feeling the weight of my job like never before. So many responsibilities, so many decisions to make, so many goals. So little time.

We leave for the States in two weeks. My very long list of things to do won’t stop staring at me from the corner of my desk. It’s literally impossible to get it all done before we leave, but almost all of it literally has to be. And the list grows longer every day. This was supposed to be the week I started making real progress chipping away at those lingering tasks, but this week was also the week that one of our students received some very difficult news which required my involvement to help sort out. I guess what’s new to me about this role is not that there’s always something else that can be done, but that there’s always something else that must be done. It’s a heavy weight I’m still developing the muscles for, I guess.

Celebrating Marriage

Katie has been—as she has always been—my secret weapon during this time. She has been encouraging me and tackling emails and plane tickets and keeping me organized.

We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary last week. Despite the tornado of responsibilities, we took a whole evening off to mark the occasion. After sixteen years, she is still my favorite person in the world. Her love and encouragement are what help me believe that I have any business trying to do what I’m doing. I couldn’t do this without her. I wouldn’t even want to try.

Summer

Over the next three months we will be making the rounds to all our supporters, something we haven’t been able to do to in quite some time. We’ll be quarantining in North Carolina, then visiting Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, California, Nevada, and Tennessee.

Justus and Katie won’t be joining me on all the stops this year, which will be the first time we’ve done that. In addition to our regular visits, I will be making several trips on my own to meet UBI sponsors. Knowing we won’t put Justus through so much travel brings some peace of mind, but it will be strange to be without them.

Conclusion

So we look forward to seeing many of you soon. Thank you all so much for your constant love and consistent support, especially during this very inconsistent year we’ve all been through.

Please remember me in your prayers over these next few weeks. At times I feel almost paralyzed by the number of things I have to do. I’m praying for wisdom in how I use my time, including making sure I’m getting some rest. I’m praying for a peace that passes understanding, and I’m praying for God to be glorified in my very obvious weaknesses.

In a few weeks, I’ll share more with you more about how UBI is doing and include pictures from our upcoming graduation. As always, thank you.

We love you, and we’ll see you soon.

Brandon


In other news…


Twenty Years Later

We celebrated sixteen years of marriage last week, but as of this year Katie and I have known each other for twenty. Here’s the story about when we first met.

Homeowners
Also, we moved. It wasn’t just any move, however. We’re now homeowners. Read about that unexpected journey here.


For the last three weeks I’ve been teaching a class on ministering to youth. On our final day, I invited Sasha to come and share from his experience.

Justus: “Hand me that empty box.”
Me: “This box is full of stuff.”
Justus: “It used to be empty, that’s why I call it my empty box.”

He's Four

A birthday boy, a trip to the States, and back to school

He’s Four

Justus is now four years old — and what a four years it has been! His birthday is a day we celebrate, but it's also a time when Katie and I reflect on what it means to wait on the Lord. From the first moment we held our baby boy in our arms, all that waiting finally made sense. God's timing is not our timing, but it is the best timing. If only we could learn that lesson once.

Justus is a four-year old firecracker. He rarely meets a stranger, loves helping, loves being outdoors, has an overwhelming imagination, and an often-disconcerting love of all things adventure and violence. He pushes us to be better in every way, and he still loves us when we fail him in seemingly every way.

For his birthday I made a video to celebrate the adventure that has been his life—the adventure that has been our life. Let this be an Ebeneezer: the Lord has brought us this far!

Christmas Break

Over the holidays, we enjoyed a trip to the States to spend time with family (as well as with just a few supporters). Because of COVID, we limited our travel and only spent time in our hometowns. This made our trip much more relaxed than our travels usually are. Justus had so much fun having so much time with his cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and we enjoyed the time with them as well.

Our trip back to Ukraine was more eventful than usual. It involved an unplanned overnight in Los Angeles, a chaotic rebooking of tickets in Paris with only minutes to spare before the flight, and a false-positive COVID test upon arriving to Ukraine. On top of that, jet lag nearly killed us this go around, and we really had doubts we were going to make it.

But, we survived. And it has been wonderful to be back home.

We didn’t find out about the COVID changes for transit passengers in Amsterdam until after we arrived in L.A. We had to rebook through France the next day, forcing us to stay the night. It wasn’t the worst delay we’ve ever had.

Back In School

UBI is back in session, and I am currently teaching a class on how to lead small group Bible studies. In a few weeks, I'll have Christian Coaching, and after that will be Youth Ministry.

We have four new students with us this semester. I think they are still a bit shell-shocked from the intensity of the program, but I know they will adjust and do well. In a couple weeks, I'll share more news (and a video!) about the school when we send out the UBI newsletter.

We pray you are doing well despite the ongoing challenges and new struggles that so many are dealing with right now. We thank you for the constant encouragement you are to us, and I hope we are an encouragement to you. We love you, and we'll talk to you again soon.

Sincerely,

Brandon, Katie, and the Firecracker


Our Karate Kid

Plus teaching during COVID and grandparents visiting

I began writing this update last week. My first draft included a thanksgiving for the fact that we were still able to meet in person at the institute. What a difference one week can make.

After several students started struggling with illnesses, we found a direct connection to a confirmed case of COVID on Sunday. Therefore, the Ukrainian Bible Institute has officially moved online for the next two weeks. After that, we’ll have our fall break. It is now our specific prayer that after these three weeks we’ll be able to come together and study in person once again.

In addition to that piece of breaking news, here is what’s been happening in our work and family over the last couple of months.

In the Classroom

I have been teaching every day since the first day of school. Christian Marriage, Philippians and Thessalonians, Introduction to Exegesis, and right now I’m teaching Special Events Preaching (which is about officiating weddings and funerals). Next week we start 1st Corinthians. It’s been a busy couple of months, but it feels good to share God’s Word daily with those eager to hear it.

Katie is currently teaching a three-week ladies’ class called Women of Worship. I snuck in one day to take a few pictures and was encouraged to hear the positive comments about how much the students were enjoying the class.

When I’m not in the classroom, I’m preparing for the next day’s class or meeting with someone about something. There’s always something that needs to be discussed or a decision that needs to be made, and I’m still getting used to being the one that makes those final decisions.

In other thoughts…

One of the areas I’m still trying to make sense of within my new role is our email correspondence with you. All of you were added to the new UBI newsletter automatically, so I want to be careful not to repeat myself here. But it’s difficult to keep straight where this update ends and the other begins. Honestly, I would have preferred to keep the one, but there are many more people who are interested in the work of UBI who have little connection to us personally.

For now at least, it seems appropriate to use this space to share what’s happening in our lives to those of you who are invested in us as a family. Please know, however, that both these updates are written by me personally, and I encourage you to read each to get a fuller picture of our ministry here.

Our Karate Kid

We had been looking for something active to get Justus involved in. I’ve always been partial to gymnastics, but if it had to be a marital art, I always figured we’d keep things in the family and go with jiu-jitsu. Unfortunately, in our neighborhood, we found only two activities: dance and karate.

We tried dance.

He was told not to come back for six months.

So we tried karate, and I was immediately impressed with the instructor. He knew how to work with young children and Justus seemed to enjoy it. So we went back for another class, and then another after that. It’s been about a month and a half now, and Justus is growing.

He’s the youngest kid in the class and he is being pushed to step up and develop discipline in ways he’s never had to before. We’ve honestly seen positive changes in his self-control, and others have noticed it too. It can be a challenge for him. We were surprised to hear him share with us for the first time that something was “too hard” for him to do. But he’s doing it.

It’s also been refreshing to spend time with people outside of our normal circle. I’ve been taking pictures during his classes and sharing them with the karate school and with the other parents I’m meeting. All in all, it’s been a positive experience for the whole family.

Grandma Gayla and Grandpa John

We are so thankful to have my parents with us for five whole weeks. Because of the virus, our summer trip to the States was cancelled and it had been much too long since we’d spent time with family. Justus is loving all the extra attention, and Katie and I greatly appreciate the extra help.

We’ve spent relaxing days at home and also done some sightseeing. We even got to spend time with Sasha Nikolaenko’s parents who were in town from Mariupol. My parents grew close to them on their very first trip to visit me in Ukraine back in 2003. It’s such a blessing that we’ve all maintained close connections after so many years.

And from when my family visited back in 2003…

My dad taught on grief counseling in my Special Events Preaching class, and he will be preaching this coming Sunday. And next Tuesday, my mom will be leading the weekly ladies’ class. It’s been a joy to share my parents with the wonderful people in our lives here. We wish we could do that with more of our friends and family from the States.

Conclusion

These last two months have been a blessing, and we thank you for your support. We will be traveling to the States in December to spend Christmas with family, so we look forward to seeing at least some of you soon, Lord willing.

Thank you all for your emails and messages. Thank you for your shared love of Ukraine and for helping us take part in the amazing work of God’s kingdom here.

Sincerely,

Brandon and Katie


Back at the beginning of summer, I challenged myself to memorize 1 Thessalonians in Russian by the beginning of the next school year. It was a real challenge, but so rewarding. Check it out here.

Justus randomly asked Katie, “Why don’t boys like flowers?”
“Boys can like flowers,” she said. “Do you like flowers?”
“No,” he said.
“Why not?”she asked.
“Because they’re too beautiful.”
“If you don’t like pretty things, what kind of things do you like?”
“Broken down old swings. Broken down old jalopies. Dead plants. Fires. Fire fighters. Dead guys. Eyes that walk—that’s a lot of not pretty things!”

Three More Weeks

Changes in Kharkov, a family vacation, and the upcoming first day of school

A Trip to Kharkov

After nine months since the last time we visited Kharkov, we managed to squeeze in a quick four-day trip last week. With all the pressing institute work that needs to be completed before the beginning of school, it was hard to be excited about leaving town. But we are so glad we did.

As expected, our schedule was packed full of visits. I also taught the youth group on Friday night, preached on Sunday morning, and Katie led the ladies’ class Saturday. We enjoyed walks through Kharkov’s recently reconstructed parks, shared dinners with friends, and Justus loved getting to ride on the metro. It definitely made us miss the home we had there.

The church is doing well, and it was encouraging to be with them on Sunday. The Christians continue to work as best they can despite the limitations of the pandemic. We are excited to share that, in the last couple of months, three more teenagers were baptized, and one of them will be studying at UBI this year.

Big Changes in Kharkov

Sasha and Nastia Nikolaenko have been ministering in Kharkov since 2014. They have been an influential part of the work, particularly in helping the displaced families of eastern Ukraine and in developing a strong youth ministry. As many of you know, however, their youngest daughter Slava has been struggling with health issues related to the brain tumor she had four years ago.

She continues to experience frequent and debilitating headaches and has suffered two frightful seizures which put her in the ICU for days. Because her condition seems to be getting worse, Sasha and Nastia have made the decision to leave Kharkov and move to Kyiv to be closer to Slava’s doctor and better medical care. It was a difficult decision for them to make.

Sasha does plan to travel to Kharkov twice a month or so for the next six months to meet with the youth and participate in worship with the church, but there’s no doubt things in Kharkov will be different. We are grateful Bogdan and Olya Bagdasarov will continue to minister to the congregation there. We are praying that God will use this change to grow the church in ways none of us can expect, and we are praying for the trust that He will.

Three Weeks Till School Starts

The Ukrainian Bible Institute’s 24th year of training disciples begins August 31st. We are planning to meet in person as normal, but Ukraine is now on a color-coding system to indicate the extent of COVID restrictions which are based on the number of infected persons in a particular location. If Kyiv happens to be in the red zone come August 31st, we will be forced to keep our students in the dorms and host our studies online. We are praying this will not be the case and we can finally come together in the classroom once again.

Regardless, there is much to do before the end of August. I am finishing up preparations for my first class, Christian Marriage, which I am very excited about. The staff needs to meet to make plans (and contingency plans) for the start of the new academic year. There is still work that needs to be done in the building, and then we have several meetings planned, including new student interviews.

Family

The three of us did manage to get away for a short trip to the Black Sea. It was nice getting out of Kyiv and out of our normal routine. Justus loved getting to play in the water, and we all enjoyed having so much free time together. Katie celebrated her birthday while we were there, which also coincided with the tenth anniversary of our Birthday Dress tradition. (You can see the other pictures here.)

Please be praying for us as we begin this new school year. Pray for wisdom in how we move forward in this complicated world of COVID-19, pray for the new students who will begin their studies, and pray that no matter what we do or how we do it, God will be glorified in our lives.

With love,

Brandon and Katie


“I smell a yummy taste!”

We're Stuck (and we had a great party)

Our summer plans to be in the States have been cancelled, but we've been busy!

Maybe in December?

We had plans to travel to the States for the month of July. Plans to see family, visit supporters.

Yeah, that's not happening.

This virus has changed the world in so many unexpected ways. Things will probably never go back to the way they were, but we are praying for when a certain flow of daily life returns. When there are fewer unknowns and we have more clarity on what we're doing tomorrow.

For now, we're more or less stuck here.

Getting Settled

But being stuck hasn't been a bad thing. It's allowed me to focus more on getting settled in at UBI. After Jay Don moved his things out, the office went through a small renovation—new linoleum, new paint, new furniture. It's still a ways from done, but I'm glad to have an office, a desk, and a chair to be able to sit and focus on things in a way I haven't been able to in a long time. (Unrelated: Justus will be three and a half next month.)

There's a lot that needs to happen during this transition. Getting my name on a bank account, registering me as president of the school, making plans for this next school year—making contingency plans for this next school year—and preparing the new classes I'll be teaching.

Justus is doing well. His Russian acquisition has recently gone into high gear. He's conversing pretty freely and even praying in Russian now. It's adorable, and infuriating. He’s also now riding his bike without training wheels which he is really enjoying. This kid isn’t afraid of anything, and it scares us to death!

Katie is co-teaching a children's English club on Saturday mornings for a few of the kids from church. She is also planning to teach one of the ladies' classes this fall and is in the early stages of preparing for that. So, even though we may be stuck, we have certainly been busy.

Surprise Going-Away Party

The staff and I have been exceptionally busy over these last several weeks getting Jay Don and Mary Lee's surprise going-away party planned. Initially it was going to be held at the end of May, but because of the ban on mass gatherings, everything was put on hold. Plus there was also the issue of their own departure plans. The Rogers have had their flights cancelled five times. Knowing when and how to throw them this party was a real challenge.

Thankfully the quarantine measures were relaxed and, with just a few weeks to go, we were able to put together such a wonderful day. Over fifty friends from throughout their nineteen years in Ukraine traveled to Kyiv to attend. There were games, gifts, food, and even a video with messages from many people who were not able to be there. And we managed to keep the whole thing a complete surprise.

The Rogers are leaving quite a legacy, and it was so special to see how many people have been touched by their wisdom, generosity, and hospitality throughout all these years. They will be dearly missed.

Upcoming

We're hoping to take some time to visit Kharkov in the coming weeks. It's been more than six months since our last visit and we want to check in and see how things are going there. We also hope to find some family vacation time for ourselves outside of Kyiv somewhere.

We had planned to spend Christmas in Ukraine this year, but that would now mean keeping Justus away from family for a year and a half, and we certainly don't want to do that. So our new penciled-in plans are to return for a short trip to spend Christmas with family, then be in the States for a longer trip next summer when we will be able to visit supporters. Between now and then, we hope to check in with our partnering churches through video calls.

Thank you so much for your constant care. Thank you for your prayers and notes. Thank you for your encouragement in our new work here.

Very sincerely,

Brandon and Katie


Last night, I watched as Justus got dressed for bed all on his own. As he pulled his shirt over his head, I asked him when it was he grew up so fast.

“On the seventeenth.”

There you go.

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