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.

Youth Ministry and Baton Passing

This isn't the way we thought it would go, but it's gone well nonetheless.

Youth Ministry

My course on youth ministry struck a chord, and the positive reception still reverberates even now, over a week later. From the very first day of class, students were so appreciative of the information I was sharing.

Because all of our classes were happening online anyway, we put out an invitation to Christians around Ukraine to join our students for the course. Each day we had several guests with us live, and then I would hear from others that they were watching the recordings later each evening.

The class revolved around three main topics: Principles of Youth Ministry, Understanding Young People, and Practical Skills. We talked about things like the foundational Biblical principle of youth ministry. We talked about how to better understand the teenage brain and about understanding the specific needs of young men and women. We went over skills like How to Have a Conversation with a Young Person and How To Lead a Youth Bible Class. Our days were full of new information, lots of ideas, and even some opportunities to practice the skills the students were learning.

It's been such a blessing to hear from them about how much success they've already been having as they practice what they learned in class. One mother has been so excited about the progress she's made in being able to communicate better with her teenage son. Another student has already started a special small group that is going well. One young preacher shared with me a video of him working with a little boy to memorize scripture.

It was my prayer going into the class that God would use the information I would be sharing to allow each student the opportunity to reach at least one young person that they wouldn't have otherwise. We praise God for how he's used this class to motivate the students to be intentional about the relationships they have with the young people in their lives.

Graduation…Sort Of

Like everywhere else, all graduations here have been cancelled. However, we wanted our students to be able to get their diplomas and transcripts, and we hoped to at least see them one last time before they left UBI.

We invited the staff and the six graduates (two of which joined us online from out of town) to come together for a few words of encouragement, a time of prayer, and a presentation of their diplomas. After two months apart, it was so nice to see each other again. It wasn't the ceremony we were all hoping it would be, but we shared a special time together anyway.

Passing the Baton

Saturday was also, I suppose, the unofficial changeover at UBI. With the school year complete, Jay Don and Mary Lee are packing up and looking toward their flight home. Even though they'll be around for another month and half, everything UBI related now has to do with the upcoming school year, and that means...me.

Jay Don shared a few very nice words before he invited me to close our ceremony with the graduates. I still feel so honored to have been considered worthy for this task, and I am moving forward grateful for the big shoes he's left behind. I am a better leader because I know Jay Don Rogers.

This certainly isn't how any of us anticipated the last couple of months going, and it's very disappointing how anticlimactic the end of the Rogers' nineteen-year ministry has concluded. They deserved such a party—so much more than this social isolation. I hope that someday we can make it up to them.

Summer Plans

Ten days ago they started easing our social restrictions (the playgrounds are finally open!), and by Friday they're supposed to relax them even more. Ukraine's borders are still closed, however. We're hoping to get news about summer travel around the beginning of June, but who knows.

We had plans to be back in the States during the month of July, but right now that's not looking very promising. (And, of course, it wouldn't just be our quarantine we would have to plan around—everything would depend on the individual states we intend to visit.)

It has been a wonderful first year with the institute and, Lord willing, it will be the first of many. Thank you all so much for helping us be here. We'll talk to you again soon!

—Brandon and Katie


On May 7th, Katie and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary. Since everything was closed, we ordered out from an Italian food place and set up our own little cafe inside the institute.

“I just sang a lullaby with my fart.”

Quarantine Update

A week later and a few good quarantine deals

Almost everything is shut down, like it is almost everywhere else. Besides pharmacies, grocery stores, and banks, it's all closed. Playgrounds are off limits. Non-essential surgeries have been postponed. Commercial flights are grounded. Public transportation has come to a halt.

I went out last night to buy a couple things. It was eerily quiet. No kids playing, very few people out and about, and almost everyone in masks. They're not letting us into stores without them, and even then there's a limit to how many people can be inside at one time. Everything just feels so cold. Everyone is afraid to get too close to everyone else.

The initial quarantine was to last until April 3rd, but today we got word it's been extended until the 24th. I was expecting that, but the official news caught my emotions off guard. At least another month of this?

Thankfully there is food on the store shelves. We haven't dealt with the shortages we've heard about in the States. The one thing that is hard to find right now is medical masks. Oddly enough, we had a box of 50 we bought a couple years ago, so we've been able to supply everyone at the school who's been in need.

Our Family

The three of us are doing very well. Justus never got worse and Katie is back to feeling like her normal self (aside from the dry cough that won't go away). It feels good to feel good.

We're getting into a routine that maybe we're getting used to. I've set up my home office on the enclosed balcony off our bedroom and spend a good part of each day out there. Katie has been coming up with all kinds of crafts and games to keep Justus busy.

We do try to get out and take a walk together if we have a chance, but it's been pretty cold the last several days and so we've all been stuck inside with very few exceptions.

UBI

We're nearly to the end of our second week of hosting UBI classes online. It's actually gone quite well, better than I was expecting. It's been a learning process, and feeling at home in this new normal is taking me some time, but classes are moving along as planned. I’ve been sitting in on Revelation each day with the second-year students. Tim Burow from Sunset International Bible Institute has been teaching.

Every morning we all meet together for our chapel time (pictured at the top of this email), which is the one time a day everyone gets to see everyone. It's nice to see faces, but we all miss being together every day at the school. And I’m already tired of staring at the computer so much.

Our congregation has moved to online-only, just like most everyone else. Last night, the church met for its first interactive Bible study using Zoom. It was the first time many of us had seen each other in a couple weeks, and that was nice.

Making The Best Use Of The Time

What a strange time this is, and how strange it is that we're all going through it together. All of this should have sounded shocking, but it's everyone's normal right now.

I hope you are using this time to grow as a family and in your faith. This experience has already shown me how much I rely on other's expressions of faith. Now more than ever I need to make sure I'm in the Word and spending time in prayer. And now more than ever I'm without excuse to not be. We're living through a strange, forced social fast, and I would like to say by the end of it that I took advantage of the time I was given.

We have stumbled upon a few deals that have been a blessing for us, and we wanted to pass those along.

The Chosen

VidAngel is, at its core, a content filtering platform. You connect your services (like Netflix and Amazon Prime) then watch your content with any filters you choose (like taking out the bad language). VidAngel is also the only host of the amazing series, The Chosen, a series about the life of Jesus told from the perspective of those he called and worked with in the New Testament. It is very well done and makes you think about the characters in the gospels in a whole new way. VidAngel is offering their service free until the end of this month, so definitely check out The Chosen.

Peloton

Peloton is a fitness service with a great collection of at-home workouts. There are workouts which incorporate weights, stationary bikes, and treadmills, as well as simple bodyweight workouts. They are offering a free three-month trial for their app right now while everyone is stuck indoors.

MrPhil.tv

Katie’s sister asked if we knew of any churches doing anything for kids during this time since all the streaming focus has been about adult Bible classes and worship. Phil Vischer (creator of VeggieTales) has a new site which hosts all the content he’s made since VeggieTales. His What’s In The Bible series is especially good, and he’s got a lot of new content on there I’ve never seen before. He’s offering a two-week trial to all his content.

We love you and thank you for your prayers. We've appreciated your words of encouragement during this time. We’re in constant prayer for all of you right now as well.

Until next time,

Brandon and Katie

“I have a screwdriver. To screw things up.”

Ukraine's Response to the Coronavirus

Nationwide shutdown, UBI moves online, and we just can't get well!

A National Slowdown

On Thursday, Ukraine announced the closure of all schools and universities and placed a ban on gatherings of 60 people or more. On Friday morning, they announced that foreign citizens wouldn't be allowed entrance into Ukraine until the end of March and that only 49 of its 219 border checkpoints would remain open. By Friday night, the decision was made to cancel all commercials flights in and out of the country for the next two weeks. We received word this afternoon that if want to get out, we have until Monday night. (We'll be staying, thank you.)

By all official counts, Ukraine has appeared almost untouched by the virus. As of a couple days ago, there had only been three confirmed cases. But—get this—only 53 people had been tested. Fifty-three. Out of 40 million or so. The truth is, no one actually knows how entrenched Ukraine is in this mess. The measures taken this week appear to be proactive, but there is no telling how many thousands are already infected here. Regardless, we support the drastic steps being made to slow the unnecessary spread of this disease.

How It's Affecting UBI

Even though the Ukrainian Bible Institute is a religious organization and therefore isn’t necessarily required to close its doors, we made the decision to support the country's efforts and hold our next three-week term online. This will be a first for UBI, and so over the last two days there have been a lot of discussions and decisions and changing our minds about those decisions. Sergei, our staff member in charge of all things technology, has been working very hard to make sure both teachers and students will be ready to go Monday morning.

We've had to make several schedule changes as well. Some visiting American teachers have cancelled their trips, and others are still a question mark. My youth ministry course has been pushed back to our third term and another teacher will be leading Revelation starting Monday (meaning I won't take over that class until next year).

How It's Affecting Us

Whether it's COVID-19 or not, all three of us have been battling sickness for the last couple of weeks. These past few days, however, have been especially difficult. Katie was bedridden for two full days with a temperature that hit 103°. She had a terrible dry cough, headache, and back pains. I stayed home to take care of her and watch Justus. (We were also so grateful to have a friend from church come and spend some time with him as well as cook for us.)

Ukraine's paramedics provide at-home urgent care, so we called them to take a look at Katie when her fever wouldn’t go down. They prescribed a few things to help, and thankfully by yesterday afternoon she was already feeling significantly better. (Their visit also made it painfully obvious there is no protocol in place for addressing potential COVID-19 cases. "Let's hope it's not coronavirus," was all he said about it.)

Katie and Justus are still dealing with a bad cough, and my body can't seem to decide which direction it's going. Yesterday it felt like my time had come, but today I'm not feeling worse. We are sad to report that Justus' temperature is now on the rise. We’re praying for good sleep tonight.

It's been a very packed, socially-distant few days, and the weeks ahead will certainly be interesting for all of us. Please be praying for us and we will be praying for you.

We love you,

Brandon and Katie

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