Suddenly, We are Finished

Thursday afternoon, May 17

Mark and I completed our teaching today as we wrapped up our course work. I directed my students to areas in their notes that will be included on the exam. It provided a good opportunity to review some of the key concepts we covered. I said to the students that to me the important thing isn’t what grade they get in the class, but that they will have opportunities to share with someone else in a sermon or lesson or conversation something they learned with me. I am confident that many of them will do so. In fact, one of the younger students, Lisa, will be traveling to India for a while this summer, where her parents (whom I taught a decade ago) have been doing mission work. She told me that she plans to lead a Bible study on Galatians! So from Minnesota to Ukraine to India — the Gospel is being taught/learned/shared!

After our noon meal and some warm farewells, we parted company. I’ll probably go out for a last walk later this afternoon/evening, but I’ll need to get to sleep at a good time. My flight doesn’t leave from Kiev until about 10:30 am, but Mark and Jayna’s flight leaves quite a bit earlier. So I’ll have to be up and packed and on the curb waiting for my ride at 4:30 am. **Yawn**

I am looking forward to coming home! But before I leave Ukraine, once again I want to thank you for your interest and especially for your prayers. Two months ago I didn’t know I would have this opportunity but God opened the way for me to come, in great part through the generosity of Luverne CRC. To you especially the students send their greetings. Speaking of the students, here they are after the last day of classes!

Students from the seminary, with translators (Natasha and Yana) and myself. I thought I should be in at least one picture to prove I was actually here! Photo credit: Professor Mark Smith. Thanks, Mark! To God be the glory. 

Second Midweek Update

Wednesday morning, June 16

I’m up early enough to share a progress report with you. Only two days of teaching remain, so Mark and I are trying to make our materials fit into the time we still have. We give thanks that classes have been going well, and we continue to seek your prayer support. One of the students (Katya) is sick and missed classes on Monday and Tuesday. Sounds like she has a deep cough. You can join us in praying that she’ll be able to return to class.

I moved Monday to a different apartment. That involved packing in the morning and unpacking in the evening. When I was teaching on Monday afternoon I had a unique experience. It rained heavily. Natasha (translator) and I heard some water coursing through a pipe over our table. We didn’t think much of it until, without warning, some water gushed out and landed on us — mostly me! It was startling and, in retrospect, quite amusing. A student got a hair dryer to rescue my notes. We ended up moving to a different classroom.

Site of the unexpected shower!
Thanks, Vlad, for drying out my notes!

This is where we dine together for our noon meal. We enjoy good fellowship along with soup, bread, and some meat and either pasta or buckwheat. We are also served ‘compot’ which is a drink made from dried fruit.

In the dining hall. 

Hope you are doing well back home! Again thanks for your interest and especially for your prayers!

Pastor Sparks

Getting To Church

Sunday afternoon, May 13

First, I would like to wish mothers everywhere a “Happy Mother’s Day”. This is the first year I haven’t been able to call/speak to/send a card to my mother, as she is now absent from the body and present with the Lord. But I am happy for her that she is enjoying, by God’s grace, the goal of her faith. In Ukraine it is not mother’s day today; I will have to ask if there is a similar day to honor mothers here.

Today I ventured out by myself to go to church. It involved walking about 15 minutes to the Metro (subway) station, about 20 minutes on the Metro, and walking another 12 minutes to where the church meets. This is how most members of the church come to church — using public transportation and walking. I was thankful that I got off at the right station, both going and coming back to the apartment.

An above ground view of the Universityet station. To get down to the Metro you ride down an enormously long escalator!
Waiting for the Metro on the platform. Just missed a train. The platform quickly fills, as do the cars on the Metro.

Once again I attended the Presbyterian Church “Holy Trinity” in Kiev. Compared to last week more were in attendance today. In part it’s because last weekend included a national holiday: V-E (Victory in Europe) celebration commemorating the end of WWII. We don’t pay as much attention to V-E day in the USA, but they tell me that Ukraine lost 10 million people during WWII. For them it is a very important time of remembrance.

The church service included some traditional as well as some newer hymn/songs. I recognized some of the tunes from “Crown Him With Many Crowns” and “God of Wonders,” etc. Several students from the seminary attended and I enjoyed visiting with them after the service. Here is a picture from the service.

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Singing “God of Wonders”

This afternoon I will do more prep work for the time of teaching that remains. The days definitely are going quickly. Pray for endurance for Mark and myself as we teach, for Natasha and Yana as they translate, and for the students as they listen and learn.

Pastor Sparks

A Week in the Books “in the Books”

Saturday morning, May 12

We made it! As I think back over this past week I give thanks for the good progress we made in both classes. The upper level class is on track to complete an intensive, verse by verse study of Galatians and a survey of Ephesians. I trust that the students are being equipped and inspired to preach and/or teach on these Scriptures themselves in the future.  Speaking of the upper level class, let me introduce them to you.

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(Left to right)  Anton, Bogdan, Svyeta, Vlad, Victor, Vladimir
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Sasha, Natasha, Lisa, Anya

Another member of the class was sick and unable to join us. He will come Monday and participate during the second week.

Since I’m teaching morning and afternoon, I haven’t had much “free time” for  sightseeing. But I do enjoy evening walks by the canal that surrounds the island on which my apartment is located. The neighborhood is densely populated as there are many apartment buildings. It’s nice to see families out for strolls in the evenings — parents and children alike — many of them walking dogs. I even saw someone trying to walk a pet ferret! Everyone is enjoying the spring weather after a long winter. Since I don’t have anyone to talk to I look at the people I meet and I find myself thinking, “Each person is made in God’s image and fallen in Adam. Each one is in need of redemption.” Of course, this is true everywhere.

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Evening by the canal. As in America, cell phones are common. Now that it is spring the fountains in the canal are working.

Today I hope to finish preparing the lectures I’ll be presenting on Ephesians. This evening Mark, Jayna and I plan to take the subway beyond downtown and go to the home of our translator, Yana, to have supper with her and her family. And I’ll have to take another walk or two by the canal!

Once again, thank you for your prayers!

Pastor Sparks

Mid-Week Update

Wednesday Evening, May 9

Flower update (see previous post). Upon closer examination my conclusion is that the flower is REAL. As I noted, it resembles a tennis ball in shape, and in fuzzy texture. But it is definitely attached to the stem! Now I’ll have to find out what it’s called!

More importantly, here’s an update on teaching. After three full days of teaching I’m a bit weary, and yet I’m happy with the way my classes are going. I will need to make some adjustments along the way, so I’ll stay busy over the weekend. A good relationship with the students is forming. They feel free to ask questions and to make comments, which helps me gauge whether or not they are getting the points I’m trying to make.

Let me introduce you to the Year 1/2 Class. They are in their second year of classes. One more will be joining us tomorrow. I will share with you now some pictures I took of them today with their names listed below. When you pray for the students you are praying for them (and the members of the other class, which I’ll introduce another time). Each student has his/her own story about becoming a Christian, and how studying at the seminary has helped them grow in faith.

Nikita, Nadia, Dema 
Katya, Lydya

Please keep lifting up in prayer this wonderful teaching opportunity. Thanks!

Pastor Sparks

The Teaching Begins

Monday Evening, May 7

Today we had our first day of classes. It was good to see/greet the students. I remember most of them from my last visit to Ukraine. The numbers are down slightly, as a couple of them have had to withdraw due to financial/family needs. But the students who remain are committed and appreciative.

I’m teaching a class on Christology (the Person and Work of Christ) to the 2nd year students. I was told to focus on the latter half of the topic (the work of Christ as Prophet, Priest and King) because the students have already had the first half. But after talking with them I’m not sure they’ve had the first half, so I might need to adjust my lectures as I proceed.

I’m teaching a class on Galatians (and as time allows, Ephesians) to the 3rd and 4th year students. We got off to a good start today!

Some things in Ukraine are the same as back home…. like pigeons! I shot (with my camera) these two down by the canal.


But not everything is the same. I’ve seen a lot  birds around like the one below. I’m not sure what the locals call it, but according to the Internet (where I found this photo) it’s known as a “hooded crow”. It’s definitely a larger bird, about the size of a crow.

Hooded Crow

At noon hour I saw something else that is different: a flower the likes of which I’ve never beheld. I showed this picture to one of the students. He thought it wasn’t real. I guess the “flowers” do resemble tennis balls. I’ll have to take a closer look tomorrow.


I hear some rumbles of thunder. Glad I’m in the apartment and not running for cover. Yep, here comes the rain!


Once again, thank you for your interest and especially for your prayers!

Pastor Sparks

Getting Around

Sunday afternoon — May 6

Since the last update I went on an exploratory walk through the neighborhood where the apartment is located. It’s actually on an island… here, let me show you!

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On the west (left) is the Dnieper River. A canal runs around the island. The apartment is near the star/blue dot in the middle. There is a footbridge that crosses the canal to the northeast of the apartment. I walked across it and checked out the neighborhood and businesses in that direction. Later I walked down through the middle of the island and over to the Rusanivska Embankment road. There is a trail that goes right along the river. It was a warm afternoon/evening, and many families were down by the river having picnics and playing games. Quite a few people were fishing. I suspect this part of the river is over fished. I did see one guy pull in a small fish of some sort — but it was much too small for eating.

The foot bridge across the canal to north/east of the apartment.
Families enjoying an evening stroll in the park.

This morning (Sunday) I attended church with Sergei and Natasha (our translator). I met the other professor, Mark Smith and his wife Jayna. They are currently serving a church in a community east of Jackson, MS. He has been coming to teach at the seminary every year for the last 5 or so years. He will be teaching a course on Evangelism. It was good to make their acquaintance.

We rode the “Metro” to get downtown to where the church meets. Pictured are Natasha, Mark and Jayna leading the way.

The church service followed a traditional Reformed/Presbyterian liturgy with Scripture readings, prayers, sermon and the Lord’s Supper. And of course there was an offering. The church provides transmitters/receivers so that English speakers can hear a live translation. However, there must have been a few extra visitors because there wasn’t a receiver for me. So with my rudimentary knowledge of Russian I sort of followed along. I recognized a few faces from when I attended the church in September of 2016.

During the church service. The church meets in a rented building which is where the Ukranian National Choir has its practices.

Tomorrow (Monday) I begin my teaching work in earnest. This evening I will do a little more review and prep work this evening. And I suppose I’ll take another walk since it will be a pleasant evening.

I hope you are all well back home. Once again, thanks for your interest and especially for your prayers.

Pastor Sparks