My heart for and involvement in Ukraine over the last years has been due to a number of things, chief among them sensing the call of God, but also through seeing the lives of believers as they have walked through incredibly difficult times for their nation.
I first saw that call lived out before me in the lives of the staff of New Life Church, Kyiv (Anatoly, Nadia, Anton, Anya, Oleg and Oksana) and then in the lives of the leadership, staff and students of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS)(Anatoliy, Ivan, Oles, Denis, Marina, other staff and my students).
With all else going on in the world these days and in our nation, even the events of the last few years in Ukraine have somewhat faded from our ADHD culture. I would like you to take a few minutes and get to know the clear thinking, passion and integrity of these brothers and sisters in Christ through 2 short videos that line out the history of the “Revolution of Dignity” as the protests in Maidan are now known, and the on-going struggle against the Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine as Crimea was annexed by Russia.
UETS and its’ leadership have been honestly wrestling through these times with their hearts in God’s Word and their ears listening to his Spirit as to how they should respond in very difficult circumstances. They have put together these videos that tell the story of the real issues they have faced and how they continue to respond.
The first video, “Maydan: Response“ (13:22) talks of how they responded as Christians to an unjust government, and the second,“War and Refugees“ (10:41) tells of how they have responded to those fleeing from attack in their own cities.
“We just wanted to tell our friends and partners abroad about what we came through in 2013-2014, and are still going through now.” – Oles Dmytrenko, Communication and Development director.
“Critical times for the nation challenged our theology and understanding of mission.” – Denis Kondyuk, Dean of Theology.
Take less than 30 minutes of your TV binge-watching time, meet my colleagues and some of my students here and I think you’ll understand why I keep going back.
This past Wednesday, this world lost a humble, passionate, Kingdom-minded churchman and I lost someone who was probably the best “best friend” of my entire life, Steve Ogne.
When I say lost, I mean it more in the sense of being “temporarily misplaced,” not “permanently irretrievable.” We know where he is, we just no longer have direct access to him. He has another occupation in God’s presence right now. At some point, we will join him. He did so much for the Kingdom of God in teaching, training, coaching and strategizing that I will probably have to wait in line to see him when I get there. For me, he was a faithful friend, wise counselor, long-time board member, encourager, coach, and confidant.
I have known Steve since the late 1970’s, when we were both connected to Calvary Community Church in Thousand Oaks/Westlake Village, CA. Steve was on staff, and I was a missionary supported by the church and very much a part of the music program. Actually, together we helped start the church’s first singles group, where he met his wife, Jane. He was in our wedding in 1982, served as part of my ministry board for almost 9 years, he and Jane were a home for Judie and me in-between tours so many times, helped us move time and again, and he even spoke at my ordination. When I was in town, we would always try to go to the LA Auto Show every year–he was a true son of the LA area when it came to his cars! I would call him to work through things I was facing; he would share things in his life, but inevitably would wind up sharing something simply profound with me that would point me to God’s power and wisdom in facing the situation. He was so much more than just a friend. He would challenge and prod me. Years and distance did not dim the relationship–we could say anything to each other, knowing that we knew we would be understood and respected. I valued his input completely.
Judie and I were itinerant for several years, later moved to the UK, and then to middle Tennessee while they stayed in Ventura County, California. I actually got to take Steve on his first overseas trip to the UK in the Spring of 1989, which opened up a whole new perspective for him. Later, he would teach and train church planters in Australia, Europe, and India (amongst other places), and thanked me for dragging him out of his homebody comfort zone.
His ministry to church planters, church planting coaches and denominations are well-known to those he poured into over the years. Steve strongly believed that the best way to reach people for Christ was to plant new churches and then make disciples; he followed through with that as his life’s passion. Others will expound on that, I am sure.
About 1996, Steve began to face many unusual and perplexing life-threatening illness in odd combinations. From then until now, he faced diabetes, flesh-eating bacteria, various leg bones being broken, staph infection, heart attack, triple-bypass surgery, cancer of the bladder/removal/reconstruction, kidney failure and last year, amputation of his left leg below the knee. I would joke with him and ask if there were any more major life-threatening diseases he had on his bucket list. It was a tough battle for him and for Jane and their sons–last year he spent quite a few months in the hospital and in rehabilitation. But he rarely complained; he just kept going in the new seasons that were presented to him.
In more recent years, his youngest son Greg and our son Joel both wound up at Belmont University in Nashville at the same time (having been born the same year), which meant that at least a couple of times a year we could see him and Jane here in the area. One of my most memorable times with him was taking the opportunity to be with him for a whole afternoon while he had kidney dialysis here. They let me sit with him the entire time and we talked for hours about family, ministry, our lives and the state of the Church–and also laughed our heads off. Even having dialysis three times a week, he continued to coach and encourage leaders on the phone the rest of the time.
By God’s grace and provision through a friend from the UK, I was able to be in southern California in July and then to spend the better part of two days with Steve. I had the honor of serving him by helping him in and out of the car with his wheelchair, having a long brunch, just talking and hanging out, and then helping he and Jane do little things around the new house they were just going to move into after being in the same home for 26 years. We talked about the future and the new seasons we were both facing, and I will never forget what he said–“This is your calling!! Don’t mess around, don’t put it off, step out in faith. You need to focus on it and do what you need to do to make it happen!”
Our time ended as it often did, with me helping fix something about his computer or other technology. I needed to go, but didn’t really want to, and I could sense that was the same for him–it was a very difficult goodbye.
Steve died Wednesday, October 14, not too long after his 59th birthday, while back in the hospital waiting for the amputation of his remaining leg due to multiple issues. A celebration of his life will be held at Calvary Community this Friday, October 23 at 10:00 am. I can’t be there.
I am heartbroken that I will be unable to make it. That same afternoon at 1:40pm Central time, while the service will be wrapping up, I am scheduled to board a plane to Kiev, Ukraine to teach foundations of worship at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and be there for 12 days. It’s an amazing privilege that Steve knew about and saw as God’s special gift for me. I’ve tried for the last several days to change my flight and move things around, but that has proven impossible and impossibly costly. I hate not being there for Jane, Tim, Jeff, and Greg. I hate not being there for me.
However, all I can hear is Steve’s insistence ringing in my ear, “This is your calling; do what you need to do. Don’t put it off any longer.” I guess I will have to do just that to honor my friend, Steve Ogne.
Thanks, Steve. See you soon. You are a true friend. Well done.