In June 1994, the Lord called Bob and Judy Van Sant to work with the deaf people in Simferopol, Ukraine. Their deputation began in October of that year. Praise the Lord we finished deputation in 18 months and on May 6, 1996 we arrived in Simferopol, Ukraine. Upon our arrival, several deaf met us at the train station and asked when we would begin a church. I told them that we would have church in our home the following Sunday. Praise the Lord that twelve deaf people came to our home that next Sunday. The deaf people were so excited to have a church in which to learn about God and worship Him.
At first, the deaf had no Bibles and no Biblical foundation from which we could build an understanding of sin or the need of salvation. When I would mention Noah and Ark, Jonah and the whale, or Paul, the deaf would sit with blank expressions on their faces. They had no idea what we were talking about. The first time I asked who knew for sure that when they died they would go to heaven, they all raised their hands. When I asked who knew for sure that when they died they would go to hell, again, they all raised their hands. Praise the Lord that a church in America had donated Betty Lupkin's flannel graph and we began telling picture stories to the deaf. I did not give an invitation for four months as we began teaching the fundamentals of the faith. At the first invitation, 17 deaf men and women came forward to be saved.
Within three months, we had outgrown our living room (averaging around 20 deaf each Sunday). Praise the Lord, that He led us to a building where we could meet weekly. It was at the former KGB House of Culture. The church continued to grow and by the first anniversary, we had 90 for that special day. Slava Kratko (now the pastor of the deaf church) was a first time visitor on that day. In November 1997, after 18 months of meeting at the KGB House of Culture, we were told we could no longer meet there.
There was an existing Russian Baptist Union church in town that was building a new building. We asked several times to purchase their old building but we were informed that it had already been sold. After much prayer and waiting, we asked if we could rent the building for a couple of months until we could find a location; which they agreed. We continued to ask God for that particular building and on January 2, 1998, the pastor called to say that the other people no longer wanted the building... that it could be ours for $50,000 (picture on left). We made a couple of phone calls and came up with enough money for the deposit. Plans were made for Judy and I to take an early furlough to raise the remaining funds that summer. Praise the Lord, the money was raised quickly!
The Lord continued to bless mightily at Simferopol Baptist Church. As a result of the many deaf that were saved, hearing people were also being invited to the church. Also in January 1998, the first hearing service started in the evening. Presently, the deaf meet in the morning (Sunday School at 9:00 and Worship Service at 10:00). The hearing church meets in the afternoon (Choir practice at 1:00, Sunday School at 2:00 and Worship Service at 3:00). In June of 1999, Pastor Olen Adams (from our sending church in America) came over to commission our church.
At present the Lord has provided so that we average between 100 to 110 on Sunday (that is counting deaf and hearing). Several of our men preach on a regular basis. To date, there have been 6 churches or ministries and a Bible College started in the state of Crimea. To God be the glory, GREAT things He hath done!
Slava & Tanya Kratko were saved at Simferopol Baptist Church. Tanya was saved in 1996 and prayed diligently for Slava to be saved. Slava was saved in May 1997. His spiritual growth has been amazing. He literally spent hours upon hours in the Bible. Each Sunday he would have a list of questions for me on what he had found. On June 12, 2005 Bro. Slava was ordained the pastor of Simferopol Baptist Deaf Church. Seven American pastors and missionaries laid hands on Slava.
Slava asked if he could begin a deaf church in Sevastopol. That church is now 10 years old. Recently he helped start a church in Feodosia and March of 2009 our church sent him to Evapatoria to start another new ministry for the deaf. Slava also travels to other cities in Ukraine and Russia to preach to the deaf. He is doing a tremendous work and responsible for countless deaf all over Ukraine being saved.