We have been serving as full-time missionaries in L’viv, Ukraine, since January 2007 with Josiah Venture, but our story begins long before that…
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
We both were privileged to grow up in Wheaton, IL, a suburb of Chicago, raised by parents who desired to follow God’s will for their lives and the lives of their children. Ben made a commitment to follow Christ at a young age and has attended Blanchard Alliance Church since the age of 4. Kristy attended Wheaton Christian Grammar School for K-8th grade and accepted Jesus through an Awana Bible memorization club. In 1992, her family changed from attending Wheaton Bible Church to Blanchard Alliance, where she and Ben found themselves in the same junior high youth group. A deep bond grew between us during those formative years, especially as we attended Wheaton North High School (class of 1998) and senior high youth group together.
Our spiritual lives were deeply impacted by leaders who taught us God’s word, prayed with and for us, and challenged us to be bold in our faith in Jesus Christ. The most impactful encounter that we had with God in those teen years was taking a 3-week mission trip to the Czech Republic with a small youth ministry organization out of Eastern Europe called Josiah Venture. We were 17 at the time, and it was our first introduction to peer evangelism. We went to help teach English and share about our faith in Jesus Christ with our Czech peers. It was our first deep experience in the realm of missions, and although the experience remained dormant in our hearts for years, God had really only begun in us a passion and direction that would come to fruition about ten years later…
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Our relationship did not stop then; we proceeded to attend different universities (Purdue University Engineering in West Lafayette, Indiana for Ben; University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana Finance for Kristy) but date long-distance for the college years.
Significant events that God used to mold and shape us during that time included a 3-year internship for Ben with General Electric, a year of study in Leuven, Belgium and Mazatlan, Mexico for Kristy, and some deep convictions from the Holy Spirit for us both – on 9/11 for Kristy, and regarding missions and marriage for Ben. It was at this time that Ben not only proposed marriage (Jan.’02) but also proposed a return to Czech Republic to serve with Josiah Venture for a summer internship. So surrounding our scheduled 2002 college graduations, we spend the summer of 2002 helping to lead four summer English camp teams and helping the evangelical church in former-Communist Europe. The course of our life was drastically changed that summer, as we more deeply understood God’s heart for the world. However, God wasn’t finished developing us state-side at that point.
Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
We married on January 4, 2003, in Wheaton, IL; within three weeks we started our new life together in Marlton, NJ, outside of Philadelphia, PA. We were working for Lockheed Martin, attending Fellowship Alliance Chapel in Medford, NJ, and anchoring our marriage into the foundation of Jesus Christ. This was a huge time of spiritual maturity and growth, especially making up some of the lost years of college. During that year, Ben heard clearly from the Lord that we were to volunteer as small group leaders for the high school youth ministry of about 150 students and begin an overseas mission trip for them. So for about four years straight, we ate, drank, and breathed ministry when we weren’t working in accounting and engineering and pursuing masters degrees. For the consecutive summers of ’04, ’05, and ’06, we led a team of 5-10 high school students on a 2-week mission trip to Czech Republic to serve with Josiah Venture doing peer evangelism – the very same trip that God used in our teenage years in 1997. In 2006, Ben graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Masters in Systems Engineering, and Kristy finished an MBA from Drexel University, but we both sensed that God wanted something more, something different from our lives. God was clearly calling us to full-time mission work in Eastern Europe.
After fervent prayer, deep consideration of the implications of this decision, and a long application process, we were accepted to serve with Josiah Venture…in the western city of L’viv, in Ukraine, a few countries away from our beloved churches in the Czech Republic! The providence of God led us to commit to serving in a country that we had never visited and knew nothing about, but the needs for youth ministry there were compelling and the work was pioneering, so we agreed. Between agreeing to serve in Ukraine and being willing to quit our jobs, move, and pursue full-time financial support raising so that we could actually depart from the mission field, we certainly embarked on a faith journey of a lifetime. The journey of faith took us on far more radical experiences after touching down in our new land.
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
We arrived in L’viv, Ukraine on January 11, 2007, with all of possessions and a child-like faith expectation of what God would do with us and through us in our new home. We reflected on those early days as we approached our five-year anniversary in Ukraine – what most stood out is how faithful God was to immediately give us a wonderful Josiah Venture team, a fantastic community at New Life Church and young people who were eager to grow in Christ and be our friends.
Little by little we began to settle in, intensively study Ukrainian, teach some English, preach some Bible, plan some camps, and seek God’s will for our work in Ukraine. He has worked most of all in our own spiritual lives, especially as we live and serve in a place where we are not always comfortable and where we are deeply dependent on the Holy Spirit’s power. Our studies in global Christian leadership and ministry at Fuller Seminary have taught us much about service and the power of the Holy Spirit.
We remind ourselves constantly that this work with youth leaders is a marathon, not a sprint. We are helping our local youth ministries develop healthy youth programs built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and the ministry strategy He used with His disciples. We are all about making disciples who can make disciples, thus multiplying the spread of the salvation message of Jesus Christ. It is exciting to see what God is doing in our city and in the regions of Western Ukraine.
Of course, English camps continue to be a big focus during the summer months, as we lead summer interns through the similar program that we did in 2002, and as we connect with North American churches that lead short-term teams of high school and college students to do peer evangelism with Ukrainian young people. Our partnership with Ukrainian churches is not limited to just the city of L’viv. God has given us relationships with other youth groups in the western regions of Ukraine, and one of our dreams is to expand our model ministries so that they can bless other groups as well. Other passions of ours here in Ukraine include junior high ministry to a boys’ prison, a photo school for non-believers, lots of Bible studies and one-on-one meetings to help young people grow in their walk with Christ. We are also committed to translation projects that allow Ukrainians to have useful Christian materials in their own language.
Since our journey to Ukraine began, our family dynamic has also changed. We have two children, Marissa Justine (8/’10) and Dylan Timothy (11/’11), who have added plenty of joy and excitement to both our family and ministry life. Through our marriage and our parenting, God has opened other doors for us to help counsel Ukrainian young people who are entering these stages of life.
We praise God for the journey He has taken us on thus far. We want to give Him all the glory. We want to thank all the people that God uses to help make our ministries possible. We want to be instruments used for the expansion of the Gospel in whatever way He sees fit. We hope this means living and ministering in Ukraine for many years to come.