Kirk & Anna Norris (kneeling in front) serve with MTW in L'viv, Ukraine.

Stairway to Missions: Kirk Norris’ Journey From Intern to Career Missionary in Ukraine

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 28, 2021

Gone are the days when young Christians feel called to ministry and immediately commit to a lifetime of missionary service, packing their coffin as they set out for a distant locale where they intend to spend the rest of their years. Fewer and fewer younger believers are becoming career missionaries, but many of those who do get there through an incremental journey of discernment. Often, they begin their global missions journeys as interns. 

Take Kirk Norris, for example: Today, Kirk is an MTW missionary and RUF campus minister in L’viv, Ukraine. He’s dedicated his life to sharing the gospel in a cross-cultural context, making disciples, and doing his bit to fulfil the Great Commission. But here’s the thing, Kirk didn’t just dedicate his life and career to missions all at once—he considered his kingdom calling and made commitments step by step. And for Kirk, a key turning point in directing that call was an MTW internship. 

Kirk Norris

Kirk first became interested in global missions while in high school, serving on a short trip to Alaska with his church youth group. The experience wasn’t cross-cultural, but that week of service, prayer, and missions-minded self-reflection stirred up a sense of call to ministry. In college, Kirk began attending a Presbyterian church and started dipping his toes in leadership: leading Bible studies and a church youth group. Next, he attended Covenant Seminary to prepare for the pastorate. His first summer in seminary, Kirk approached MTW about doing an internship. When they recommended that he serve in Ukraine, Kirk was surprised. 

“I never thought I’d go to Europe,” he said. “In my young mind, missions happened in India or Africa—somewhere like that. I just didn’t know about Ukraine.” 

Though he was skeptical at first, the internship turned out to be exactly what Kirk needed. For two months, he was mentored by MTW missionaries who helped him think and pray through his identity in Christ and calling to missions; work out his theology in a cross-cultural context; and get first-hand experience with missionary life. By the end of the summer, Kirk was sold.

“I just loved it,” he said. “I loved the team leader’s vision and the way the team didn’t take themselves too seriously. I connected with the Ukrainian people and got to see what being a missionary really felt like.”

A few years later, in 2013, Kirk and his wife returned to Ukraine as MTW missionaries, committed to a three-year term. By the end of that three years, the couple had further solidified their call and decided to become career missionaries. In the years since, Kirk has taken on the role of RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister, leading Ukrainian students to Christ, and discipling and training them to become Christian leaders themselves.

Aleksandar’s Story

One of the students that Kirk works with is a young man named Aleksander.* Alex was raised Catholic in a village in the Ukrainian countryside. In his early teen years, Alex became more interested in religion and started serving as an altar boy in the local Catholic church, helping out the priests however he could. The experience was not a good one. 

“He saw and heard that worst that you can see in the church,” Kirk explained. “The way the priest treated people, the stories they told, the way they handled money. He was looking for God, but he was very disappointed by what he found.” 

Years later, one of Alex’s university friends came to a film night hosted by RUF and got plugged in with the group. When Kirk’s team hosted a summer English camp, the friend invited Alex along. 

“That week blew Alex’s mind,” Kirk said. “It shattered his categories.” 

On the very last night of camp, Kirk sat down with Alex by the campfire and got him talking about his experience. 

“When I came into this week, I didn’t know where to find hope,” Alex said. “Now I realize that hope is found in Christ.” 

After camp, Alex started showing up again and again to RUF events. Eventually—even in the face of clear opposition from his family and village—Alex joined the Presbyterian church plant and began to grow in his faith. The next summer, he came back to English camp to volunteer and minister to other students, asking them questions and sharing with them what Christ had shown him. 

These days, Alex has started talking about dedicating his life to ministry. He is now serving as an RUF intern under Kirk, discipling his fellow students and learning to lead. 

As for Kirk, his story has come full circle. Ten years ago, he was a wide-eyed seminary student serving as an MTW intern in Ukraine, mentored by MTW missionaries as he discerned his call. Now he is mentoring interns of his own, and reaching and discipling dozens of Ukrainian students with the gospel. 

“When young Christians, like me, become MTW interns, they’re stepping into a huge turning point in their lives,” Kirk said. “Maybe only a quarter of them end up coming to the mission field long term, but nearly 100% of them will be more equipped to understand God’s global mission wherever they are. Those people are going to be future church elders are deacons; people in Bible studies in local churches promoting, understanding, and supporting God’s global mission in a way they weren’t before.” 

Some, like Kirk, will become career missionaries. They’ll stay, learn the language, and reach their neighbors with the gospel. Alex’s story is a perfect case in point of the eventual, long-term impact that MTW interns can have one day. Just a few years ago, Alex was a young man without hope, searching for God but always disappointed. Now he is sharing the hope of grace through faith in Christ with his fellow Ukrainians. 

We can’t wait to see how God will use young Alex in the next decade. We can’t wait to see how He will use all our interns. 

Help mobilize the next generation of missionaries by giving to MTW's Year-End project

*Name changed for privacy purposes.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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