Finding Jesus in Ukraine: My Journey from Atheist to Missionary

I was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1976, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union. I grew up in a typical Soviet atheist family. My parents didn’t baptize me as a child, which was the regular tradition even for unbelievers—a “just in case” thing.

I grew up not thinking about God and faith. My parents taught me to behave well and I was a “good girl;” cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and the dance clubs didn’t interest me. I looked “right” from the outside.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Christianity became “in fashion” in our country. I would visit an Orthodox church sometimes, but not for a service– just to feel the atmosphere. I was even baptized in the Orthodox Church when I was 18, but it didn’t have meaning to me. I just wanted to be like other people and feel like “now God knows about me.”

In the summer of 1996, my friends invited me to go to the beach with Americans. It was my first time meeting real Christians. That day I met Doug Shepherd (MTW missionary), a few American students, and other Ukrainian believers. We had a fun time and I decided I wanted to be around them more often because their attitude toward life and love of one another was so different from anything I had ever seen. I started attending Bible studies regularly. In February 1997 I accepted my Savior and in May of 1997 I became a member of Odessa Presbyterian Church.

Since I accepted Jesus, my relationship with God has really grown. Initially, it wasn’t easy for me to see my real sins and how much I needed Him, but as I got to know God more deeply, I could see my need for Christ more clearly and started to see growth.

I began working with MTW missionaries in Odessa in 2000 as the southern Ukraine team’s financial administrator. In 2008 I decided to move to L’viv to help the L’viv team plant a new Presbyterian church. I have been here now for seven years and I love living and working here.

One of the most wonderful parts of the last seven years was getting to meet, know, and marry my husband, Jon, an MTW missionary. I moved to L’viv single, trusting God with this, knowing that if He had someone for me, then He would lead me right to him. And He definitely did! We were married in August 2011.

The last three and a half years has been a very joyful time for me, as Jon and I have gotten to know one another more deeply and serve God together in L’viv. I am very thankful for God’s work in my life and am eager to see how God will use me in the future.

Olya Powell in Kyiv Lviv Odessa Ukraine on Jun 15, 2015

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Thank God for bringing Ukrainians to faith in Him and giving them the vision to reach their own country for Christ. Pray for many more to be transformed.

Pray for Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed by the church in Belgorod to be drawn to Christ. 

Pray for MTW's ministry to refugees in Greece, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Panama, and the U.S.

Pray for teams teaching English (ESL) as a part of their ministry and for the students who attend English classes/camp.

Pray for two women, Monika and Andrea, who have recently come to faith against the odds in a hard-to-reach, largely atheistic European city.

Pray for Monika, that God would continue to heal her, give her a new purpose, and protect her life from physical harm, and for Andrea, that she would grow deep roots of faith and be a witness to those like her—unlikely subjects—of the reality of the grace of God.

Pray for the safety of believers in Ukraine. Pray for God to use the crisis to strengthen their faith and bring more Ukrainians to Christ.

Pray for believers in Ukraine during a time of political uncertainty.

Give thanks to God for believers in Ukraine who are standing strong and joining together across denominations for prayer.

Pray for Ukraine refugees who have had to abandon their homes due to the fighting. Pray for God to use their displacement to draw them to Himself.

Pray for missionaries on the field who struggle with loneliness.