IMG_1918Written by Celia Barlow

Episode 1 – Calling and lead-up

It’s a bit late to put all this in writing as it will be 24 years ago this June but thought I ought as I’m not getting any younger! My hope is to encourage others to go on Mission. It may have to be in several episodes as suddenly I have begun to recall a lot of incidents. 

A little history on the Soviet Union (USSR) would be appropriate, as some who will read this were not yet born in 1991, and may wonder why we took 1,000 bibles into the Ukraine which was then one of the USSR’s 15 states.

In 1986 I was in a meeting at the Fellowship I attended and felt the Lord say we were to see something spectacular in the news. At the time the Cold War between the USSR and the Western nations was beginning to thaw. The leader of the Soviet Union, Gorbachov, began releasing dissidents who had been enduring years of State persecution and hard labour in the Gulag camps (Siberia mostly). Those persecuted were often Christians and Jews. I remember that the USSR started allowing tourists in and one man went in with a video camera and bravely interviewed a Jewish man who appealed to the west to help them get out.

I also saw, in a vision, a crack open up between England and the USSR and some people getting into the crack and going over there. I was scared as I knew it was still quite difficult for anyone to get in and out and, to be honest, I didn’t want to go because of the persecution. The Iron Curtain was still up but the Berlin Wall between East and West Germany was about to come down. The Lord was good to me however as the USSR did not break up until Christmas 1991 and a team of us went in 6 months later.

I was trying to find someone to go with, when a friend from my previous church in London contacted me to say that a team from their church were going into the Ukraine. A Polish man and his English wife had gone in the previous summer with 100 bibles in Russian. The Lvov church had asked them to go back with more, but in the Ukrainian language. The team were asked to visit the Trowbridge Fellowship and my pastor was so taken with the expression of joy on the faces of those receiving bibles that he offered to pay towards the next lot.

Meanwhile I was struggling with the calling to go and my mum had pancreatic cancer. Both mum and dad released me to go and I desperately prayed for a friend to go with as I didn’t really know anyone in the team that well. There was a lady from Bath City Church who worked at Bowyers and used to bring the samples to be tested to the laboratory where I was Supervisor. Marg was sure she was going even though we had a full contingent. Both her parents had passed away recently within days of each other and so I decided to bake a cake for her. Well, it fell to pieces so I had to make another one and when I gave it to her, little did I know, it was her birthday. I felt this was a pointer towards her coming. Then one of the team dropped out so the Lord had answered my prayer.

We met the team up in London twice and got together all the paperwork to go. There were to be 7 of us including Marg and I. We started to pray during our lunch breaks at work and the Lord gave me a verse from Ezekiel 47 where the angel showed him the river of life (healing) flowing a thousand cubits to the east. When I got out a piece of string and measured on the map I found that the distance from here in England to Lvov was 1,000 miles. The prophet had to swim in it and we sure felt out of our depth several times as you will see later. Another verse was from Psalms where the Valley of Baca (weeping) is turned into a valley of hope (PS 84:6). As the Lord had called me “Hope” at my baptism I felt this was another pointer.

We did hear one heart rending story from our host, who was weeping as he told us about his aunt in one of the work camps . When she got saved Christians bored a hole in the ice to get into the river and water baptise the converts. I’m getting ahead of myself but I did try to read up the history of the Ukraine beforeI went and had to put it down because it was describing how about a third of the people were interned and many died, so most families would have suffered. When we drove past the KGB (former secret police) headquarters we were told that the grounds were being dug up and many skeletons found. Many of the people we met have now immigrated to the USA as conditions were harsh after the Ukraine switched to a market economy. You now see on the news that hard times have again hit the Ukraine as Russia tries to claim back some of the territory lost in the 90’s. But I get ahead of myself.

After submitting our forms to the Soviet Embassy we waited and waited until 2 weeks before we had booked the van, trailer and ferry. Then the Embassy phoned me at Bowyers to say we must submit our papers again as the originals were lost. This was despite them having cashed the cheque! Our leader was Polish and knew about the delaying and annoying tactics of Communist States so had taken photocopies and resubmitted. This was long before the time of personal computers and mobile phones. Meanwhile all of Bowyers seemed to know about the phone call which had come through the switchboard. When I went down to the canteen for tea break Margs Supervisor was telling her we would never get the visas. We had a chance to tell the whole table that our God would do it.

So it got to departure day and still no visas! Marg and I went up to London with a word that the Lord had given to my Christian neighbour that the Lord would roll away the stone obstructing our way. Plans were made to get the visas and courier them into Poland. Much prayer went up as we set off a day late, overland with a van and traileronly to find there was a ferry strike at Calais. Our leader would not take no for an answer and instead of going away as he was told, he got back in the queue at another departure desk and God made a way. Dense fog hit us in France and also one of our drivers got travel sickness. We had to drive through the night and also phone the printing house in Germany from where we were to collect the bibles. It was Friday and they would not be open again until Monday so we offered to pay them overtime.

Here we were having not slept and speeding towards Stuttgart but we didn’t know where the printers were (no sat nav then). M decided to drive down the 6 lane highway to the airport where he jumped into a taxi while his wife bravely took the wheel of the van and trailer and followed the taxi. Would we arrive on time? Would we get our entry visas to Ukraine? 

Episode 2 to follow!

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