There is very little in common between Belarus and South Africa, but during my time at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in Capetown, South Africa in 2010, an important connection was made. There I met with Rev. Doug Birdsall, executive chairman of the Congress and well-known missions statesman. Seeing my nametag with “Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries” prominently displayed, Doug rushed to share with me the story of his conversion. To my surprise, Doug told me how, in his late teens, he gave his life to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit and the dynamic preaching of Peter Deyneka, Sr., an immigrant from Belarus and the father of Russian Ministries’ founder, Peter Deyneka, Jr. As Doug explained, “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know that God used that Russian man in a mighty way, calling me to serve Him.” It is remarkable to realize that the spiritual legacy of Peter Deyneka, Sr. now continues through the work of Doug Birdsall, as he directs the work of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, one of the most significant evangelistic movements in the world.
Recently, however, another special event took place to celebrate the beginning of the Deyneka legacy in Dragichin, Belarus—the homeland of Peter Deyneka, Sr. It was my joy and privilege to join a special group of colleagues and friends on a trip back to where it all began. These included Anita Deyneka, former president of Russian Ministries and the wife of the late Peter, Jr., who is now dedicated to working with orphans; Ruth Deyneka Shalanko, eldest daughter of Peter Deyneka, Sr. and sister of Peter, Jr., who spent her entire life in the mission field; Wally Kulakoff, Russian Ministries’ Vice President, who delivered the keynote speech and whose life was hugely impacted by Peter Deyneka, Jr.; and Konstantin Andreyevskiy, Russian Ministries’ Coordinator for Slavic Evangelical Church Relations in North America, whose efforts helped raise the necessary funds for the event.
On May 13, 2012, the newly built Deyneka Memorial Church was dedicated in Dragichin, Belarus to commemorate the ministries of Peter Deyneka, Sr. and Peter Deyneka, Jr. It was such a joy to realize that neither the economic crisis nor religious repression in Belarus could stop the construction of this church or local Christians from overfilling the church on the day of dedication. It was very moving when Ruth Deyneka Shalanko spoke to the congregation and shared how her dad, as a young man of 15, left Belarus for America in order to earn money for his poor family who was on the brink of starvation. While living in Chicago, Peter Deyneka, Sr. visited Moody Church and heard the gospel there for the first time. Filled with joy over his newfound faith, Peter, Sr. returned to his homeland to share the spiritual “bread of life” with his family, only to find that 7 out of 9 siblings had already died from starvation and that his father had also died months before. As Ruth shared, Peter, Sr. was sent to America to find physical bread, but he found eternal bread instead. He then felt an obligation, a call from God, to bring this “eternal bread” to his homeland.
It was wonderful to have other ministry colleagues from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine join us in the place where it all began. Together we were able to dedicate the Deyneka Memorial Church and thank God for His wonderful servants, Peter, Sr. and Peter, Jr., who set a great example for all of us, as they invested their entire lives into the expansion of God’s Kingdom in this region where the gospel is needed now more than ever before. As a result of the ministry of the Deynekas, thousands, if not millions, of Bibles and New Testaments were printed and distributed and tens of millions of people heard the gospel over the radio programs started by Peter, Sr. and Peter, Jr. It was great to have Nick Leonovich with us, representing the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), who spoke at the end of the dedication service, reminding the congregation of the enormous contribution that radio made in spreading the gospel. Nick had worked with the Deynekas for many years, preaching the gospel to people behind the Iron Curtain through the ministry of radio.
After the dedication service, a special prayer was offered near a replica of the original Deyneka log home that stands on the grounds of the newly built Deyneka Memorial Church. This log home will serve as both a museum and a library for the community, inspiring generations to come.
When Ruth Deyneka Shalanko first entered the log home, she was welcomed by Nikolai, the young pastor of the Deyneka Memorial Church, and his wife, Vera, who presented her with the traditional gift of a loaf of bread and a hand-embroidered Belarus towel. Her face beamed as she stepped over the threshold and commented, “I think this is just the beginning!” I couldn’t agree more with Ruth’s words. As we remember the past and celebrate the lives and examples of Peter, Sr. and Peter, Jr., we must also train the Next Generation of Christian leaders for the future—those who will continue the legacy of the Deynekas and share the gospel with contemporary society, despite any challenges or difficulties they may face.
I am grateful to all of you—Russian Ministries’ partners and friends—who are helping us to train and equip the Next Generation of Christian leaders so they can continue effectively preaching the gospel, transforming their communities and nations for Christ.
Visit our Facebook page for a full gallery of photos from this event.