Driven by God, No Seatbelt Required

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A risky taxi ride in 2005 inspires a youth pastor to take risks and trust God for revival among the youth in Ukraine.

"Niet", said the taxi driver as I tugged the seatbelt over my shoulder and looked for the place to clip it in. Was he saying "no" to the fact that I was trying to put a seatbelt on in the first place? Was I insulting him in some bad cultural faux-pas that I was unaware of? It was 2005, I was 21 and sitting in the front seat of a taxi in a small city called Kirovohrad on my first visit to the beautiful country of Ukraine. I must have looked confused at the simple Russian word meaning "no" because the driver said it again, "Niet" but added "ne volnuites'" which means "don't worry".

I then noticed what he was saying to me. It wasn't that I was insulting him by indicating that I would like to trust my life to the car's safety system rather than his own style of driving, but that there was no clip for the seat belt to plug into. The clip was removed long ago, either because of damage, or because like in most older vehicles in Ukraine, passengers don't use them.

My only other experience in a Ukrainian vehicle had been on a Marschrutka (not to be confused with a Maturoshka which is a doll), the country's popular mode of transportation between cities for groups of about 20. It was roughly a four-hour journey and at one point our driver decided to pass the slower vehicle in front of us. During his attempted uphill overtake, another vehicle appeared on the road coming straight for us. But our driver was committed to this overtake. He didn't have enough time to complete his maneuver and he wasn't going to move back behind the slow car. Without hesitation he drove right off the road, full speed as the oncoming car passed us, then continued onto the road to finish his overtake of the original slower car.

These thoughts were readily on my mind as I clutched the seatbelt, even though the driver of this taxi had just told me not to worry. I had a choice. I could sit there holding onto the not-so-safe seatbelt knowing it was plugged into nothing or I could let the seatbelt go. There were three others in the car with me and they hadn't seemed to notice my small altercation with the driver, as they were all happily strapped into their seatbelts, completely content for the driver to go.

As our driver started the short drive to get to our conference I started to think to myself. I couldn't remember ever being in a car without wearing a seatbelt. It felt a little liberating but it also left me feeling a slightly unsecure, even dare I say, scared. For the inexperienced Ukrainian car traveller, the speed limits on highways are 130km per hour and in some of the smaller cities the roads are not very well taken care of, looking like large potholes with a bit of road inbetween rather than a street.

"We were unprepared for what was about to take place."

During the rest of that trip God continued to remind me of that taxi ride and asked me if I was prepared for a journey that might leave me feeling a little unsecure, but a journey like no other that would bring liberation, freedom and even revolution. Was I willing to let go of the small amount of safety I could find in a seat belt to trust the driver, the guide on this new journey? I said yes, but now I realise that I didn't understand the depth of these questions until my most recent journey into Ukraine.

God brought me back to Ukraine five years later in 2010 with a team of about 12 youth and leaders to our Partners in Harvest base in Boyarka, for our first overseas Camp Freshwind with about 40 youth from over 15 churches all over Ukraine. It had a rocky start but we had come trusting, praying and expecting that God was going to do something incredible. We were unprepared for what was about to take place.

"lives were being utterly transformed"

Most of the youth had come at their parent's request and didn't really want to be with us. By the end of the week Holy Spirit kept coming in such incredible ways that by the time we were getting ready to leave, we knew that something radical had taken place, that something unique was happening and that lives were being utterly transformed. After we left, passion continued to rise up and burn in the young people. The youth started to connect, to pray and communicate with each other with a genuine desire to see their generation and nation transformed with the radical love of God. It had started. Revival had broken out with the youth of Ukraine.

During that first camp I met Daniel Pinchuk. He was 14 and always had a hard time trusting people; he had grown up in Christian circles and camps where they were very strict. If you made a mistake they were quick to punish and had so many rules. But there was something unusual about our camp that he had spontaneously decided to attend. Everyone was genuinely kind, with an openness that was unusual for a group that had just met each other. There was a different kind of physical and even spiritual freedom here. Even the small groups were different and it seemed like the guys really wanted to connect, genuinely desiring to build relationship and get to know him.

On the second day he decided to take a risk, to respond to everyone in the same way they relating were with him. That week changed Daniel’s life; he discovered fresh relationships that started as if they had been friends for many years. He experienced Christianity from a different side. The closeness Daniel had with his new friends carried over into his now genuine relationship with God. When he returned home, his parents noticed a clear change in his life. It was as if Daniel was a different person from the one who went to camp. He was more open and willing to share, not just about his life, but his new found relationship with God.

Daniel says, “camp has changed me and I can say it was the best week of my life. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone and I was upset when I had to, however I’m pretty sure that because of the Canadian team, combined with the people here, I experienced God’s love in a new way.” 

"How can we foster this?"

Over the next few weeks testimonies much like Daniel’s started to come forward as youth began to share in their various churches. Many of the parents and pastors started to ask, "How can we foster this? What can we do to encourage and keep building what God is clearly doing?" The youth formed a plan; they would host a conference a few months later inviting all those who were hungry to participate. Not just 'another conference', but a genuine meet up with like minded individuals wanting to see a revolution take place in their country. 

Jane Batina and Dima & Katya Koziyevu ended up on an eight-hour train journey with over 40 youth from their home city in Kharkov on their way to this conference. They had attended camp earlier in the summer and had encounters with God in which He spoke truth into their lives. Jane was set free from years of rejection, Dima & Katya were transformed by the impartation of passion and love from God. When they returned to their city different, it was noticeable. They spoke freely of what had taken place and Jane’s youth pastor Jon Lynch determined that this was something he wanted to see take place in their whole youth group. So they gathered a team, boarded a train and journeyed to where this encounter had first taken place, Boyarka.

Fast forward to now, the summer of 2012. I'm 28, about to celebrate my 29th birthday in Ukraine on my seventh return trip to this incredible nation. As I am sitting in a session preparing to speak at our youth conference in Boyarka, surrounded by a large group of youth and adults passionately worshipping God, He reminds me of a journey that began over 7 years ago in a taxi in which he asked me a question and I said "Yes".

"Seatbelt or no, I wouldn't have it any other way."

A day earlier we had been praying and discovered in our training session for leaders that over 375 youth from various church youth groups were represented at our gathering before the main conference began. We have had the privilege of hosting a few camps, conferences, an Encounter and some training for leaders with teams from Toronto as small as three to as large as 12. All weekend long, in the midst of our conference, people (both youth and adults) have been coming forward to share with me about the impact that this move of God has had on their lives.

As I now reflect on the journey I've been on, I'm so happy that I was willing to put all my trust in Him; Seatbelt or no, I wouldn't have it any other way. Seeing the desire for revival grow in my life and the lives of our teams, and the way in which a genuine revolution of hearts and minds is taking place among the young people is something I would trade the safety of my seatbelt for any day.

As we near the end of our trip and I find myself getting into a taxi to go on a short 45-minute journey into the heart of Kyiv, I see our 14 year old team member struggling to find the clip for his seatbelt. Knowing what I know now I tell him, "Don't worry, you won't need it".