Finding Jesus in Ukraine: My Journey from Atheist to Missionary

By Olya Powell, Jun 15, 2015

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.

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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.

Please pray for the Crates for Ukraine 3.0 effort, and for the med kits, tourniquets, vitamins, winter wear, and other critical supplies to meet the physical needs of Ukrainians in the areas that need it most.

Pray against rape, murder, and capture of men, women, and children in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Pray for protection for the vulnerable.

Give thanks for and pray for the Krakow crisis team, the distribution of aid, and the shelter ministry as the team cares for displaced Ukrainians.

Pray for courage for Christ’s followers in and around Ukraine.

Pray for families who have evacuated, leaving behind the only place they have ever known. Pray for transition and provision. 

Pray for pastors who have stayed behind in Ukraine as they minister to their congregations and the surrounding communities in a time of war.

Pray for the health, rest, and ability to continue for those who are working with and making arrangements for refugees. It can feel like the future of each one of them is in your hands.

Pray that our brothers and sisters who have lost everything will cling to the community of believers and ultimate hope in Christ, and for the massive movement of people and the refugee work our teams are involved in focusing on Lviv and Krakow.

Pray for Ukraine to trust what is not changeable and to hope in what cannot be lost. May the Church in Ukraine be strengthened through this war.


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