Over the next weeks and months, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will be sharing reflections from our CBF field personnel serving around the world. These are stories of impact and outreach, Gospel-sharing and relationship building, long-term presence and abundant love.
The following is a reflection from CBF field personnel Gennady Podgaisky, who serves in Kyiv, Ukraine, alongside his wife, Mina. You can learn more about their ministries and support their work at www.cbf.net/podgaisky.
Alexander and Natasha (not their real names) came to me for premarital counseling.
I had met Natasha before, during an Outback couples’ camp where she was a volunteer serving in the kitchen. She was dating Alexander and their relationship was not going very smoothly—the reason she asked if I could provide premarital counseling for them. They felt they needed some insight as how to proceed further in their dating relationship. So, Mina and I met with this couple five times over a period of two months.
Usually Mina and I conduct marital or premarital counseling for couples together. During the meetings with this couple, we discussed several family/marriage/parenting topics. It is our goal and purpose to help people have a better understanding of God’s purpose for their lives, a better understanding of themselves and each other and to be able to see the dynamics of their relationship from a third-party’s point of view. We try to help them by being a mirror for their relationships.
Both Alexander and Natasha had come from broken families and both had done wrongs in the past. By the fifth meeting, they realized that they had many childhood and youth traumas and unresolved personal issues which they need to work on separately. They decided to stop dating and start individual counseling.
I began meeting with Alexander while Mina met with Natasha. I met with Alexander 10 additional times and eventually became not just a counselor, but also a spiritual mentor and a life coach for him. Then, Mina and I went on our extended PDA (furlough) in the States last year, ending our meetings.
A few weeks ago, Alexander called me and asked to meet one more time to express his gratitude for our ministry to him. He had a full year to reflect on our meetings and analyze how they had impacted his life. Alexander is a very analytical person, who likes to thoroughly think about everything in his life. He wanted to share his reflections with me.
Our meeting lasted two-and-one-half hours as we talked about many important things. We talked about his relationship with the Lord, his involvement in ministry to others, his membership in the church, his personal growth and dating experiences, his search for a new job and the injustices at his past workplaces, and his plans for the future.
At the end of our session, Alexander provided some feedback which included these points:
- He decided to come for counseling because he observed how Mina and I related to each other during Outback events (respect, understanding and support of each other).
- I did not tell him how to do things correctly, but attentively listened and gently guided him to take responsibility for his own actions.
- He had received acceptance, respect and an absence of judgement from me as a counselor.
- During our meetings, I did not put much accent on Christianity and/or theology. He liked it because he has had a lot of negative experiences in the churches he attended. In some churches, he was abused by some so-called Christians. Had I put too much focus on Christianity or theology, it would have turned him away from listening and accepting what I would tell him.
- I was addressing actual issues and resolving problems rather than moralizing and preaching sermons to him.
- I gave him a certain sense of freedom of choice and space to disagree with me and, because of that freedom, he wanted to make things right—not under coercion, but because of his own desire and willingness.
- While he wanted me to give him advice and explain to him how to do/act in the right way, at the same time, I had left the final decision and application to him.
- After his “confessions about his sins and shortcomings,” I was not scared or dismayed. I was able to look directly in his eyes and he did not see in my eyes any reproof or judgement.
- I was continuously telling him that “he had a choice or that the choice was his.” Now, he really feels that he has a choice in many decisions, and he wants to use that choice in a right way.
- I believed in the best of him and now he wants to act in his life according to his best.
That was the first time in my counseling career that I received such detailed feedback. Those words were an incredible encouragement for me. I know that it is not often that many missionaries or ministers get this type of feedback and encouragement. His words gave me a sense of assurance that I am in the right place—in a place where I can make a difference in peoples’ lives.