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Tabor guest professor tells about life in Ukraine

Staff writer

For four generations, Michael Cherenkov and his Ukrainian forebears have been pushing back against the godlessness of the former Soviet Union.

The presenter at Friday’s Lifelong Learning session at Tabor College, Cherenkov has a two-year teaching assignment at Tabor and travels throughout the country to promote support for oppressed Christians in Asia.

“It’s a constant struggle for freedom to believe and to share our beliefs,” Cherenkov said of his life in Ukraine. “A familiar jingle says, ‘row your boat gently down the stream, life is but a dream,’ but sometimes you have to go against the stream.”

He said his family was like black sheep in a Soviet society.

“Everyone walked in the same direction and sang the same songs about the bright future of the republic,” Cherenkov said. “The authorities wanted us to recant our beliefs and live like everyone else, but we tried to retain some freedom to disagree with things.”

His parents were persecuted for sharing their faith. At age 18, his father spent 4½ years in prison, and his mother was targeted after her middle-of-the-night secret baptism was reported to authorities. She was harassed, fined, and lost her university diploma and degree.

They obtained Bibles that were smuggled into the country. Sometimes, they and other Christians made jokes among themselves to help them survive the oppression.

“I don’t know such a country where men could breathe so freely,” they would joke.

“A struggle for the minds of the children was everywhere,” Cherenkov said. “They were given red scarves to wear to school to reflect solidarity with the state. The slogan was, ‘Be ready to fight for the cause of the working people.’”

His family rejected the symbol and the children sometimes were beaten by classmates or were isolated and ignored.

Despite the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, resistance against Christianity remains strong in the Eurasian area. Cherenkov’s parents taught him and his siblings that they had an “exceptional” mission. He embraced it and was ready to face the consequences.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, physical and spiritual hunger prevailed. His parents often shared bread when their family could have used it.

“Sharing a slice of bread is better than losing your soul,” his father would say.

They were part of a church that met secretly. They saw everything outside of the church as evil. Members were instructed not to rebel.

But the Cherenkovs reached out to a wider community and became part of peaceful protests against state-imposed restrictions. They got a university education, read good books, and shared their faith with fellow academics.

Christians have begun to celebrate Christmas.

“Christmas is the most beautiful holiday for us,” Cherenkov said.

He is executive director of Mission Eurasia Field Ministries, which reaches out to Christians in 14 countries in eastern Europe and Asia and trains them on how to share the Gospel.

He recently was directed to foster international connections to gain support for the mission. He met Jon Wiebe of Hillsboro five years ago. They became good friends, and that led to the move to Hillsboro.

Cherenkov learned a surprise secondary connection to the area, the fact that ancestors of many of the residents emigrated from Ukraine to America beginning in the 1870s.

Cherenkov and his wife, Nina, have four children ages 3½ to 13. Karoline, 13, and Vasilisa, 12, played several classical piano pieces for the audience. They are active in Hillsboro schools and learning English.

“I encourage you to pray more and more for Eurasia, that we will lift up a prophetic voice,” Cherenkov told the audience. “We must help people go against the stream.”

Last modified Feb. 14, 2019

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