Marina Noyes and her husband, Jim, are a unique couple. Marina, 46, hails from the eastern European nation of Ukraine. Jim, 73, grew up in rural Texas and Oklahoma. Jim has known Christ all his life, but Marina came to know him only 16 years ago.
From cultures half a globe apart, they have found their purpose and happiness in each other and in serving the Lord in Ukraine.
Jim retired in 1990 as principal of the school in Texline, Texas, after 34 years in public education.In 1999 his first wife of 34 years, Norma, died in a car wreck. A year later he met Marina in Tulsa, Okla., while she visited a friend and former missionary for whom she had done translation. Jim and Marina married in 2001.
Marina grew up in the small coal mining town of Torez in southeast Ukraine. She became an English teacher in the language institute in Gorlovka. While pregnant with her son, Andrei, she was divorced. In 1993 she moved to Kiev to work as a translator for American missionaries, which ultimately led to her conversion.
Jim adopted Andrei, who is in his fourth year of medical school in Kiev. Jim’s married son, Al, lives in Oklahoma City.
What are some of the formative experiences of your life?
I was blessed with a very loving family, even though they were atheists. I always knew that my father would be there for me. He was a man of his word, and that taught me to trust him.
My mother was also my school teacher. I often wondered about religious images that I saw in art museums of the man called Jesus Christ on a cross. Why was he there? What was so special about him?
Then, at age 28, I happened to read the book “Quo Vadis?” by the 19th century Polish writer Henrich Senkevich. This was my first introduction to the Christianity of the first century.
How did you come to know Jesus?
I began to realize there was a power greater than myself. That power gave me a healthy baby, even though I was beaten by my husband and went through divorce during pregnancy. I spoke to that power, shared, confessed and asked questions. But I did not know how to get in contact with that power.
In April 1992 a group of American missionaries came to the language institute where I taught English. After the third day of classes, I understood that Jesus — the man from the paintings I had seen — had been with me all these years. He loved me before I knew about him. The thought was so overwhelming that it made me cry for three days.
I asked missionary Ron Missildine to baptize me, which he did in my bathtub. After the baptism, he told me, “There are 14 people like you in this town now, and you need to meet with them.” This was my introduction to the Lord’s church.
Tell us about your work with U.S. missionaries.
Since I had language training, I was often invited to translate for campaigns. In the fall of 1992 I was invited to participate in a Bible translation project, and in 1993 I moved to Kiev to work full time as a translator. I was able to help many missionaries that came to preach in Ukraine. Those were important learning experiences for me and helped me to grow.
Describe the congregation that you and Jim helped launch.
Since the congregation where I had been had several national preachers, they no longer needed me as a translator. So, soon after Jim and I married, we began to search for new opportunities for service. We focused on the “Prayer of Jabez” to bless us and to expand our ministry. Of three possible opportunities, a door opened in the Vinogradar area of northwest Kiev to work with the social department of the district to give us contacts and opportunities.
So we, along with two other families, began the Vinogradar congregation, which celebrated its fifth anniversary recently. The congregation is warm and loving and has a good youth group that likes to do skits and organize events.
We try to have a special event or program each month. The highlight of the year is Vacation Bible School, in which most of the 23 members participate.
As a woman, what role do you play in congregational life there?
I think the Lord has given women a special gift to create a warm and hospitable atmosphere — in the family and at church — and to give special attention to members who need it. This seems to be one of my roles in the church.
I teach ladies’ classes, translate for my husband and other American teachers, coordinate children’s programs, etc. I just serve and pray it pleases my Lord.
What spiritual message do Ukrainians respond to?
The main question people wonder about is the meaning and purpose of life.
Deprived of real spiritual food, people try to satisfy their spiritual hunge through literature, poetry, drama and the arts. Russian literature is famous for its search for the meaning of life. Therefore, missionaries who are familiar with Russian cultural heritage are better able to apply the gospel message.
Though most Ukrainians believe in the existence of God, the concept of having a relationship with God is foreign to them.
Having received little teaching on family relationships and parenting, Ukrainians also are interested in how to build relationships in the family and at work.
Do younger or older people better respond to the gospel in Ukraine?
The longer that people lived under the atheistic regime, the harder it is for them to respond to the gospel. Some view any religious group outside of the traditional Orthodox Church as a sect.
Some would say, “Christianity is fine, but it is too late for me to change, but I would like for my children to know about God.” I think young people and children are the future of the Lord’s church in the Ukraine.
If you could change something about mission work in Ukraine today, what would it be?
Avoid recruiting Ukrainian Christians to go to the U.S. Ukrainian churches have lost good men and women who had good potential of serving but left to study or work in the U.S. They didn’t come back.
I would like to see more cooperation in missionary efforts by American churches. Sometimes missionaries
who work in the same town do not work together or even communicate. As a result, Ukrainian church leaders are not trained to cooperate.
It also is a shame that the gospel message is overshadowed by American issues brought to the mission field.
As a result, believers begin to focus on minor things — which then become matters of fellowship. This seems to be a bad side of mission work.
In your opinion, have U.S. mission efforts in Ukraine been good or bad?
American churches have a stronger desire to share God’s word with the whole world than most Christians of other nations. Mistakes are sometimes made, but they try, and the positive effects outweigh the negative.
If it hadn’t been for the missionary efforts of Americans, I might still be wondering about the Jesus in the paintings.