One of the goals of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is to serve God by partnering with people around the world to extend God’s Kingdom cross-culturally. Fred Everson, Cross Cultural Coordinator for the Wisconsin/UP-Michigan Division, his wife, Jeanie, and their daughter, Jarena, went on a mission trip this past summer to Belarus in Eastern Europe. The Everson’s led a team of 15 American students in sharing the Gospel through several American celebrations and they learned Belarussian traditions.
In Belarus, the team needed to overcome the language barrier. The American students each helped a Belarussian roommate to learn American English. The Americans studied Russian. “The teacher taught Russian like we were serious students going on to college. The Belarussians already knew British English, and were mainly interested in learning up-to-date American slang and idioms,” comments Jeanie Everson.
The Everson’s team shared the traditions of several American cultural celebrations with the Belarussians: Thanksgiving, a Christian wedding, and Christmas. Belarussian women helped with the preparation of a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pie was made during a “football” game—the final game of World Cup Soccer. During the festivities, people took turns thanking God for all the gifts and blessings He had given them. The Belarussians were thankful for the friendship of the Americans and the sharing of the Gospel of Christ through cultural experiences. “The Belarussian’s don’t have a Thanksgiving, so they were very interested in the celebration. They joined right in with sharing what they’re thankful for. We could get to know them,” says Jeanie.
The Americans staged a traditional wedding ceremony to illustrate some of our customs. Alex, an American student, got down on one knee to propose to Sarah, another American student. He presented Sarah with three roses, which symbolized their memories, her beauty, and their future. Fred Everson officiated the ceremony.
Through participating in a pretend Christian marriage ceremony, the Americans tried to show God’s love for His people through the love the couple has for each other. The purpose of the celebration was to show how people come before God to ask His blessing on their intentions and His guidance in their future together. The promises made during the ceremony illustrated God’s work in the lives of people he brings together.
Decorating cookies, trimming a tree, singing carols and reading The Christmas Story from Scripture were part of the Christmas festivities. The Belarussians also enjoyed guessing who had drawn their name for the gift exchange. Jarena received a necklace of beads, which spells her name in Russian. The most important gift was that everyone received love and friendship.
The Belarussians then shared through conversations how they celebrate Kaliady along with the New Year. “The holiday season is emphasized more than the day itself in Belarus,” observes Jeanie. The Kaliady celebration is much like American Halloween and the New Year is celebrated much like American Christmas.
The Belarussians’ also enjoyed the worship and Bible study they experienced. From the beginning of the worship services, the Belarussians were asking for more. “The witnessing community between the team members as well as interaction with the Belarussians was a gift from God. The common thread of Jesus Christ came through, and the Belarussians experienced the Holy Spirit in a tangible way,” shares Jeanie. The small group Bible studies are what it’s all about. Loving God and loving others as Jesus does is the message the Eversons’ and the team shared with their new friends in Belarus.