“…we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.” 3 John 8
A young man’s summer trip to visit a missionary in Ukraine led to a ministry opportunity the following year. California native Jake Knotts committed to a church-plant in Ukraine eleven years ago—at the age of 19.
Knotts is now lead pastor of Christian Bible Church in Chernigov, a city of 300,000 people in north central Ukraine. An hour from the capital city of Kiev, it’s also just 50 miles from the infamous city of Chernoble.
Early into his church-planting work Knotts discovered John Piper’s book, The Pleasures of God, which led to reading ten more Piper books within a year. “This was a total theological shift in the beginning of my ministry. It developed my love for God,” Knotts says. Those resources became fuel for the work of his team of four missionaries, providing the theological framework they needed. “We came to understand why we were church-planting. Everything begins and ends with God. We realized who really saves people.”
The new spiritual perspective caused Knotts to seek a change from his original church and its support. He later affiliated with Acts 29, a network that centers on “planting church-planting churches.”
Inspired by the excellence of John Piper’s books, Knotts began a publishing ministry in Ukraine in order to gain resources for new believers. With his own savings and rights obtained from Crossway books, he published Russian translations of two Piper books, The Passion of Jesus Christ (now titled 50 Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die), and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.
In 2006 Knotts flew to Minneapolis with his wife, Anya, (one of his original church-plant team members) to attend the annual Desiring God Conference for Pastors. He met with Desiring God team members Jon Bloom and Bill Walsh, who encouraged him to push harder with publishing.
“Jake has great vision for translation work,” says Walsh. We wanted to pitch in on his next project. Russian is one of our largest translation languages—a top focus of Desiring God International Outreach (DGIO). It’s a strategic language with amazing an amazing reach.”
One of six official languages of the United Nations, Russian is widely spoken in countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as many areas of Eurasia. It is also spoken in large emigrant communities around the world—in Israel, Germany, the United States and others.
DGIO has helped Knotts’ grass-roots publishing ministry take shape. They hired Olya Velichko, a young woman from the Chernigov church, to work as an intern at Desiring God for several months. Olya learned about publishing and distribution. She became familiar with DGIO resources and their ministry culture to take back to the new publishing work in Ukraine.
Knotts’ ministry-motivated publishing business, In Lumine Media, is half-funded through sales of their previously printed books. Proceeds from the books (sold through booksellers in Ukraine and directly through inlumine.org) pay for translation costs and employee salaries. Remaining funds must be raised to pay printing costs for future books.
DGIO provided a grant for In Lumine’s next two translation projects. The support enabled the completion of additional Piper books in Russian: God is the Gospel, offering meditations on the good news—the endless satisfaction of knowing God in Christ—and Future Grace, which tells of God’s sustaining grace for the on-going sanctification of believers.
A Strategic Place
Ukraine has been called the Antioch of the Slavic world. Knotts agrees, saying “Ukraine is more open and receptive to the gospel, without roadblocks to operate as evangelicals. Surrounding countries have more national identity and ties to Russian Orthodox religion, making it hard to find buildings and register churches.”
The fallout of communism still remains in Ukraine, however. “Atheism and resurgent traditional Christianity blend, but younger people are more western in their thinking, more open and willing to converse,” says Knotts. “Our church began as a student ministry of mostly first-generation Christians. They’ve grown up in post-Soviet Union years, with non-church or holiday-church backgrounds.”
Knotts hopes to see a changing spiritual climate in Ukraine in the years ahead. He believes that training nationals for faithful leadership and publishing good theological resources are two primary tools to effect that change. “Our relationship with Desiring God has been extremely beneficial and fruitful,” he says. “We’ve even seen much interest in our books from other churches, including traditional and somewhat legalistic ones. They want joyful—instead of cultural—Christianity.”