For HOPE staff in Ukraine, reevaluating their spiritual integration (SI) efforts meant reflecting back to the time of Jesus. How could they more effectively apply a 1st century model of evangelism to the 21st century? Their conclusion was simple: discipleship.
Staff started by asking if what they were doing was working and realized that their efforts were spread too thin. Many clients had a basic understanding of Christianity, but far fewer had committed their lives to Christ or joined the local church. Staff members tried to evangelize every client—a daunting task when most branches have just two or three staff members. Their efforts ensured a wide breadth of outreach but left little time to invest deeply in clients’ lives. HOPE Ukraine staff wanted more for their clients.
At the same time, several other countries using an individual lending model were facing similar challenges. In February, leaders from HOPE-led programs in Ukraine and Russia were joined by HOPE partners from Moldova and Romania for a Spiritual Integration Summit. These leaders thoughtfully and prayerfully decided to refocus their programs—moving from general evangelism to personal discipleship after Jesus’ model. Each staff member will invest in a few deep relationships with clients, responding to their unique needs with the hope of the Gospel and raising up disciples who may someday become disciple-makers.
Staff members from every country responded with enthusiasm to the shift in SI focus, and they began planning how to use it in their daily jobs. HOPE Ukraine held discipleship training, in partnership with Campus Crusade, to teach staff relationship-building strategies. Previously, the loan officers had held the central role in evangelism, but now every staff member would be equipped and involved in SI, sharing the privilege and responsibility of discipleship.
For the specifics of their plan, HOPE Ukraine decided to draw on another program’s recently implemented model: Staff members are now asked to dedicate five hours a week to SI. They will document their relationship-building activities, such as financial training or Bible study, with individual clients—but they are not expected to evangelize every client they meet. Already, there are positive reports. Staff members feel more focused and less harried in their efforts, freeing them to engage with clients in greater depth.
Maria’s story beautifully illustrates the effects of this new SI model. Maria has been a HOPE Ukraine client since 2006; she is faithful both in her repayments and in living a moral life. Her children are good people, her grandchildren are being raised in Orthodox Christian morals, and her whole family follows all the religious rituals and traditions. But Maria had never had a personal relationship with God. When staff members discussed eternity and salvation with her, Maria would answer with a standard phrase: “I will have what I’ll deserve.”
Staff members felt called to continue sharing the Good News of Christ’s redeeming love with Maria, and they invited her to attend a church service with them. Maria at last understood her need for salvation, and through tears of repentance, she asked Jesus to come into her life and forgive her sins. The next day, staff invited Maria to the office and presented her with a signed Bible to commemorate the day her life was transformed. In the months since Maria committed her life to Christ, staff have walked alongside her, continuing to disciple and pray for their new sister in Christ.