It has been a year since my dear friend Katia is with the Lord, after battling cancer for 3 years. It was one of those difficult loses which you hope it will not happen, and you will not go through.
I had heard a lot about Katia during the years that I served with the regional GCM team for Eastern Europe. Whenever we would talk about Ukraine or key women leaders in our ministry, Katia’s name was always mentioned as someone whom the Lord was using in great ways to reach women with the Gospel in the context of Global Church Movements.
No wonder her name was among the first candidates proposed for the design team of Going Urban, an important project we undertook in Eastern Europe and Russia in 2018-2019.
This was the first time for me to work closely with her, and her daughter Anya. I had met Katia and her husband Vlad in many occasions prior to that, as they gave leadership to GCM ministry in Ukraine. I was always impressed by their family, the special connection and love that they shared and modeled. In every conference or leadership event that I met them, I recall the couple who would always hold hands together. They loved each other and served as close buddies, a love and unity that was reflected in their children and how they walked and served together as a family. Watching them walking closely with the Lord and serving together as a couple and family gave me a special joy.
Katia was a passionate, bold, committed, fearless leader and yet such a tender hearted, generous, thoughtful woman. My kids would get to know her as the auntie who sent special and delicious chocolates from Ukraine. I was always touched by her thoughfulness. She loved people and she loved to bring gifts.
Going Urban was a new pioneering initiative which aimed to find ways to breakt through the cities. I remember at our meeting in Tirana, Albania, she would mostly listen the first day. She was not a leader in a hurry to expose all her knowledge or expertise. Instead she would listen, process through the ideas and discussions and reflect on what those meant in her context in Ukraine.
In one of the coffee breaks, she came and shared their ministry challenges to implement some of the ideas that we were brainstorming. We talked a bit about the possibilities in her situation and how those ideas could be contextualised and adapted. Katia was not a passive listener. No wonder that when she and Anya, her daughter got back home, they were the first who went on with the implementation of the project.
We would zoom monthly with our design team, and each of us would share updates from our field implementation. I got to know Katia more, and one thing that greatly impressed me was her modesty, wisdom, patience and humbleness in raising the new leaders.
She greatly supported Anya in forming her team to reach young people. Katia would share with the design team, about how she would serve them coffee, tea and deserts, while refraining herself from interfering their brainstorm time. It is very easy for older leaders to interrupt or even impose our knowledge and advices to the younger leaders. Instead, Katia knew the secret of silent empowerment.
This team not only launched on a strong start, but Anya with Katia and Vlad’s support would later organize a conference for all youth church leaders they knew in Ukraine. They wanted to share their vision of reaching young people in the context of church multiplication, not only on a local scale, but a national scale.
A biography and a couple highlights of Katia’s life
Katia was born on July 26th, 1969 in Drohobych, a small city in the Lviv region in Ukraine. Her siblings Leonid and Olena joined the medical field, while Katia loved to become a teacher, a passion she fully lived by teaching the Bible to kids and later on to hundreds of adults. She came to Christ when she was 15 years old, a decision that came with a price, as at that time Ukraine as part of the Soviet Union was under the Communism ideology and believers were persecuted. Katia was a devoted Komsomol (member of the Communist Youth Organization), but when she came to Christ, the leaders of her church encouraged her to leave that organization. Katya went to the local Komsomol headquarters to tell them that she was suspending her membership, because of her faith in Christ. Her husband Vlad would write on that event:
” You can imagine the flood of hatred that was directed at her. She was shamed and ridiculed at school, and rumors about her as an ungrateful “Baptist who hitherto had been in disguise” spread in her city. In each school she was smeared as a bad example for the students. God gave her strength and courage to withstand this pressure and humiliation, remaining faithful to her Savior and, moreover, serve Him with all her heart. Her pastors, Ivan Romanuk and Yaroslav Borsuk, were good spiritual leaders. Katya read the Bible and prayed a lot, joined a Bible study group, and was involved in evangelism. Her mom told her, “God has a special plan for your life. You will be a missionary!” In some way it was a prophesy. As I look back I can see that God was preparing Katya for a great and special ministry that would spread across Ukraine and include all age categories. He filled her heart with a desire to share the Gospel with others, especially with teenagers and children”
The sacrificing teacher and humble leader
Katia would teach the Bible to the kids, and many times she had to carry them in her arms all way from their home to the place of their meeting, as those kids could not walk or were tired to walk back home. After her studies at DTS she served in Kiev, Ukraine and Chicinau, Moldova. God used Katia to open new opportunities like teaching the Bible to the students of a public school. On her leave, she would prepare other leaders to continue the work. It was very important to her to prepare leaders to continue the work.
She would always say: “I do not aspire to have a special, privileged title. I want to serve and tell unbelievers about Christ! My heart longs to go to needy children to help them, to make their lives a little better and to bring them the Word of God! ”
The ministry to the deaf community and Oleg
Katia was a very compassionate woman, and she had a big heart to assist those who were struggling with dissabilities. Through the ministry of the portable Christian library, Katya met a young deaf boy, Oleg Stralkivsky. Oleg worked in Drohobych and lived in a dormitory for the people with hearing impairments . He searched for the Evangelical Church and came across a portable Christian library where Katia served. After meeting Katia, Oleg began attending the Evangelical Church in Drohobych. Katia organized a team of Christian young people and every week, with the preaching of the Gospel, visited a dormitory where people with hearing impairments lived. She learned the sign language and led Bible meetings with many deaf people. Later some boys and girls with hearing impairments came to the Lord. Oleg and his friend Peter wanted to study at the seminary in Truskavets town. Katia had a great desire to encourage new believers among the deaf, so she decided to help Oleg and Peter in their spiritual training and undertook to translate all the lectures into the sign language during their studies in the seminary. She felt led by the Holy Spirit to reach the deaf people. Even though there was hesitation from some people at her church, about the effectivness of this effort, she continued by faith. She trained another lady to continue later the ministry. In her funeral there were many people with hearing impairment, who sang hymns in their sign language. Katya’s brother, Leonid, who is not an evangelical believer, was shocked to see dozens of deaf people singing in the sign language during the funeral Service. He cried and said:
“How necessary it is to love, that people who cannot speak are singing and remember you at your funeral! This is a great honor for my sister! ”
Today Oleh Stralkivsky lives in Kyiv and serves as a pastor in the Church “Gesture of the Gospel” for the deaf people and leads the ministry to deaf people throughout Ukraine. He is a wonderful family man. Praise God!
A devoted wife and mother
Whoever knew and met Katia, would instantly notice her deep love for her family. She and Vlad, her husband, shared a very special bond and relationship. You could tell from the sparks in their eyes, and the holding of hands, the deep love and appreciation they had for each other. They served together and Katia would be a great friend and supporter to her husband Vlad. Vlad would recall:
“The Lord directed that for some time Katya was a youth leader in the church in order to unite the youth around the Word of God and to prepare a new leader – man. In fact, at one of these meetings of christian youth, I met Katya. My first thought was: “Oh! If only this wonderful girl would become my wife! But it is not possible… ”I understood that I had no chance to be the husband of this beautiful girl and an ardent follower of Christ! But the Lord did what was not possible for me! He has united our hearts to live and serve Him together! At our wedding, we chose the motto from Joshua 24: 15b, “But I and my house will serve the Lord!” I am happy that until the end of Katya’s days on this earth we lived according to this motto! I pray that the Lord will give me and my children the strength and wisdom to live according to these words up to the end of our days on earth!”
She loved her children dearly and raised them with the love for the Lord. It was her desire and vision to send them to study music. She wanted them to praise the Lord with their voices and talents, as she would tell them that God was worthy to have the best of their praise.
After the trip with Anya in Albania, she would share with me her joy to see Anya being greatly impacted by this trip in a way significant to her committment to the Lord. Today Anya has joined the staff of Cru Ukraine, serving the lost just like her mom and dad.
Anya and her two brothers David and Yarik serve leading the worship in their church and other events, as well they are very involved in the ministry
To live for the Lord
Katia Voznyak loved the Lord Jesus will all her heart, and for her to live was to live for Christ, and to die was to die for Christ. She did not stop serving till the end of her life, even though her energy decreased as her illness progressed. At times I was worried that she was not taking time to rest, but for her to serve and share the Gospel, reach one more soul for the Lord brought joy and rest beyond anyother thing she could have done. She did not see the service to the Lord as a burden she had to carry, but as a joy and privelege.
Katia is greatly missed and her legacy will continue to bear fruit through the many lives she touched while on this world. As she would often say:
“I will rest in Heaven! But now, as the Lord gives life, we have to preach the gospel! No one knows how much time we have to live and serve, so we should use the time we have!“