Teaching Deaf Ministry

Signing God’s New Life In Ukraine

By: Jeanette Windle with Victor and Nadia Anokhin

Ukraine was still firmly behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union when Victor and Nadia Anokhin first met in the capital city of Kiev where both grew up. Nadia’s parents took their children each Sunday to Central Baptist Church. While attending church was legal for adults, teaching Christianity to children was illegal. Even so, Nadia’s mother led weekly Sunday school classes and played the piano for services.

In the communist-run public school, the word Baptist was used as an epithet. Government officials visited churches, listing every child in attendance. At school, teachers called Nadia and other Christian students traitors. They were threatened that they’d be removed from their homes and placed in an orphanage. Even so, by her early teens Nadia had committed her life to Christ.

In contrast, Victor reached young adulthood a rebel against religion. He’d attended a very legalistic church as a child. Now he pursued the pleasures of secular Soviet youth, smoking, drinking, and growing his hair long hippy-style. Then someone invited him to Central Baptist Church. To his shock, the congregation welcomed him just as he was. Their loving witness brought him back to the gospel, and in 1977, Victor surrendered his heart to Christ.

But becoming a Christian meant an end to college and career plans. Students were required to declare political and religious affiliations. Those from communist party or atheist homes could apply to college. Baptist or other church affiliation was an automatic disqualifier. Victor found work in construction. A hard worker and highly intelligent, he was promoted to manager despite church attendance.

A short time later, Victor was heading into church when he spotted a distraught young woman he recognized her as Nadia, daughter of a church family whom he’d met at a youth activity. Concerned, he asked why she was crying. Her mother had just died, Nadia explained, and she was hurrying to inform church leadership.

Victor and Nadia Anohim – Young Married

Victor and Nadia Teaching Together

Victor did all he could to help the family in their loss. As they spent more time together, Victor and Nadia fell in love. In 1978, they married. Their first son Tima was born in 1979, a brother Sergey in 1980, and some years later their youngest son Yuri. Both continued serving in Christian ministry. By 1985, Victor was a church deacon.

This was a time of great upheaval throughout the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. By 1991, much of eastern Europe had broken away from the Soviet Union. In August 1991, Ukraine declared its own independence. That same year, Ukraine passed a law on Freedom of Conscience and Religion, guaranteeing the right of every Ukrainian to practice the religion of their choice.

Victor and Nadia joined an outreach into public schools. Former communist leadership didn’t want to hear the word Christian, but as social upheaval brought a rise in crime and delinquency, they were happy to have Christian values and ethics taught. In this way, the Anokhins were able to teach Bible and share the gospel message.

To that point, there were no deaf ministries in Ukraine nor much help at all for the handicapped. The public face of the Soviet Union was healthy, prosperous citizens. Deaf and other handicapped individuals were consigned to special schools or institutions. Only with the fall of the Soviet Union did average Ukrainians become aware how many deaf and handicapped people their country contained.

As she taught Bible in public schools, Nadia shared the gospel with faculty, resulting in four Russian-language teachers becoming Christians. She also began teaching at a boarding school for deaf students. Teachers knew little sign language, so students were expected to learn through lip reading. In consequence, deaf children often learned little and couldn’t complete homework. Requesting the most difficult class in the school, Nadia worked with them and led many to Christ.

Nadia Anohim Teaching FOF Dead Kids

Original Ray of Hope team

These evangelistic outreaches led to increasing numbers of deaf people giving their hearts to Christ and attending the church. Hearing children and siblings who had learned sign language helped with translation. The first baptisms of deaf converts were held—ten, fifteen, then twenty. The need for a more in-depth deaf ministry was evident, but no one was interested in taking on this challenge.

That was when Victor stepped forward. He’d picked up some sign language from translators and was willing to try. With another Ukrainian missionary, they formed a ministry to deaf and other handicapped called Ray of Hope. Among the first volunteers was one of the school teachers Nadia had led to Christ, Natalia Blazhkun. Today her daughter Dasia is a BCM ministry leader serving with BCM Germany’s outreach to Ukrainian war refugees.

One difficulty was that Ukrainian/Russian sign language, developed under communism, had no words for many biblical/theological terms, including signs for Christ and God. Victor was studying at the Baptist seminary by now and had become fluent in sign language. He and his Ray of Hope team created many new signs to cover Bible words and names. Victor and Nadia also began writing curriculum to help teachers and other Christian volunteers work with the deaf, the first material of its kind available in Ukrainian and Russian languages.

Ray of Hope ministry quickly grew beyond Kiev, including evangelistic trips around Ukraine, and a camp ministry for the deaf. Each main city had a center where deaf gathered for socializing and even dancing, turning speakers up so high they could feel the vibrations of music they couldn’t hear. Visiting these center, Ray of Hope personnel shared the gospel message in sign language. But they only had two fulltime missionaries and a handful of volunteers, not enough for the opportunities.

Victor and Nadia Anohim Family Today

One day Victor and Nadia met a new American missionary, Sam Hanchett, from an organization called Bible Centered Ministries. Sam and his team were visiting hospitals, schools, and orphanages to determine the greatest need. BCM already had an established handicapped ministry known as Handivangelism. The Anokhins and Sam Hanchett immediately saw the potential of working together. Sam sponsored Victor and Nadia as BCM missionaries. Together, they became the beginning of BCM Ukraine, which today numbers twenty-two missionaries and numerous volunteers.

Since childhood, the Anokhins’ three sons participated in their ministry, helping prepare materials for deaf ministry and Bible clubs, doing street evangelism, working in camps. Tima with his wife Natasha currently serves as BCM field director (see “Keeping the Faith in War-Torn Ukraine,” BCM World, November 2022), Sergey pastors a church, while Yuri works as a rehabilitation specialist.

The Covid pandemic and Russian invasion put a pause on handicapped ministries, but Victor and Nadia continue serving wherever possible. Twelve Christian sign language interpreters currently work with them, two of these military. A sharp spike in deafness has resulted from untreated Covid as well as explosions and gunfire on the battle front, which have caused many perforated eardrums. Along with existing chaplaincy ministry, BCM Ukraine is increasing outreach to soldiers left deaf by the war. Victor and Nadia ask for prayer that many of these soldiers will come to Christ as the gospel is shared with them.

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