In an elevator with: Olena Welch
Training staff and students in Eurasia.
Over a period of 14 years, Olena served in different roles with CCX Ukraine — as Administrator, Director of Training, and Co-General Secretary — before becoming Training Secretary for IFES Eurasia. In this role, Olena helps IFES national movements to equip students and train staff. She lives in Kyiv with her husband Brian and their three daughters.
What does life in Kyiv look like for you?
I have lived in Kyiv, Ukraine, for the last 18 years and this is where my home is now.
I grew up in western Ukraine and miss the culture, traditions, and the way friendships are made and cultivated there. However, I have come to enjoy the cultural diversity that Kyiv provides, and living in the heart of Ukraine makes it a rich and meaningful experience.
I love to host and entertain when I am not working, so my house is often full of people.
What was your own experience of IFES as a student?
I did not grow up in a Christian home and my parents are still not believers. However, they have been wonderful role models to me my whole life. I studied English and German at the Volyn State University in my home city of Lutsk, western Ukraine.
I made a decision to follow Christ in my fourth year of university, as a result of God’s work in my life and the persistent witness of my best friend.
As a student leader I helped launch the first CCX group on my university campus with the help of friends from another group in a neighbouring city. Staff members from that city have become Christian mentors and lifelong friends!
God used my university years and my involvement with CCX (the IFES movement in Ukraine) to confirm my calling for full-time student ministry, and I’ve been on staff — with CCX and IFES — for 18 years now.
How did your work as a teacher shape you?
I began working as an English teacher in a secondary school in my fourth year of university and then worked as a school teacher for four years. It was hard work, but also transformational for my character development and enriching for my teaching skills!
And how has being involved in IFES shaped your life?
IFES has definitely been shaping me as a person and a follower of Christ. From the time of my conversion I am grateful for the people I have met or worked with in IFES who have influenced me, and for the people I have been privileged to influence.
I have also been blessed with opportunities for my spiritual formation as a disciple of Christ, my development as a leader, and my vocational formation as a staff member.
What are some of the challenges facing student ministry in Eurasia?
Many national movements in Eurasia work underground. Persecution is severe in some countries, while others enjoy more religious freedom. Some student groups can meet on university campuses and in university dorms, and some have to meet off campus. Students in these different circumstances have to be creative in their Christian witness.
I think student leadership and student initiative are still emerging in Eurasia. The Soviet Union left a poor legacy of leadership, but this provides an excellent opportunity for IFES to fill that vacuum by discipling students and creating mature followers of Christ who will impact the university, the church and society.
What are some of the recent success stories from ministry in Eurasia?
International student ministry has been growing in Eurasia recently. This creates a divine opportunity for IFES students and staff to minister to those young people who have never been exposed to the gospel.
A few years ago, for example, three students from a sensitive location in Central Asia came to study in another country in Eurasia. They became friends with IFES students who invited them to join their student group.
As a result of this friendship these students made a decision to follow Christ last year. After graduation they will return home to a situation where it is uncertain how they can live out their faith.
Please join me in praying for these students, for their continued growth in their faith, and for their safety.
What is the best thing about working for IFES?
The best thing about working for IFES is seeing the lives of students transformed by the gospel, and being part of their journey as they grow into mature followers of Christ.
How can we pray for you?
My prayer for students as they represent Christ at university is to be bold in their witness and live out the gospel with courage and grace.