As life-long lovers of music Wes and Kim Janzen had built successful careers as directors and performers in Canada. Surprised by the conviction that God was calling them to marry their love of music and mission in the country of Ukraine, the Janzens set off for the adventure of a lifetime. Suddenly, war broke out.
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Convivium: Wes, you served as the Director of Choral Activities at Trinity Western University (TWU) from 1981 to 2014 and collaborated with organizations as diverse as the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Vancouver Symphony, CBC Radio, and Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (KSOC). How did you first fall in love with music?
Wes Janzen: The major influence was my father, Helmut Janzen, who was a fabulous conductor. As a very young boy I had the joy of watching him work, and hearing his choirs sing. I was hooked.
C: Kim, you taught Applied Voice at TWU as well. Together as a couple, you served as co-Artistic Directors of the Pacific Mennonite Children’s Choir and as Music Coordinators/Worship Leaders of Missions Fest Vancouver. How has music shaped your personal journey of faith?
Kim Janzen: From the time I was a little girl, music was an important way for me to express my faith in God. At the tender age of 11, I promised God that I would use the talents that He gave me only for His glory. Music is such a beautiful way to express our worship, praise, and our deep emotions for an awesome God. It has been a privilege over the years to serve God in this way and to help others, regardless of their age, bring their talents and offer them to God as well.
C: Wes, you first guest conducted the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for their inaugural performance of Haydn’s The Creation. The experience of performing this piece brought, it is reported, “tears of joy to Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus musicians” who had been prevented under Communism from performing such an explicitly faith-filled piece. Give us a snapshot of the experience.
WJ: We performed the piece in 2006. They loved it. All over the world, for hundreds of years, music lovers have enjoyed this masterpiece. When something is forbidden for very bad reasons, and then is revealed, those who love truth and beauty are simply delighted. That’s what I saw: delight. God delights in giving good things to His children.
Just yesterday, we presented The Creation again, here in Kyiv. There were so many young people in attendance and it was a thrill to share this piece with them.
C: From 2008-2012 your family continued to return to Kyiv each year. Kim you sang, served as a mentor, and Bible teacher. Wes, you conducted many KSOC performances, preaching and teaching as well. What did you learn about the global church at this time?
WJ: We were often inspired at Mission Fest Vancouver where we served together. It was our favourite weekend of the year. Our TWU students, especially the missionary kids, also often inspired us. Now, here in Ukraine we see an incredible hunger and thirst for truth. Last year, 2017, was the year of Reformation. 2018 is also considered the year of the Bible. We have the privilege and responsibility of sharing the Gospel in a land where it was forbidden for decades.
C: In 2012, Kim you were appointed Interim Director of Outreach Ministries and Wes, you were appointed Interim Conductor and Artistic Director of Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and Interim President of Music Mission Kiev. In 2013, you both responded to the call to go and serve as missionaries to Ukraine. What prompted you to take this leap of faith?
WJ: The Lord prompted us, but Kim knew for sure that we were to do this a full year before me. Sometimes we men are a little slow. Since coming here full time we’ve seen spiritual fruit: people coming to Christ, and many growing in their faith.
KJ: I was completely happy being at home with the children in Canada and blessing Wes to do short-term mission work around the world. When Wes was asked to go to Ukraine to conduct Haydn’s Creation for the first time, I was thrilled for him. The next year, I had the opportunity to go with Wes and when I saw and experienced what God was doing here in Ukraine, I was so excited. I wanted to be part of this too. We then brought our children for a short visit to Ukraine to see what their reaction would be. They, too, caught the vision and became personally invested in the lives of many here and wanted to be involved. After being in Ukraine for six months out of the year for several years, I knew, without a doubt, that God was calling us here to Ukraine full time because where you see God working is where you need to be. Our family saw God working in a powerful way here in Ukraine and we witnessed hundreds coming to know Christ and we earnestly wanted to be a part of this.
C: Your transition to full time missions in Ukraine took place during the height of conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Tell us how you made the transition from living and working in Canada to living full time in a post-Communist conflict zone, responding to the call to share the Gospel.
WJ: We’re thankful that years of service in Canada helped to prepare us. The years in Canada were a walk in the park compared with what we experience now. Knowing that our lives are in the palm of His hand, and there is no better place to be, is a constant encouragement. But it’s not easy.
KJ: Part of me thinks that God has a good sense of humour. Wes and I answered His call on our lives to come to Ukraine full time and then the war broke out. What would we do? Would we stay or would we go? We knew God’s call and that we are called to obedience, and so went. Before leaving Canada, at our last TWU choir concert, someone in the audience slipped a piece of paper into my knapsack. It said, "the safest place for Daniel to be was in the lion’s den because it was the centre of God’s will." I have read and re-read the note many times and it is now tucked in my Bible. It holds true.
WJ: Recently, I brought friendship evangelism outreach concerts to the war zone. Imagine some who would attend our concerts, trying to sleep during artillery bombardment, waking up in the morning with their ears still ringing, nervously getting onto buses and coming to a church some distance from active combat, where they were encouraged and blessed richly by beautiful sacred music, including prayers for peace. Many commented: “This is unbelievable that you would actually come to us. Thank you so much. When are you coming again?” We have served these same people for several years with food packages, blankets during winter and other essentials.
C: You work with two organizations in Ukraine. One American – Music Mission Kiev (MMK) – and one Canadian – Music Mission Ukraine Canada MMUC. How did each of these organizations come to be.
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WJ: We started MMUC. MMK already existed. They each have their own unique activities.
Each year KSOC shares evangelism through song in Ukraine and travel to Canada, singing in churches across the nation and even in parliament, bringing the good news through music to those who will listen.
C: Kim, you currently lead a weekly prayer meeting of widows, a weekly “Experiencing God” Bible study for pensioners, and two Saturday morning Bible lessons that reach over 400 pensioners each week. Many of these widows and pensioners have experienced great suffering in recent years. Tell us about the state of family and faith in contemporary Ukraine, particularly in light of Communism and recent conflicts?
WJ: Families are the bedrock of any country. Ukraine is similar to other countries: the family is under attack. Because 2017 was the year of Reformation 500 in Ukraine, there was considerable review and celebration of faith essentials. This is the year of the Word of God in Ukraine, and we have the enormous privilege and responsibility of pointing people to scripture. We include the Bible in all of our programs and activities. Since the fall of Communism the doors have not only been open, there are no doors at all. Yet with wide open doors, other things also flood into society. Corruption is a big problem in Ukraine. Scripture speaks clearly on issues such as truthfulness, stealing, honesty, the worth and value of each individual, justice, mercy.
KJ: So many of the pensioners we serve grew up under Communism where belief in God was not allowed and was punished. They have gone through so much in their lives with forced starvation, Stalin, wars, and Chernobyl. Many that we work with have no family or have been abandoned by their families. Their pensions are very small and it is difficult for them to survive. They are now in their later years starting to ask eternal questions and many are coming to Christ. I love hearing their joy as they meet Jesus and realize that they are no longer alone and that God’s grace covers them.
C: Part of your ministry also involves a weekly Bible study for youth and summer Bible Camps for traumatized children and young people who are seeking solace and restoration in the aftermath of significant. What is the greatest need within this emerging generation of faithful Ukrainians?
KJ: We are in the midst right now of leading four camps for young people and children. These children are from orphanages from the war zone, have been abandoned by their parents, have had to flee the war zone, or their father’s have been killed in action. Most of the children we serve have tragic stories and deep wounds. We are praying that they will come to know God and feel His love in a beautiful way. In the past years, the response to the Gospel at the camps have been tremendous and we are witnessing many young lives transformed by Jesus.
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