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A reluctant missionary: Local family felt called by God

The Mohn family poses with their landlord, Michael. The photo was taken the day the family left Ukraine. (Submitted photo)1 / 3
Josiah and Katja Mohn hug at Balaclava on the Crimean peninsula. (Submitted photo)2 / 3
Bill Mohn poses with a group of students who were, at the time, high school freshmen. Many of the students that Mohn taught were children of missionaries. (Submitted photo) 3 / 3

Bill Mohn is not the type to be described as "adventurous."

"I really don't like traveling," he explained. "I didn't grow up doing it, so I like to be home. I've just never been one for adventure."

For him it was a tad unfathomable, then, that he would get on a plane and fly to the Ukraine for a year with his wife and children--but that's exactly what he did.

"I found out that I wasn't going to be coming back to teaching the next year, so I started looking for a job and my wife had just said, kind of off the cuff, 'We could go to Ukraine and teach with this friend of ours,'" he said. "Normally, I would've laughed and been like, 'Yeah right.' Under the circumstances, though, I was kind of open to anything."

Mohn was teaching at an alternative high school and thought he was on the verge of tenure when he was unexpectedly informed that his contract was actually not going to be renewed for the coming year. He was at a loss so, jobless and feeling unsure of the future, he went against his typical instincts and actually considered the possibility of traveling to Ukraine to pursue a year-long teaching position as a missionary.

Three months later, he and his family were boarding a plane for the adventure that Mohn never intended to take and, in all honesty, never even wanted to take. However, he and his wife, Kendra, felt they were being pulled to Kyiv Christian Academy by a force outside of themselves.

"It's hard to pray and focus on God in the midst of a hurricane, but we did our best to seek Him and try to discern what He wanted," Mohn wrote in his 2016 book, 'Kyiv Diary: A Reluctant Missionary's Story.' "Over the course of the next few days, there was a change in my heart and mind that's hard to explain. When I thought about that teaching job I'd applied for in a neighboring town, I felt empty. But when I thought of teaching at Kyiv Christian Academy (KCA), it's like there was a fire in my chest."

Looking back on the experience now, he said that there were a lot of small moments that led the family to feel as though God was behind the call to Ukraine.

For example, just a couple of days into Mohn's job search, KCA posted a new opening for a high school social studies--perfect for him, given his background as a social studies teacher--and a position for an office manager--perfect for Kendra, who had spent many summers working for the office at a camp. Then, when the idea truly took shape and the family began fundraising, money poured in from the most unlikely of places.

"Our biggest financial supporter was a friend we hadn't seen in years--it was the last place we expected to get support from--and she gave us an incredible amount," Mohn explained. "Then, we had college students we knew who would be eating Ramen noodles but still giving us $10 a month. There were a lot of little confirmations throughout the fundraising process."

Once they got to Ukraine, the family faced a number of challenges, all of which were highlighted by the fact that no one in the family spoke a lick of Russian or Ukrainian, which are the two primary languages spoken in Kiev.

When Mohn's son managed to break their apartment key off in the apartment door, the family had to contact someone at KCA to help them get in touch with a locksmith, because they simply weren't able to communicate the problem. Likewise, tasks as seemingly straightforward as going shopping became hurdles to overcome.

"I thought it would be some amazing mountain-top experience when we got there, but that really wasn't the case," Mohn said. "It was difficult and confusing, and I was uncomfortable almost constantly in one way or another. Plus, we couldn't speak or read the language, so we felt really helpless... You don't realize how easy your life is until everything is sort of taken away and you're starting from scratch."

Throughout the year that the Mohns spent in Ukraine, they found a second family--not to mention an incredible support system--in the staff and children at KCA, many of whom are profiled in Mohn's book.

"When you're immersed in that culture and living among those people, it's just such an experience," he said. "It was really exciting for my wife and, for me, I had always been scared that maybe I was supposed to do this but that I didn't really want to. But going through this whole thing was a confirmation for me that not everybody is supposed to do this, and I learned that God makes you to be a certain way."

Although missionary work didn't seem to fit Mohn's personality, he said that he still feels like God wanted the family to have this experience.

"When we got home, it was almost like it had been a test from God--you know, am I willing to do anything and go anywhere?" he said. "It really wasn't for me to be a long-term missionary. But, sometimes, I miss it and I miss our life over there--in a lot of ways, it was a much simpler life."

In the end, Mohn reflected on the decision to move with his family to Ukraine for a year and decided that it was an incredible experience--although he admits that he probably wouldn't do it again. He said that, for those less inclined to participate in mission work, there are other ways to do God's work right at home.

"You don't have to pick up your family and move across the world to do what God's telling you to do," he said. "Life is so busy that we get caught up in this day-to-day thing and everybody's working for the weekend. People need to start seeing that you can love people where you are and be who you are and that it's okay. It's cool 'cause that's how God made you to be, so just be who you are in that--wherever you are."