UNREACHED

To Russia with Love: Kirby Holmes' Inspiring Journey to Reach the Unreached

August 23, 2023 UNREACHED Season 1 Episode 2
UNREACHED
To Russia with Love: Kirby Holmes' Inspiring Journey to Reach the Unreached
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Special guest Kirby Holmes joins the podcast to share his inspiring journey of steadfast commitment and global outreach. His mission? To reach the unreached with God's love. His strategy? Something NEW that God is doing in the global church to shine the light into territories once closed to the gospel.

Kirby's work began in Russia, but it didn't end there. After serving on the mission field with his wife, Meredith, and experiencing a decade-long pastoral ministry in the states, the call to global ministry beckoned him once more. He embarked on a master's journey in global leadership and co-founded Storyline, an organization that mobilizes missionaries around the world to reach unreached people groups. But amidst the mission triumphs, Kirby also saw first-hand the trauma and shock faced by Ukrainians as they grappled with the potential loss of their families, homes, and their very way of life.

Beyond his efforts in Russia and Ukraine, Kirby has been inspired by the stories of global church mobilization from places as diverse as Colombia, South America and Senegal, Africa. In an age where the old mission fields are becoming the new mission force, Kirby's story is a testament to the power of local churches to reach the unreached and make a significant impact. With a heart for the people and a passion for the mission, Kirby encourages each of us to stand up for our convictions and join in this global journey of faith. Tune in to this episode to be inspired, to learn, and to discover how you can be a part of reaching the unreached.

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Dustin:

In Revelation 7, john shares his vision of heaven with members from every tribe, tongue, people and language standing in the throne room before the Lamb. Yet today there are still over 7,000 unreached people groups around the world. For the last six years, my family and friends have been on a journey to find, vet and fund the task remaining. Come journey with us to the ends of the earth as we share the supernatural stories of God at work through the men and women he has called to reach the unreached. Hello everyone, welcome back to the Unreached podcast, dustin Elliott here with an incredibly special guest this week.

Dustin:

Before I introduce Kirby, I want to give you a little background on him. He is a co-founder of Storyline. He is the director of Eastern European partnerships and well before Storyline was even a thing, god was working in Kirby's life all the way back in undergrad to prepare him with language training and culture training for this particular part of the world. That one day, little be known to him and all of us, war would break out in in 2022 and 2023. And our headlines would be taken over by the narrative of what's been going on in Russia and Ukraine. But Kirby's story working there starts much sooner. He's been working there to develop strategic partnerships and build effective church planting missionary movements from those locations to places where Jesus is not yet known, in northern Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. So please help me welcome my good friend Kirby Holmes. Hello, kirby, hi.

Kirby:

Justin, thanks so much for the invite. I'm really glad to be here and have this conversation today.

Dustin:

Well, we're fired up to have you. Would you give us a little bit more on your background and more on the launch of Storyline?

Kirby:

Yeah, so I grew up in Houston, texas, and was born into a family that was not Christian. We had some Christian roots and some background, but we certainly did not grow up attending a church or that was not a big part of our family structure. So it wasn't until I got into high school and was trying to live a life where I could be a good person but also wanted to find as much satisfaction and happiness that I could, and a lot of that centered around experiences. And so I just went in with a group of friends into the party scene and what could we experience? That would drive happiness and would drive exhilarating kind of moments of happiness. But in the end really found out that lifestyle was creating more hurt and harm to myself and to the people around me and to my family.

Kirby:

But thankfully God was putting me in a relationship, a group of people who were youth in my high school through the ministry of young life and so grateful for them and who they are, because the leaders who were in my city and at my campus were committed to my group of friends.

Kirby:

And this is where I learned God's heart for missions, even as I was coming to faith was that it's always a relational work and these young life staff that were approaching my friends and inviting us to club and inviting us to small group times at campaigners and homes, and I got connected to them and they were able to share the story of. You know, kirby, all that you've done, all that you've experienced that's been hurtful to you and others. God still loves you, he still wants to be in a relationship with you and he's made a way through us on Jesus Christ, and if you believe in what he's done, his death and resurrection, he will give you the new life that you're looking for, and so I put my faith in Christ. As I was swinging on a swing underneath the beach house in Galveston, texas, in a lone moment to say, god, if you love me, a sinner, I want what you have for me. I believe what Jesus has done for me.

Dustin:

Life led you to Lubbock, texas, that's right.

Kirby:

Then I went to study at Texas Tech University and although I'd never attended church faithfully, I was invited to go to a church service. And I said well, I've got a softball game on Sunday morning, I can't make the church service. And so the girl said well, look, if it rains on Sunday morning would you go to church with me and a group of us? And of course in Lubbock, texas, it doesn't rain that often in the dust bowl sometimes of West Texas. It rained that Sunday morning and I went to church with her and a group of friends and thankfully really began a journey of really learning about what it meant to walk and follow Jesus faithfully in community with others and really became connected into that circle of friends at the church and some other ministries on campus. And at that time it says the early 90s. And so what's going on in the world at that point is the Soviet Union is, because of its economic challenges and some of the political things happening in that part of the world, it sort of disintegrates in its form to become a regional republics, with Russia writing a new constitution giving people religious freedom, where the 70 years previous to that they had been considered an atheistic government, an atheistic state. If you were a Christian or any kind of religious believer, you did not have access to higher education or good jobs or to be a part of the political party. You had no access to power influence. And so when they wrote that new constitution that people could freely believe in any religion, in any God, and it would not have consequence to them there were Christians that were coming to our college campus saying this is the moment God has prepared for us. We've been praying for this moment that God would give us access to Russian people and the people of the former Soviet Union. We just need Christians who'd be willing to go and to share their story of what God's done in their life. And so me, experiencing the newness of life, of what God had given to me, and he, just he, healed me and brought me to the place where I could be a loving person, not just to hurt people, but to begin to really serve and care about them and their needs. I thought, man, how incredible it would be to go to a country who has not heard about the love of God for 70 years and to be a part of sharing my story with them. And so I was motivated by that opportunity in history and the opportunity to possibly go and share my story with Russian people.

Kirby:

So what was your major when you started? I started as an architect and I feel like sort of I've just got this personality where I love the science and technology of how life works but I also love the arts, so those two things combined in architecture to sort of say wow. I'd love to do that. But the more my heart grew for what God's purposes were in the world to reach people who had not heard about Christ, I thought, oh my gosh, what if I can get into communications? Could I become a better communicator? I find ways to see myself living in Russia. So I started studying Russian language and the area, just the cultural realities of Russia and the history of Russia. So that was my minor degree was Russian language and area studies.

Dustin:

You graduate from college, you've got this degree, you're prepared and equipped more than most to go into that people group. What happened next?

Kirby:

Yeah. So I'd been connected to a campus ministry called Crew and during my time of just being discipled and really being cared for relationally, again that relationship piece shows up in my journey. I've been communicating for two years that I really believe God is calling me to serve in Russia, and when I graduate I love to join Crew and be on their staff and they have partnerships in Russia at that point that are being established in various cities. Texas Tech, as a university campus, had committed as staff and students that we wanted to be a part of the work in Russia. So I knew there was a path to get there. I could see it, it was open to me, and so I joined the staff of Crew and was invited to be on a team.

Kirby:

And at the time that I graduated they said well, kirby, we have some teams in Russia we can fulfill, but we really need to fill a team in the country of Estonia and the capital city of Tallinn, which you'd be willing to join a team and lead a team there with other students.

Kirby:

And so I was like, well, god, that's not where I was expecting to go.

Kirby:

I kind of had a thought of where I was going to fulfill this purpose you've called me to, but this feels like it's going a little bit sideways, and I was assured you know what, kirby, you're going to be able to fulfill your calling.

Kirby:

God doesn't always give you a direct line into what you expect, but just step into it. And so I did, and I stepped into being a part of that team in Tallinn, estonia, and they had just gotten their independence, they were living in the freedom of their independence and at the same time they were exploring. You know, we have a Lutheran history here, but we do not have sort of a strong new sense of what God is up to in the world today, because the church had been suppressed under the Soviet system. And so I still got to show up and fulfill God's calling and relationship in the country of Estonia and be a part of what God's plan was in that world. It's beautiful because here I am 30 years after, and I just traveled to Estonia two years ago and was able to meet with some of the students that I spent time with and to see them as influencers within politics, within business, and to see them faithfully following Christ and seeing the fruit of those students then who are now leading in churches but also in their community.

Dustin:

Well, as many listening know, our dislocated heart for the unreached, particularly with this podcast, is just to share the stories that we feel like in our time serving and working with mission partners in the field.

Dustin:

The fruit of the harvest just doesn't make it back here.

Dustin:

You know, if you're an average kind of Christian and you're going to church most Sunday mornings and you're listening to sermons, maybe there's a mission sermon once a quarter or twice a year or once a year at your church and you're hearing a little bit about where the folks are and maybe your church is supporting some missionaries but you may not even know where they are. What's going on and I just like man those supernatural stories of God at work around the world. Those are the ones we've got to get back to get people A encourage people that aren't in the game and B encourage those that are, that may not be experiencing the best of times. I mean it can be a very long, labor-some time, very lonely time before that fruit starts to happen. So even for you, you didn't get where you thought you were going instantly right. But after Estonia and at some point you got married and you have a family, so want to hear a little bit about that and then take us through that and end the storyline.

Kirby:

Yeah, so I was dating a girl named Meredith Harris when I was a student at Texas Tech and we were dating and I just had this sense that God wanted to use the story of my life and my interest in Russia and Russian people and I sort of knew that that was my future. And as I was dating Meredith, I was like this is kind of who I am and where I want to go, and do you see yourself living a life where you'd be serving as a missionary in Russia? And she couldn't see that for herself as much as she loved me and wanted to be with me. And I had to make the tough call and I broke up with her and that was difficult for her because I really like her and she really liked me. But this strong sense of what I felt like I wanted to do didn't connect with her.

Kirby:

Well, as I'm in Estonia for the year, she ends up joining a missions team to Russia as a single woman serving in Russia, loving and sharing her story before I even get to Russia.

Kirby:

And so what's crazy is you stand up for what your convictions are and you stand up for what God's calling you to.

Kirby:

You think you're giving up something that you really care about relationship and, especially for young people, to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. That's like such a dream, like whom I'm going to marry and whom I'm going to have a family with, but as you seek to follow Christ and where he leads you, what might seem like a sacrifice God in my case, in this instance and we brought that back around to where, when I do show up on the mission field in Russia, there's Meredith, this woman that I loved, and we ended up that summer in Russia. I took on a few dates and it was there. I decided I'm going to marry this woman and we ended up living in Russia for five years. We left and went over there with our toddler son. We ended up having two more kids in the time that we lived there and, although they were born in the United States, we were living in Russia and doing campus ministry with the team and had our family there, and so God you know, put our family together in a way that we could serve.

Dustin:

And at that point you were not storyline, was not the story.

Kirby:

yet Storylines is not the story. I mean, I have to tell my missionary story first to go. Okay, how do North American or American missionaries get sent to unreach peoples and we get to share this good news of this God that loves us and loves the people of the world? But it's only because I was able to experience the mission field that, as I came back you know, meredith and I, after having these three kids, we came back because life was hard. You know the economic situation in Russia was not great and any mom with three young toddler kids has a hard time. But you know you're living in a foreign context made it hard. So we came back to Texas and it was in Texas. We need to root our family and get back to a place of just just health as a family. And so we spent a decade of just pastoral ministry here in the city of Austin and that was to help just support family.

Kirby:

But I had a sabbatical after seven years of service at my local church and it was during that sabbatical time that God spoke to me and said Kirby, I want you to move back out of local church into global church.

Kirby:

And I began dreaming well, god will quit me for what that role might be, and I started my master's degree in global leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and it was during my time there interacting with a cohort of other believers from around the world. As we're studying together Christians from Japan and Costa Rica and Uganda, from all different continents and we're all studying together about God's global purposes in the world and I'm interacting with them and going well, god, what could be the future? And God was impressed upon my heart. Kirby, you can go, not to the world, but not as a missionary, but you need to go and need to help mobilize missionaries from Russia. That is what my call is for you. You need to help make sure Russians who have access to unreached people, groups in the world that you can't get to as an American. You are not welcome, you're not invited. Because of the politics of America, because of the military actions of America, you are not accepted in some countries of the world where there are unreached people.

Kirby:

Oh, the sudden, you're playing chess, not checkers, and so I said well, god, this would be an incredible opportunity to serve you and to utilize the relationships I have in Russia and the network of people that I know and that trust me and love me. To see them get creative access to countries of the world where I can't go as an American would be an incredible mission. To be a part of storyline became the mechanism for that vision for what could be Now. Mike Craig and I we co-founded a storyline and him and I were missionaries together in Russia. So we have that common connection of we've served together. We know that part of the world.

Kirby:

He had already sort of started moving down the path of, well, what is happening in the global church and where will the future missionaries come from? And he was already sort of on that front edge of there's actually an emerging movement of missionary sending that's coming out of the global south, and that global south would be those who identified as people living below the south of the equator, who live in Latin America or Africa or in Asia. What has got up to in terms of merging missionary trends? And he was starting to see that there's possibilities to send missionaries from new emerging places in the world that weren't sort of Western civilization or North America. And so the two of us partnered together to go. What if we created something here in Austin, texas, around missionary sending, but not from here but from there? The old mission fields are becoming the new mission force.

Dustin:

We're just getting started with the Unreach podcast and we started with Todd Arand and really laying the framework for like God's will with missions, and then the church's position and how to fulfill God's will with missions. And then we've talked to Jack Crabtree and Poppa New Guinea with real on the ground tribal confrontation and challenges. And here we are with Kirby and we've already found out it's not just a direct linear line Now. We've found out that there's a way to almost just fire off a satellite and then redirect because we don't have a direct linear line into certain parts of the world as the Western American church. And so you, god was using you so much earlier than you knew, preparing you, equipping you, getting you culturally relevant in spending time there, raising your family there, and then you got this kind of like aha, moment of wait a second. This all has a massive purpose.

Dustin:

There's actually something we can do here that just shifts the paradigm, that changes the narrative, and we can go equip the Ukrainian church and the Russian church and these Eastern European churches to go into places that we can't get into, and we won't have to say exactly what those places are, but listeners can probably imagine they would be the more or most hostile places you could think of. That would be against the gospel coming in. So they're the governments that are really controlling regimes and any kind of influence that could come in that could challenge their system of control. They're obviously against. But other countries and citizens of other countries can get in because they don't see them currently as a threat. That's right. Right, that is it. So you launch storyline and give me the playbook.

Kirby:

Yeah. So the playbook was if, if missionary sending has been from the West to the rest, that has been something that's been true for missionary sending for over a hundred years, since about the 1900s. That Western nations and what? When you think about Western nations, we're talking about Germany and France and England, and then over to America and Canada. Those nations were the primary Protestant mission force being sent.

Kirby:

But right now, today, if you were to say what is the average Christian in the world, would they be wealthy or they be poor? They would be poor. Would they be white or would they be black? They'd be black. Would they live in a city or they live in a village? They live in a village. Did you know? The average Christian in the world today is a woman in Africa who lives in a village. There are more Christians in the continent of Africa than any other continent in the world and I don't think people know that right now.

Kirby:

A lot of times here in the North American context is that we see ourselves as the powerful Christian force that needs to go do something in the world for good. But actually the church has been growing so significantly in other continents that we need to pay attention to what does that mean? What is God up to, where is the kingdom moving and what is the new shape of what it might mean? And so, as Mike and I were dialoguing, we were like I wonder if Africans would be the new missionaries of the future and trying to make sense of wow, that might be what God does. He might be sending Africans to be missionaries in the world.

Kirby:

And others, latinos, mike and I, very early on when we were doing Storyline, we went to Houston. We met with a group of Latin American leaders here in the state of Texas and they had some representatives that came up from the Latin American world and I remember a Colombian and he said hey, kirby, you know I grew up working in the coffee fields of Colombia and you know, most of us know we love coffee, we love Colombian coffee, we brew it, we roast it, we're drinking it this morning. But he said I grew coffee beans. He said but you know what God has called me? To be a missionary to Africa, to plant churches and to see churches grow. He said God raised me as a coffee grower, but now he's going to fulfill his purpose in planting and growing churches in Africa.

Kirby:

And this is a guy from Columbia. You know this is the narco world, this is where cocaine trafficking started. None of us think of Columbia as a place that is glamorous or important, but it's a place of missionary mobilization to reach unreached people. And in that meeting in Houston, these Latin American leaders, they talked about having multiplying movements of churches in the country of Senegal and Africa through Latin American leadership and that just kind of blows my mind. If I just had never thought that that's possible.

Kirby:

And you need to hear these stories. These are the stories, dustin, about why you're bringing this podcast to be because not all the people are hearing these stories.

Dustin:

What you've identified and what God's revealed to you in storyline is partner, and the greatest network of partnership opportunity is the global church through the local churches, right, so talk more about how it's so pivotal, when you go to a place, that you connect with the local church there and you find out what are they needing and how do we equip the local leaders to be part of the solution.

Kirby:

Yeah, and I love that you're bringing this up to me. I've always held the value that the hero of the story of missionary sending is always the local church and that's been a huge value for me and for storyline. That storyline as a paratrooper organization that creates great resources and brings consulting to missionary agencies and denominations, we're not the heroes. The hero is local church, with a pastor, with a worship leader, with volunteer leaders who come around the service to support and serve it to. Small group home leaders who disciple people and youth leaders. And that is really the beautiful part of where God works is through that local church and the denominations that bring them together in community and provide structure. So for me and my part of the world where I've served primarily in Russia and in Ukraine, I've just seen incredible movement If you look at the Ukrainian church. When the Soviet Union fell apart, ukrainians took advantage of that moment and some people might not understand. Russia and Ukraine are two different peoples or two different ethnicities that have two different histories and stories. Ukrainians said we need to go and reach Russians with the gospel. So as much as I was inspired from Lubbock, texas, to go there, were Ukrainians inspired to go reach Russians with the gospel, and so about 50% of even Russian pastors today are Ukrainians who went on mission in the last 30 years to make sure to reach communities all throughout Russia. So they've had this sort of 30 year sort of impulsive missions to be a part of God's story. And when Jesus said, the father has sent me, so I'm sending you, ukrainians read that in their Bibles and say we need to be a sent people. And so they were sent to Russia. And now Russia is not a one people group, they're not just Slavic people. They have 120 different ethnicities of people that live within Russia itself. So you've got Ukrainians reaching, yes, typical sort of Slavic cities that would be Moscow and St Petersburg, but you also have them being sent to the Caucasus regions where there's Muslim peoples, or you had them sent to the Northern regions where there are Yemal people, nenet people and Yakuts and Yevhenks, which are more what we would recognize from Alaska as Eskimo type of people. So those people still live in the Northern territories of Russia. And so you have Ukrainians on mission into Russia, reaching not just Slavic people but these unreached people groups, and so I've been able to tap into some of those denominations and some of those associations of churches over the last seven years in my role at Storyline and just hear the stories of what God has been doing through their movements, missionary movements and to say, wow, one. I wanna learn from you because I can see you're already up to what God is up to, but also what are ways that I could help, support you and encourage you in this and bring some consulting to maybe development of the ongoing missions work that you're doing Like you've talked about supernatural stories of God doing good in the world. There's a church in Rivna, ukraine, which is a Western edge of Ukraine, and pastor Taras Pristupa is the pastor of one of the main churches there and they've planted churches throughout Ukraine and other places in Russia. They tell the story of Jamal. Taras Pristupa finds a way to connect with Jamal and Jamal.

Kirby:

He lives as a Yazidi up in the highlands in the country of Armenia. They live very separate lives from the Armenian peoples who live down in the cities. They're shepherd people. They live in the highlands, they live in the rugged places because they have no country of their own and they have very little power, influence and economic resource to live in the city, so they just survive up in the highlands. And he was a criminal boss in the highlands trying to manage control over his area as sort of a criminal figure in his community. People knew that about him. They were afraid of him. He was a bad guy and he hurt plenty of people in his life and people knew that about him.

Kirby:

But he was in a deep depression and his sister had heard that there were some missionaries that were nearby and, as people of peace or people of light or people trying to do good, she knew the needs of her brother, jamal, who at this point was suicidal and in deep depression, and so she had.

Kirby:

Well, I'm gonna find these people of peace, people of light, whoever they are, I'm gonna invite them to come speak with my brother.

Kirby:

So some missionaries come at this point it doesn't connect to the Ukrainian church because these are North American, american missionaries they meet Jamal and they translate a message to Jamal that there's a God who loves him and then in that one day event they take a picture with him, because all good American missionaries, we take pictures of all the peoples that we meet and interact with and they leave and they don't know what happens with the story of Jamal.

Kirby:

But Jamal because of that message of those missionaries.

Kirby:

On that day, up in the highlands of Armenia, to Yazidi Pagan, he puts his faith in this person of light, this Jesus, who came to him in a message from these missionaries.

Kirby:

Now his sister sees the change in his life, sees that this depression is lifting, sees that something about his mental health is returning.

Kirby:

She doesn't know that he's made this decision of faith, but it's been seven years since the missionaries left and he hasn't told anybody about his experience, not until he meets Ukrainian missionaries from Tarrasprasdupas Church in Rivne, ukraine, who come to Armenia and have conversations with Jamal.

Kirby:

And Jamal tells these Ukrainians, because he can speak a little bit of Russian language, he explains that these people of light and peace came to him to speak of Jesus and he believed in their God. And so the Ukrainians begin to connect him to local resources in Armenia where he can get discipleship. They continue to send Ukrainian missionaries to Jamal up in the village where he lives. They begin to create youth camps among other Yazidi families and youth where Jamal is, because he's an influential figure in his community. But he's turning from being the bad guy to the good guy and people are seeing a change in his life, and so Ukrainians come around him to disciple him, build him up as a leader with the vision and prayer that he's gonna become a pastor of Yazidi people up in the Highlands of Armenia and so they've been continuing that work for the last.

Kirby:

it's been five or six years and I've met with Jamal, I've been with him at missions, conferences in Rivna, I've prayed with him and talked with him.

Dustin:

And so-.

Kirby:

Is that Saul to Paul right now, or what? So you have incredible work by the global church that is reaching out to the darkest places among the peoples, who do not have understanding of this God of light and love who we know to be Jesus. But when they encountered him, it's almost like when Jesus went to the tomb and there was a man who was terrorized by demons in that cemetery and Jesus cast out all the demons and he came to his right mind. You know, that's kind of what Jamal's story is like, and you've got the Ukrainian church being the ones who step into that moment to say we're gonna disciple this man into leadership.

Dustin:

Incredible. Thank you for sharing that story. Can you tell everyone a little bit about the project that blessed, vetted and funded, specifically before we move into maybe what some people are waiting to hear about, which is the change that happened when the war broke out and the work you've been doing since then?

Kirby:

We got funding from Bless to help fund some of our storyline staff that do serve in different parts of the world. So we had projects in Africa, the Caribbean islands, latin America and my world in Eastern Europe. One of the specific projects that was funded from the Bless Foundation was for Russian Christians who had committed to traveling into Mongolia, and they have access to Western Mongolia from the southern border of Russia. There's a big city, krasnoyarsk, that is on the southern border from Russia and Mongolia, and so a group of local churches there in Krasnoyarsk committed to missionally pursuing peoples in Western Mongolia. The only way for them to get there would be to travel by car through the steppe terrain, which means there's no roads, it's just grassy fields, and it's a four day drive for them to get into these locations in Western Mongolia.

Kirby:

And so you had groups, a caravan of Russian Christians driving cars and jeeps and trucks through the Mongolian steppe to get to locations where they can set up youth camps and they could invite Mongolian children to come together and meet with Russians and just to have a week of camp, playing sports and having sort of cross-cultural exchange between these two nations but then being able to share, obviously, the ultimate hope and love that God cares for you as a Mongolian person. And so they've committed, year after year after year, to travel down to Western Mongolia to continually follow up, and they've built those camps from 100 youths to up to over 700, 800 youth began to attend these Russian led Christian camps.

Dustin:

So you're saying that the narrative of Russia by the mainstream media and what we follow for the last couple years today may be not the same as the narrative of what's actually going on in the Christian church in Russia, who is still active and involved in going and growing right now?

Kirby:

That's right. They are called to the purpose of God and the story of God to reach all the rich people and to do that with sacrificial love in the midst of trial and suffering. They will tell me on the trips, say, kirby, every car will have mechanical problems. On the trip to Mongolia and back, we will be stuck on the side of the road for hours and hours. We won't have access to food sometimes or a bathroom facility. But you know what? We're going to go again next summer. Who wants to sign up? We're going to go again the summer after that. Who wants to sign up? And so they're willing to say yes. There's a political layer to our country and I don't have a lot of control over that. We've had the same president for over 20 years. I can vote for any candidate I want. I'm still going to get the same president. But how do I be faithful to the kingdom of God and to his story in the world?

Dustin:

The mission of God's not put on pause because one country evades another. Yeah, right, yeah, it's still going and in fact it may even be magnified. Light shines brightest in the darkness. So let's segue to 15 months ago. Yeah, and with your heart for these people, your experience and time there, your training there, the people you love and care about and I know we're going to get personal, because your communication is incredible and what you've shared with us through this last 15 months has been life changing. Just start it out for us. How'd you find out what you first think and what led you to shift, for 15 months, your purpose with Storyline to serving the people you care so much about?

Kirby:

Yeah, my heart is to help make sure that the good news of Jesus Christ gets to people who don't know Him and, working with my partners in Russia and Ukraine and denominations to go, how do we send missionaries to those peoples? That's been my heart and I've done that really well. Again, the theme of relationship shows up my life. You build relationships with people and the kingdom of God is built on relationships where you love and serve one another. And so when Russia invades Ukraine, really for the second time they invaded him in 2014 and again here in 2022, you love people and so I love these Ukrainian leaders who now are in a defensive position to defend their country from invasion. And I had traveled to Ukraine to be with my storyline coordinator in January of 2022. And the Russian army was already on three borders, positioned to attack, and the State Department had said Americans don't go, travel into Ukraine, we don't think it's safe. And I flew into the Kiev-Brisable Airport and visited with Vova, my coordinator, and thought that the Olympic Games in China were going on and China and Russia are pretty aligned. I don't think Russia's going to invade during the Olympics, but it was still a risk to go and as Vova and I were doing some strategic planning about missionary sending. One of the threats that showed up on our strategic board that day was Russia invades what happens next? And that was a real potential threat for missionary sending to the Ukrainian church, and so we had to list it as a potential threat as what happens next if that happens. So I left that meeting. I was able to get back to American, I'm sure enough. Within the next month.

Kirby:

Russia did invade, and so I was in shock. My head was spinning like a race car around a racetrack, as you know, going as fast as you can to make those hairpin turns. My mind was racing about what does this mean and what could happen and what's next? I would just cry uncontrollably about, you know, seeing civilians and apartment buildings being targeted and these columns of tanks coming in.

Kirby:

And I called Vova and Vova was like I can't not watch the news. You know, everybody was gripped with the news of what would happen, and the Vova didn't sleep for six nights. He told me he was in such shock. And then Ukrainians were in those moments because they thought they were certainly gonna be defeated within days, and so those were difficult moments emotionally, and I'm still running on the fumes of some of what those emotions are, even though it's 15 or 16 months later. But it just gripped me. You know my love for Vova and Vitaly and many other Ukrainian leaders who are now in a position of defense, and that's at the state level, sort of military defense. But then, as the Christian church, how are we gonna care for people who are going to be shocked, traumatized and affected emotionally?

Dustin:

Yeah, truly lose things, truly lose family members, truly lose their homes, truly lose their way of life.

Kirby:

That was the question that family members were asking each other, as they texted are you okay? And the answer was I'm alive. And at that point that was the best answer you could get from anybody. Is that somebody you loved, a friend or a family member, or grandmother or grandfather, that they were alive? And so that's a hard thing. If that's the question you're asking and that's the response you're getting, that's a good day.

Kirby:

But I just thought you know what storyline needs to pivot. We need to pivot to come alongside the Christian church there, because they're gonna be the ones that are gonna be the caregivers in the midst of this and are gonna provide care for people hurting. But they also need to provide evacuation services for people near the front lines where they need to get our harms away. They need to provide shelter. They need to provide mattresses on floors in every church building that they can possibly maneuver, mattresses to fill church buildings full of places where people can sleep. Food for people who had to rush out of the house with one bag and the banking system kind of shut down for those first few weeks, people didn't have access to funds. So how are they gonna buy food? And so, as I saw that this were the realities, I just said hey guys, we need to get to Ukraine as fast as we can, we need to bring as many resources as we can and let's tell the church we're here for them whatever they need. And so I flew in and was able to get into Lviv, a city in Western Ukraine there were still Collins of tanks approaching Kiev Was able to distribute money to some pastors and to some church leaders, was able to hug a pastor who had evacuated his church of a hundred members out of Mariupol, which is one of the cities that had been devastated by Russian bombing, and they'd all survived in a basement within the church and he was able to find an evacuation route to get them out.

Kirby:

Was able to meet him on the street and to give him a hug, and he was showing me images and videos of his church huddled in the basement, praying that they would survive, and you could tell he had PTSD. His body was shaking from just the trauma of having that much care and love for his people to get them to safety. So the community in Austin, the church is in Austin. That said, very quickly, we want to provide financial aid for the Ukrainian church. We want to make sure we're a part of providing some hope in a really desperate situation for many people there, like that pastor and many others.

Kirby:

So I've been on a journey, I've traveled into Ukraine eight times in the last 16 months, bringing material resources and funding, delivering that through incredible channels of communication.

Kirby:

The church is such a great communication network for people who are closest to the front lines of war where their needs can communicate to the safer areas and say we've got a distribution network of church buildings from here to there so as aid comes in from Poland or Western Europe, we know how to get it forward. We've got vehicles, we've got stations of churches where we can drop off materials and then we can get it delivered to those who need water filters, those who need tourniquets, those who need evacuation in the winter. As much of the infrastructure the electrical infrastructure of Ukraine was being destroyed by Russia, we said we need to step up and get electric heaters and generators to as many people to be able to survive this winter, and so we're able to distribute those by the truck load up to areas where there was some of the greatest need. I feel like we gave it a big effort and, oh my gosh.

Dustin:

Kirby, I'm really tired. I'm really tired. I gave it an unbelievable effort and, for those listening, I wish I could screen share right now, because Kirby was sharing back images of all of this in real time with all of us and it was mind blowing. It was so real. These were not people that had had a shower and were cleaned up, receiving a heater. These were people that had dried blood on them and the buildings in the background were destroyed and they had nowhere to turn. It wasn't like they could go to the market and get food. It wasn't like they could go to somebody else's house and warm up. There wasn't an option.

Dustin:

And we're getting back these images and Kirby just keeps going back. Like how do you keep going back, knowing you may not get in, you may not get out, both every trip, yeah, and yet your faithfulness, you're again with the dislocated heart, your dislocated heart. It's like Nehemiah listening as the cup bearer in Persia, listening and learning about Jerusalem. Kirby, you turned into Nehemiah. You got prepared, you got prayed up, you had a plan. You reached out to your network. You said this is what I need and the network heated the call and you went. It was the church in its truest and most beautiful form Going and sending. Thank you, you're welcome. Thank you, thank you for being so inspiring, thank you for being so faithful, thank you for bringing us on that journey with you and thank you for like.

Dustin:

Really it would have been easy to follow the mainstream media, follow the narrative and get your heart upset Right With either what our government's doing or Russia's government's doing or Zelensky's doing. You, I remember talking to you honestly. I'm going Kirby, how am I supposed to feel about this? Am I supposed to like this guy or not? Like this guy? Like where is he? What's going on? And you gave me a comparison yeah, that I think a lot of people listening is we're in Austin, texas. We're not far from the Alamo. A comparison of Mexico and Texas. Could you share that?

Kirby:

Right? Yeah, I think the parallel that would help Texans maybe understand what's happening in Ukraine is Texas used to be a part of Mexico, used to be part of their territory, used to be their political, military control. And there came a time when settlers from the eastern coast came to Texas and we said, well, we can farm here, we can live here. And there were parts that were disputed between Texas and Mexico and Mexico sent its army to attack Texas. We're talking hundreds of years ago, but things were settled and here we are. Treaties have been made and Texas has been its own independent country and it's been now a part of the United States. And what about if, today, mexico was to say you know what? Texas used to be a part of Mexico and we think, historically it's our land. And in fact, there's a bunch of people who speak Spanish that live in Texas and we feel like maybe they're threatened by the Texas government. And if they're threatened by the Texas or the United States government, we should go be the ones to protect them. And so if Mexico was to launch an invasion of Texas against Texas under the guise of I want to protect Spanish speakers in a territory that historically used to be ours. Do you think Texas would just let them come in and take over? Or would we defend ourselves and say, look, the lines of our sovereign territory have been set and we've all agreed and treaty for now hundreds of years that this is our sovereign nation. You can't just attack us without us feeling we need to defend ourselves. And that's the situation.

Kirby:

That's been true in Ukraine is that Russia has been saying a story that those are our historical lands, with our cultural people who speak our language. We can just come in and take back what used to be ours. And Ukrainians are fighting back just the way Texans would fight back. It's a sovereign nation and it's their territory and they just need the resources to be able to defend themselves, just like any homeowner. If criminals attacked your home and came in to steal and kill and hurt your wife or your kids, you would defend it. If you couldn't do it on your own, you'd call the SWAT team and the police to come help you do it and defend your home from criminals that tried to attack it. So I think these kinds of things help.

Kirby:

Maybe some people more clearly see the situation there and the opportunity to support Ukraine and what they're up to. And there's a political layer to that and most of our conversations have been more at the church level. But when we look at injustice, christians need to stand for injustice and I believe that that's true in this, that there is an injustice of Russia's invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine, and I think it's okay for Ukraine to go. We need, we need a SWAT team back up to help us. You know who, who, who can do that? And the United Nations. They've got 120 countries have said we support you, ukraine, we believe your story. And Russia has six nations that have said we believe your story. So I think, when you look at the injustice of it, there's a lot of people on the side of yeah, ukraine, defend yourself.

Dustin:

I hope, man, I hope that listeners are hearing this and their heart is softening and changing to what they've thought. You know, maybe they've already been very much on the side of the church and involved, and prayerfully, so Maybe they've, you know, oscillated back and forth between is this right or wrong, or am I mad because the US government sending money there and they're not taking care of the homeless here or whatever? The whatever the case may be, but really, hearing it from your perspective, with your background, before it ever happened, and then your time spent being there now and now this, like I mean listen, anybody coming at Texas, you know, listen, I'm a Texan my whole life. You're getting the full horsepower and firepower of every gun safe in this state, right, I mean you're defendant we're independent.

Kirby:

We want freedom.

Dustin:

That's right, you go talk to.

Kirby:

Ukrainian, I'm independent.

Dustin:

There's a decent size of the population ready to see secede from the US at any given time, right, like you know, I mean it's so. When you put it into that context, it's like what I mean. We're remembering the Alamo, right, but are we remembering the Alamo for the Ukrainian people, right? Is that really where our heart is in?

Kirby:

this. Ukrainian people who talk to me say, kirby, we are so grateful for the church and the resources that you have sent and we're so grateful you personally have come to be with us and your presence and relationship gives us hope that you see us and you care about us. And they would say the same thing politically, as a nation. They would say you know our people are ready to defend. We value America sending resources to help us. We'll train us how to use them, we'll use them and let us fight this fight. It's our, it's our land, it's our, it's our nation. Let us fight it, but give us some resources and equip us to do it and we think it'll be good for the rest of the world. Not going to be easy on us, but thank you, america, for what you've done, church wise and statewide, through your government, in support of our country.

Dustin:

And now, after eight trips and 15 months, god's put it on your heart to shift again Right. Take us through that.

Kirby:

Well, the storyline it is not. We're not a humanitarian aid organization. That's not our purpose. Our purpose is to develop a missionary sending agencies through denominations globally, especially in the global south of the emerging church, where they're. They're coming alive to this idea of we need to be the new missionaries force for the future, and that's the purpose of storyline is where in the world can we help accelerate missionary movements? Where can we give lift? In Latin America and Africa and in Asia and Eastern Europe? We want to give lift to the church to accelerate missionary sending.

Kirby:

So we pivoted out of relational love for the people that we know or that I know in Eastern Europe, and so that has come to an end, this period of humanitarian aid distributions come to an end through our organization, and so we're no longer receiving sort of designated funds for that purpose. And so that puts me to position personally where I say, okay, god, you've taken me through a journey of loving, through trial and persecution and suffering in Ukraine, where I've just been able to sort of incarnationally show up as this American foreigner and go. How can I bring hope and in some sense of healing for you guys in the midst of this tragedy? And it's been a beautiful thing for me to be a part of it, and the church in America and Austin, those who've been funding and praying these efforts. It's incredibly beautiful, so that I'm in a place of sadness. I really am. I mean, I'm sad about the loss of not being able to continue to participate in this role with humanitarian aid, and I completely agree with my organization's decision. It's not our purpose.

Kirby:

I continually be mad at the circumstances of Russia's invasion and they won't quit. It would just be great if, militarily, they could be stopped and politically they would see a way to stop. But that's not true at this moment as we're making this podcast. So I live in a tention of being very sad and continually mad at the injustice of the circumstances, and so as an organization, we have to say okay, well, we need to be about the purpose of reaching the unreached, and doing that from places where we can send Me personally, I've been offered a new role to go well. It's tough to send missionaries when every man in Ukraine is landlocked under martial law. They're not allowed to leave the country. It's tough to get into Russia for me right now. As American, we're sort of an enemy to Russia. Then one of the storylines is that America supports Ukraine to fight Russia, and it's America's fight with Russia, not Ukraine's. That's a line that they use because it helps the government.

Kirby:

It builds political capital Right, yes, but to show up as an American it's not very safe on the streets there.

Kirby:

And also sort of funding even the church work that is there, with the Swift system down and all the other banking systems that don't work there. It's just not a safe environment for me to be able to serve so I can pivot to other parts of the world and build mobilization movements from Africa or Latin America or the Middle East, even where Christians in the Middle East are even saying how do we reach other Muslims here? I'm in a period of sabbatical rest where I've served well, I'm really tired emotionally and drained from it. I want to be effective and fruitful in the future of what God calls me to in the ministry that storyline has been called to. But I need to take a period of sabbatical, of listening and listening to what God has to say through scriptures and his spirit and the community of people that are around me to say okay, kirby, where do you fit back in, knowing that it's difficult now to do missionary standing from that part of the world. So what's next?

Dustin:

While you're in that period, storyline and the rest of your organization tell us about what's next for them.

Kirby:

Yeah. So one of our staff just got back from a trip to Mexico City speaking with some leaders of denominations who say, you know, mexicans have incredible opportunity and desire and willingness to not just reach those who are in Mexico but to be the sent ones, and so they're looking at storyline resources that we've already translated into Spanish and storyline resources are translated into seven languages at this point but having dynamic conversations in Mexico with how does the Mexican church continue to work towards being mobilized to reach unreached people? So we just had a great conversation this morning about those meetings and there's some great organizations call me bomb is a really great sort of missions organization that a lot of churches are connected to in the Latin American world, and so our relationship with them is growing. So the Caribbean islands are a place that we've been working for the last seven years and we've got a great relationship with a missions mobilizer named Frank and Puerto Rico, and Puerto Rico has been partnered with a group in Trinidad and they've been forming missionary teams that have been sent to India and one of the places they feel like God is calling them is to the country of Oman, and that's on the Arabian peninsula, and so there's a church that's there reaching out to internationals. You can exist as a Christian church in Oman if you just reach internationals, not the local population. But you have this, this mission's impulse from the Caribbean islands, and they kind of see the opportunity. That I saw when I was a college student at Texas Tech and seeing that, wow, you mean Russia wrote a new constitution where people could freely hear about the story of Jesus and possibly respond to that by faith. And now you've got people living in the Caribbean islands with this impulse to go. You mean we can go to the Arabian peninsula and there's a point of contact that maybe could help give us access to Muslim people who don't know about Jesus. And you've got people on these islands who serve very high hurricanes every year and live by the beach and yet their impulse is to go. How do we go to the Arabian peninsula and share the good news of Jesus with people? And so we're engaged in that process and some of our staff are looking at wanting to travel with them over there and continue to encourage the work. From Puerto Rico and from Trinidad.

Kirby:

We have been engaged in the Caribbean islands with Cuba and it was much more active before COVID. We were working really hard at the Protestant church, because the Protestant church has been thriving in Cuba for a decade. There, and they're at a point of discipleship within the churches in Cuba, they're like well, this isn't just for us, this is for the whole world. But yet we are living under a political system that doesn't allow us much freedom of movement. So where could we be called people to?

Kirby:

And what's amazing is that the Cuban government provides nurses and doctors for places in the world where there's still really strongly communistic regimes, but yet they ask for Cuban doctors and nurses to come and serve in those countries. And so the Protestant church has got this mission's movement of making sure that Christian nurses and doctors become a part of the program where they're sent as two-year vocational doctors and nurses to these locations around the world, sanctioned by the Cuban government. But yet they know that it's God's calling to be sent. There are sent people to go share Christ in those countries where very few people have access. But those are some of the ways that I see God is at work in the world.

Dustin:

It's chess, not checkers. It's finding a way. I mean, and God makes a way. You'll be with us to the end of the age. We promise that and we know that, as Todd said in the first episode, that there's this multicultural, every nation, every people, every language, worship service in heaven. That's where we're headed, and all of these incredible chess moves are what God lets us be a part of along the way. Right, While we're here, while we're still drawing a breath, while we're still able to be effective and heed the call For those that are laboring in the field, other people that may be hearing this anywhere in the world and have gone through different but similar challenges, different but similar frustrations, different but similar heartache and heartbreak. What's your words for them? What are your stories for them, your encouragement for them?

Kirby:

Yeah, I think God works through relationships and the people that you know right now are the people that are going to love you and that you need to be the ones who love. You need to love those people in your life and if you're listening to this podcast right now, god's exposing you to the world that you are just being introduced to right now. And what I love about this podcast is people are going to hear it and then begin to wonder well, who are the Yazidi and where is Armenia and where is Oman, and what about this country? Are these people group that Kirby talked about? And that's going to come up again in your life, not just because this podcast is going to come up again and God's going to start putting some threads together to where you eventually have a relationship with somebody from that part of the world. Or you're going to hear from a missionary that's come from that part of the world. Or you're going to be in a business relationship in the break room and somebody's going to be on a visit to your business and some of the part of the world and you're going to bump into them.

Kirby:

Or in some meeting that you have, whether it's on Zoom or in your office or at your school and you're going to bump into people or have connection to the places we've talked about in this podcast, and it's going to be God revealing to you that he's got a role for you and he's giving you opportunity for that, and just step into the next relational step with that person and begin asking questions How'd you get here? Tell me your story, why are you here? What's your family like back home? And then, as you begin to build a relationship with somebody, it will lead you to where God wants you to participate and it might mean you get to go visit that country through that relationship. It might be through business, where it might be through education, or it might be through academics, but whatever it is, the path might get you to where you're significantly apart, relationally embedded in God's work in the world, and it might mean that you show up later and you're helping to fund an effort to that part of the world or you're using a role as a consultant to help develop something in some part of the world that can make it better. God has given you your talents, your personality, your experience in the world to serve in the global church and I believe as a result of listening to this podcast that there'll be more that you could see that God would bring into your path to help move you along that relational path.

Dustin:

I love that. If this podcast is something that you can take a few things out of or just one thing out of that you've heard from Kirby today, from us today, process that and let that wash over you and be prepared for what God has in that next season for you. Just like Kirby's saying and so a massive part of what our heart is, what this podcast is we want to encourage those that are already laboring, encourage the workers, but we want to invite you if you're not yet a goer or a sender or a prayer, or you could be in a different season of life or you were something else and now you're being called to play a different role get in the game, because everyone has a role to play.

Kirby:

It's true, everyone does have a role to play in the local church and again I'll go back to the local church as the hero of the missionary story. Ordinary people in local churches are the hero of the missionary story and that means all of you listening to this podcast. You get to be the ordinary hero of what God's up to in the world. There are not super special Christians that participate in this. You don't get to just listen to Kirby Holmes and the Key Special or he has something unique. I'm not. I'm just a regular guy that just sort of took the next step and what it meant to follow Jesus faithfully and that's. You're the same kind of person as me and so just be ordinary about what it means to be a Christian, but you in your church, hearing these stories being a part of what your church is up to missionally in the world.

Kirby:

Talk to your mission's pastor. You know follow up when the pastor does a sermon about missions or somebody places a prayer card in front of you about somebody that's going on a mission trip or a family mission trip or youth mission trips. Listen to the stories, invite them over to your house, find out maybe how you get to be a part and if it's funding it, you know, write big checks for it. If it's praying, pray big prayers for what could happen in the world.

Kirby:

If it's, you know, hosting international people who have come to your city, who live among your city, boy, get to know somebody from another part of the world with a different religious background or a different ethnic background, and learn their story and learn their cultural history and the things that make their year interesting, like we have a new year's or we have a July 4th celebration or we have Thanksgiving in our country. Well, what are other people from other countries? What are interesting things about their life and culture that they miss when they're here in America? Boy, just engage people and be hospitable with the nations as they've come here. I think those are some ways, like you know you've mentioned, that can really help move somebody forward and be a part of God's story and missions.

Dustin:

How do people connect with you and storyline?

Kirby:

So they connect with me by just going to the storyline website, storylinemissionsorg, and you can read about what we've been up to and find stories there. You can find information about how to connect with me on our website. If you want to email me or have any questions or want to follow up, that'd be great.

Dustin:

Awesome, kirby, thank you so much for taking the time today. Thank you for your time in the field, what you've done and know this man. We are going to be praying for you and your family in this season of rest and respite and the next season ahead, whatever that is that God has for you. We're on your team. We're going to hold the rope for you, whatever that season is. We can't wait to hear. But you rest in the meantime and when you're ready, you call me back and we're going to come right in the game with you. Thanks, dustin, you guys are having me Amen.

Dustin:

Thank you for listening to Unreached. Our sincere desire is that what you've heard today will cause you to see the mission of God differently and you're rolling it more clearly. If this adds value for you and we hope it does would you please rate and review the podcast wherever you listen. Also, share with your family, your friends, your church, your life group, small group, d group, wherever you do life, and if you want to connect with us, find us on Instagram at unreachedpodcast, or email us at unreachedpodcastgmailcom.

Journey to Reach the Unreached
Journey to Missionary Work in Russia
Missionary Work and Mobilizing From Russia
Empowering the Global Church in Mission
Supporting the Christian Church in Ukraine
The Church's Role in Supporting Ukraine
Global Missions and Opportunities
Promoting Unreached Podcast and Seeking Feedback