Church Planter Makes 137th Trip to Ukraine, Sees Revived Hunger for Gospel

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

rich c Rich Correll: “I look for people who have dirty hands and dirty feet.”There are a handful of reasons why Rich Correll is an unlikely person to make his 137th trip to the Ukraine to establish new churches.

By his own admission, when he launched Church Planters' Training International (CPTI) in 1992 as founder and president, Correll had no prior theological or church planting experience. In his earlier years he worked for Bethlehem Steel as a sales manager (1967-1988), selling the alloy to some of the area's largest manufacturers in West Michigan.

Plus, he doesn't speak the East Slavic native language, Ukrainian, nor does he dialogue in Russian that nearly 30 percent of Ukrainians speak, nor does he know any of the 40 minority languages and dialects spoken in the Eastern European nation.

"My joke is we did everything wrong but it worked out pretty good," said Correll.

Apostolic vision

These are the reasons why Correll's ministry has been fruitful nonetheless: He possesses the gift of exhortation and maintains a heartbeat for an apostolic vision. Correll credits English missionary Roland Allen, whose books include his 1927 manuscript, "The Spontaneous Expansion Of The Church And The Causes Which Hinder It," for serving as his church planting compass.

"Roland Allen is my hero, who said a foreign missionary must do three things: See that Scripture is established, understand the church is established and have an apostolic vision," said Correll.

"The Ukraine for a long time has been a Christian nation. They've had the Scripture and tremendous growth in the church. The reason I still stay is for that third prong: to ensure an apostolic vision and purpose."

At age 73, Correll acknowledges he will one day name a successor to CPTI, adding that may happen within two to three years.

Transition process

"I've come to understand I will have an end time and so I am in the process of the transition process," he said. "I have four partners in particular who understand the things that are important to the spiritual journey in the Ukraine, in other words they have a tremendous influence. I want to marry them to churches that are working in connection with them.

"We're going to leave with basically thousands of churches planted and have influenced many people."

Correll said he defines "partners" as Christians involved in church planting, drug rehabilitation and war relief.

"They are actually people who have a tremendous record of baptisms, who are incarnational in people's lives, very productive," said Correll. "I'd love to have more. A lot of people are doing church but I look for people who have dirty hands and dirty feet."

Correll said he defines "dirty hands and feet" as people who are preaching the Gospel in the marketplace and ministering to the needs of people.

While he's in the Ukraine through May 5, Correll will concentrate his time at its capital, Kiev, and its eastern border where the war with Russia continues to rage.

Revived hunger for Gospel

The upside to the war, if it can be described that way, is a spiritual awakening has been unleashed in eastern Ukraine.

"The war has certainly revived a hunger for the Gospel," said Correll. "Ukraine had become prosperous and prosperity tends to deaden interest in the gospel. Everything goes in cycles."

Correll added he does not foresee the conflict between Ukraine and Russia ending anytime soon.

"Russia wants to destabilize Ukraine and keep it out of the EU (European Union) and NATO," said Correll. "Ukrainians don't want to be a part of Russia, they much rather be European. Ukraine cannot join the EU unless it has continuous protected borders and with Ukraine not having control of its eastern borders, that means under EU bylaws you cannot be a partner. Russia is very happy to have this contingency force."

Connected to John Guest

Correll's evangelistic work started in the mid-1980s when Clare DeGraff invited him to become part of the John Guest evangelistic team, organizing evangelistic crusades in the United States, including in Grand Rapids with Alive '85, as well as Romania, Ukraine and Russia. Correll founded CPTI in 1992. DeGraff continues to serve as its chairman.

Correll intends to make other trips to the Ukraine.

"When the last trip will be, I don't know," he said. "What we have done will carry on either way if I die tomorrow. It's just I want to have a better feel about it (who succeeds him)."
Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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