Corruption is a “significant obstacle” to doing business in Ukraine, according to the OECD, a leading economic thinktank. So being honest at work is a daily battle for 31-year-old accountant Vera who works as a finance and administration manager in Kyiv.
Yet Vera is a Christian who has been taught and shaped by IFES GraduateImpact. She sees her work as her ministry and is determined to conduct her business dealings in a way that demonstrates her Christian faith. “You can be salt and light,” she says. “Salt I see as stopping deterioration – and I’m in a position to stop fraud and set a standard in transparency.”
That’s not to say it is an easy path. Even though Vera works for a multinational corporation in Ukraine, which supports her move to work within the law, she still faces obstacles. “There is pressure – the country is corrupt,” she says. If she needs to release some goods from customs, she can either do it the proper way – which is very complicated, slow and costly – or she can pay a bribe and get it delivered to the office the next day. “It means more work for me - it is a harder way,” she says. “It is still tempting for me not to do it because I don’t have the time or the energy.”
For the last three years Vera has been part of the business and management group of Cross-Current, a Christian discipleship and mentoring programme set up by IFES. She and other group members meet up twice a year for Biblical teaching and input, guidance from older Christians in their field, and to pray for and support each other.
The issue of what to do with corruption is a perennial talking point, which Vera finds helpful. “I understand that I am not alone,” she says. “There are people across the globe with the same problems and issues – but the issues are manageable. I meet with other people and I learn from other people.”
Vera came to faith as a teenager. She was born when Ukraine was part of communist USSR but her non-Christian grandmother had cousins who were Baptists. When her older sister suffered from bad dreams, her grandmother told her to pray to Jesus for help, and introduced the two girls to these relatives.
The relatives told the girls to go to church so Vera and her sister found one back in Kyiv and went by bus on their own, aged just eight and 12. “My parents were divorcing so where busy sorting out their own lives,” she says. The church was run by an American missionary who motivated them to learn Bible verses by giving out bubble-gum.
Academically bright, Vera graduated from high school at 15 but then hit a difficult patch. She didn’t get into the university she wanted, and she felt betrayed by her parents who by then were living in separate apartments. Although she still prayed she had stopped going regularly to church, but her troubles led her to a charismatic church where she was invited to a small group. There she witnessed miracles and became a Christian. “It was very emotional and I was touched by the Holy Spirit,” she says. “I understood that my life would never be the same. I wanted to change completely.”
In her second year at university, at the age of 17, she met some Christian students who invited her to an IFES summer camp. She didn’t want to get involved in CCX Ukraine and only accepted because the camp was cheap but she met some people she liked. A few years later, however, when her small group at church collapsed (she had been put in charge of it, but wasn’t mature enough to cope) she came to a crisis point in her faith. She thought back over things in her Christian life that she had really liked, and remembered the IFES summer camp. She rang the office of CCX, and was touched that the woman who answered the phone remembered her. She was invited to get involved and this time she accepted.
In her last year at university, when she was 21, she helped found the CCX graduate movement of which she remained a member for seven years. She and fellow leaders created a database of past graduates as a source of prayer, resources and finance. They ran an annual conference for final-year students with help on how to write a cv, how to be interviewed, how to adapt to life after university, and how to discern your professional calling. They also ran a reunion conference for graduates, helping create a community meeting regularly to pray.
Several things struck Vera through her involvement with CCX. For the first time she saw people from different Christian denominations able to get on with each other. “I really liked that – I understood that it was manageable,” she says. She was also impressed with the inductive Bible studies. “I viewed Christians as not very educated, not very smart,” she says. “But in IFES I found people who are real believers in God but who are also really educated. It helped me make judgements and to get to the truth. We have to check everything against the Bible, and judge whether it corresponds or not.”
And the input on work was eye-opening. Her previous church separated Christian life from professional life and work was just something you did to support your family – something she now describes as ‘spiritual schizophrenia’. With IFES she discovered a different theology. “I just clearly understood and realised that God is in every aspect of my life,” she says. “My job is no exception.”
IFES was also instrumental in helping Vera discover her gifts. “When I joined IFES I didn’t have any idea of what my career would be like but I was positive about doing something for others,” she says. “When I was organising conferences I just realised that I have this talent to organise events - administrative skills and leadership – which are skills that I use in my job now.”
After graduating in accountancy and auditing in 2005, Vera found a job using her English as a receptionist for an American company. They quickly saw her potential and promoted her to finance assistant. Just over a year later she moved to another American company as an accountant. She then saw her job advertised, applied, and much to her astonishment was appointed. “I was only 23 and got a job in a major world media organisation,” she says. “This job at this age with minimum qualifications – people were really surprised because it was something you didn’t expect.”
She has now been there for seven years, and has been promoted to head of finance and administration for both of her company's divisions in Ukraine, and in the tiny office in Moldova too. Her role gives her responsibility and she has the chance to set an example. She is also ready to take all her work issues to God – whether they be unexpected tax demands, communication problems, or difficult relationships.
“I pray for every situation that occurs to me at my job,” she says. “Not that my life is smooth and easy but I see God’s hand in different aspects of it.”