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Galina Shuliga loves her parents.
She admires their courageous decision to immigrate to America many years ago from the then Soviet-dominated Ukraine. She is thankful that they are people of devout faith who sought religious freedom for themselves and their family, that they raised her in the church, and that they gave her a secure and loving childhood.
For all those reasons and more, it was natural for her to follow in their spiritual footsteps. At a very young age, she accepted God’s gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. She was actively involved in the Ukrainian church they attended—singing in the choir, and participating in youth group and other church activities.
Even after graduating from college in 2008, Galina continued to attend services with her family. And when her parents began searching for a church closer to home, she joined them on a visit to Wheaton Bible Church.
Welcome to America
It wasn’t too surprising that WBC was one of the churches the Shuligas visited, because it was the church that had welcomed them when they first arrived in the US back in 1990. Galina’s family still talks about the people who met them at the airport, holding a sign that said, “Welcome to America” in Russian.
As they settled into life in America, the Shuligas and the extended family that immigrated with them, found a Ukrainian congregation in Bensenville where they were able to retain their Ukrainian language and culture and continue the Christian traditions Galina’s parents and grandparents had begun when they became believers in the Ukraine.
Looking for a New Church Home
They continued to be part of that congregation for most of Galina’s life, but now—fluent English speakers and acclimated to life in America—they felt ready to make the transition to an English-speaking church that would be closer to their Carol Stream home.
As Galina’s parents were drawn to Wheaton Bible Church and began to attend more regularly, Galina joined them. Here she heard sermons that reflected the same truth she’d heard her whole life but were somehow different, she recalls.
“I was really struck by the style of worship, and the Lord spoke to me through Pastor Bugh’s sermons,” she said. “I’d heard this my whole life, but it really started to speak to me, and I started attending services more and more. I guess I would say that I craved that light that was beginning to come on for me.
“Up to that point I think my faith had been more about tradition, and I didn’t really have a personal connection with God. There was almost a feeling of emptiness,” she added, “as I realized that something was missing.”
Galina and her parents began to talk.
“I started having these open conversations with my parents about my beliefs,” she said. “One of the statements I made stood out to my dad. ‘All my life, as I’ve been going to church and following God,’ I told him, ‘I was following your God. I finally have to decide that this is my God.’”
Although she had come to faith in Christ as a young child, her new commitment to a personal relationship with God marked a fresh beginning on her spiritual journey.
It wasn’t long before Galina—by nature a quiet and reserved young woman—felt God pulling her out of her comfort zone in several different ways.
GO-ing to Ukraine
Early in her visits to Wheaton Bible Church, Galina was impressed by what she calls the “mission focus” of the church. She was especially intrigued as she learned about GO Teams, particularly a team headed to Ukraine to work with orphans.
“For me to even think about a GO Team is huge, because I’m so introverted and shy,” she said. “But I would see the videos during services about people going and serving and I’d think to myself, I want to be that bold!”
Her friends had invited her to go with them on mission trips in the past, but she could never see herself talking to strangers about Jesus. Even as she made the decision to go with the team to Ukraine, she had fears: she had been only five when her family came to America, and her Ukrainian language skills were more than rusty. And who am I, she wondered, to tell people about God? I might say the wrong thing. The whole idea was so intimidating.
But even though she was fearful, Galina joined five other women last July for what she now calls “the best two weeks ever.”
“It was a really awesome trip,” Galina says, “but it was also humbling to be there. I had a great childhood, with parents who would have done anything to keep me—but these were orphans and abandoned kids who had basically been given away.
“Being able to love them, and for them to love me back almost immediately, was an amazing experience,” she said. “I’m not naturally a kid magnet. I’m not an exuberant person, but I couldn’t believe how much I loved talking with the kids—especially the older ones who were fifteen and sixteen. They were so open.”
“Two weeks,” she said, “was too short. I was just getting to know them, and we had to leave. I would love to go back and do it all again. Or go almost anywhere else, because there are people in so many corners of the world who are in need of compassion.”
BEGIN-ing at WBC
Back from the GO Team, Galina decided it was time to take another step—seemingly not as big, but one she had resisted for more than two years.
“Every Sunday, there would be an announcement about the BEGIN class, and I would think, I’ll go to the next one. Then it became the next one and the next one and the next one after that,” she admits. “For me, coming from a different kind of Christian community, it was intimidating.”
One Sunday she decided it was time. “I told myself that I wasn’t going to wait for someone to hold my hand and take me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be part of this church and its mission.”
At BEGIN, Galina met some of the church staff and was introduced to Ecclesia, a young-adult community that meets on Sunday mornings in the 11:15 hour, a group she’s been a part of ever since.
A Step into Serving
It was a video about Puente del Pueblo that led to Galina’s next step of faith. Among the many Puente programs the video highlighted, what stood out to Galina most were the interviews with volunteer ESL tutors.
Galina was just a small child when her family emigrated, but she now recognizes how difficult their new life in America must have been for her parents: knowing no one, dropped into a new culture, and needing to support themselves and their family with no ability to speak or even understand English. Now an adult herself, she has a new appreciation for the valuable assistance the church offered as her family settled in DuPage County—and she wanted to offer that same kind of help to other newcomers.
“Back in high school, I had thought about going into education but didn’t think it fit my personality. I went to business school instead, but the idea of tutoring was very interesting,” she said.
Looking around the church website, she remembered that she’d heard Rachelle Wistrand’s name (Puente’s Volunteer Coordinator), so she sent an email to Rachelle.
“I told her how the ESL program had helped my family so much when they came to America—and I was wondering if this was something I’d be able to do.”
New and different experiences still bring out Galina’s fears. Nearing the end of the ESL tutor training and soon to have her first meeting with her student, the self-described introvert admits that she’s more than a little nervous about what’s ahead. “I’m terrified,” were her exact words.
But so far her fears haven’t stopped her from moving ahead. She’s learning more and more that God can use her—even when she steps outside of what’s comfortable—and she’s ready for what God has next as He works in her life to help her become the woman He created her to be.