After a life well lived, John’s advice is simply, “Get involved in the church as much as you can, because only God knows whether you will be able to serve at 70.”

Hunger for Bread; Hunger for Knowledge

Ukrainian Immigrant Reinvests in Others

John Tkachuk’s hunger for knowledge and love of God, both of which would eventually benefit thousands of Ukrainians and Canadians, began in Polish-controlled Ukraine. When his Sunday School teacher convinced the ten-year old America was a land of opportunity John determined to leave his poor village some day and broaden his horizons. At the time in 1935, public school offered some opportunity to learn a bit of English, which his parents encouraged him to take, stressing the need for education.

After the Second World War, Tkachuk secured passage to Canada, one step closer to America. However, once in Canada he found work in the northern Ontario logging camps. Little did he know his life would become rooted in Canada rather than America like he had dreamed.

But even as John cut wood he maintained a dedication to his education, memorizing 300 English words he had carefully written in a small notebook. He had a hard time keeping up with experienced lumberjacks, partly due to earlier malnourishment, and asked to be released from his contract so he could once again pursue education.

Rev. Kindrat, editor of the Ukrainian Christian Herald, with whom he had corresponded, welcomed him to Winnipeg. Later, he was asked to typeset Ukrainian language materials for The Christian Press. He saved carefully, and soon had enough to begin his university education.

John married Aura, his future wife, while still a student at McMaster University in Hamilton. During their first pastorate at Hyas, SK. a man needed help correcting records regarding his pension. A government official, noting John’s language fluency, recommended he apply for a scholarship. John soon found himself in Toronto, a student once more, earning a social work degree. That helped provide for a growing family, and afforded yet another form of service.

After two postings with the Saskatchewan provincial government, John was hired as Assistant Regional Director, Health and Welfare Canada. This meant a move back to Winnipeg. During the 27 years John enjoyed this position, John was also called to pastor Roseau River Baptist Church.

His concern for older Ukrainian people in the area unable to understand English language church services, led John to develop a Ukrainian language radio program that aired for 17 years. John mentored the new pastor, and still preached once a month, after accepting a call from the Winnipeg Baptist Church. Under John’s leadership, the Canadian Ukrainian Baptist Conference sent at least 13,000 books, including Bibles, and food, clothing, and medicine to Ukraine.

As the years went on, John cared for Aura as her health declined, feeding and just being with her even after she moved to a care home. During this time, he continued working on a history of Christianity in Ukrainian, which was published in 1999. The Ukrainian Baptist Seminary in Kiev granted Rev. Tkachuk a doctorate (DMin.) in recognition of this work.

Aura’s death in 2008 brought great loneliness. He and Ada married in 2009. Both advise family support when contemplating remarriage. (John and Ada, and their respective first partners had been friends for decades.) Companionship, travel and serving together are blessings they enjoy.

Though physical abilities limit activity at 90 years old, he continues to encourage people as much as he can. He is still asked to conduct funerals, and does visitation.

After a life well lived, John’s advice is simply, “Get involved in the church as much as you can, because only God knows whether you will be able to serve at 70.”

Pat enjoys learning how God is working in and through people, and delights to share these stories with others.


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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Pat Gerbrandt is a Manitoba writer who delights to learn how God is working in and through His children, and enjoys sharing these accounts. Do you know a senior with an amazing story? Let us know! E-mail or call 1-800-263-6695.

About the author