Alexander Golota: the story of how a successful IT specialist came to God, moved to Uzhgorod and created a messianic church

At KEMO’s spring prayer, we talked with Rabbi Alexander Golota of the Messianic Jewish community in Uzhhorod. We talked about “success” in the IT industry and finance, the meaning of life and serving God, the beginning of the war and moving to Transcarpathia, as well as the beginning of the Messianic community in Uzhgorod

Sasha, first share the story of how God found you.

It all started when I went to Sunday school with the Catholics as a child in Zaporozhe, and it gave me a certain understanding of God.

When I was 18, I went to a witchcraft retreat on Hortytsya Island, received there various curses, and since then a lot has gone wrong in my life.

I was born into a very poor family and believed that my life would be alright if I became financially successful.

While studying at the university, I tried my hand at various jobs – on a construction site, as a journalist, as a teacher… And then I moved to Kiev and literally in a couple of months I became a programmer.

Back when it wasn’t mainstream yet?

Yes, 12 years ago. I worked at this first company for a while and then one of our employees transferred to another job where his salary was 4 times higher. I decided to follow his example and that’s how I got into the “big IT business race”: when you know that everything is already written for you, there are rails along which you rush towards success.

After my poor childhood in Zaporozhye, it was, of course, a kind of cosmos – constant cash piles: salary was paid in the old place, advance payment in the new place… And there is money, but no happiness. All this time I was waiting for this and thought that if I will be successful, girls will love me, friends will appear – and it did not happen.

I remember that then I lived in the center of Kyiv next to the Olimpiiskaya metro station, opposite the church. And so it all washed over me, I really collapsed… In those days I also watched the movie “The Island” with Pyotr Mamonov in the title role about a priest and his life philosophy: “Well, it turns out, the meaning is in the relationship with God…”. One of my colleagues, seeing my condition, suggested trying different drugs: “We will help you!”. But I knew it was a one-way ticket…

And here I was sitting in my apartment, at three o’clock in the morning, shedding tears… and I realized that I had two options: either I could become a drug addict or I could come to God – moreover, come on His terms, because who am I? Just a small mistake, but He is the Creator of heaven and earth. This means that if I want to find a life partner, if I want to have true shalom, then I must follow this path and follow the rules that God speaks about.

Here’s the context: I was already confidently on the road to success at the time, and even though I didn’t have a Lexus yet, I realized that buying one was not a problem. By the way, I have repeatedly refused various “successful” opportunities. Six months before the war, for example, I was sent to Chile, Santiago, to help open a branch of a large Ukrainian IT company. I remember talking about this proposal with my mentor and he answered me: “You know, I think the community might be interested in opening a ministry in Chile, but not with you :)”. And I was happy with that…

I also worked in California for a while. And I perfectly understood that if you set a goal, spend 3-4 years, then earning this conditional million is a completely achievable goal. But God’s purposes are far more important. And I realized that this path of “success” is an absolutely unbearable path in my life, it is not what I am looking for. Love, family and everything that is important to me.

We return to my apartment. At that point I decided to start going to the church across the street. It’s true, after walking around a few times, I realized that everything is bad – there is no community, there is no environment that supports these values – that is, the environment of an unbelieving world inclines you to live as an unbeliever. I realized I wouldn’t last long…

I remember the thought that crossed my mind: “Well, I’m living this way, which means… Lord, I’ve got drugs and there’s You. I’ll give You a chance!”

Well, that’s sincere :)

Yes, I have always tried to be honest in my relationship with God. I remember that one night I ran from Beresteiskaya to Olimpiyskii and shouted to God all the way: “God, I don’t believe in you!”. Well, really, I screamed, I calmed down later and I realized that I was wrong :)

After a couple of weeks I met a girl completely by chance and it turned out that she was from KEMO. In general, she invited me to Shabbat, and interestingly, I immediately clung to the community, literally. I started attending Shabbat regularly. I remember walking around the hall, no one knew me, I went to someone and said: “Hello, my name is Sanya! Let’s become friends!”.

“Some of them probably ran away from you?” :)

Well, some people escaped and some didn’t. That’s how I became friends with one of my brothers here :)

And by chance I got into Nadya Ulyanenko’s “knee” (a structural unit located in KEMO, consisting of several dozen small groups – ed. note), where there were mainly brothers-rehabilitators. They looked at me and thought: “So young, but already has sat in prison and taken drugs…”

God soon showed me that I had certain leadership qualities and that He wanted me to lead a home group. It’s true, the homegroup leader didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm and suggested I go to the group that prepares the hall before meetings :)

But in the end everything worked out, we started a youth ministry in our area and God worked very powerfully. During the year, if I am not mistaken, about 40 new people joined the congregation.

Although I continued my successful path in the IT field – I was even invited once to work at Facebook, for example – I realized that serving God was the most important thing in my life and I never doubted it.

I remember praying like this: “God, I want to be a pastor and I’m asking You – show me my future wife who has the heart of a pastor’s wife!” And at that moment, God showed me my future wife Shasha.

When we started communicating with her, I was particularly attracted by her story of how she danced for God as a child. And so I think: how interesting, she knew God from childhood and was seeking Him, and I have common values with her! In general, we are happily married :)

Did you continue to lead the home group?

After that, we had some reforms in the community structure, I started in the IT service, managed it successfully and handed it over to another person, and I myself started in the coaching department. And then I realized that for some reason I had already outgrown this position… After all, by that time I had raised the region three times from zero. Overall, I felt stuck.

And then I just got another invitation to work abroad. Basically, they did it from time to time. I was almost leaving for Chicago and then at the last minute my wife was denied a visa – well, how can I do without her?

And then I realized: okay, the church won’t bless me if I move abroad, and even though I didn’t completely agree with it I decided that it’s okay if I don’t leave in rebellion… I just knew the stories of people leaving without blessings and what happened later in their lives.

Therefore, I decided to buy at least a piece of land. And since I am from Zaporozhye – where there was a steppe all around, a river 8 km away and a pig farm nearby, and from there everything merged into this river – I somehow wanted everything to look different from Zaporozhye and a piece of land to be in nature.

So, I found a piece of land in Transcarpathia, 50 km from Uzhgorod – all around mountains, river, beauty… I had already been there once and I really liked these places.

True, the problem was that we didn’t really have the money for such a piece of land. And I prayed: “God, I am Your son and You are my Father. And I’m asking You for money for this land, because I don’t know where to get it at all…”. And by that time I was kind of sad, I was about to leave the company I worked for, but I ended up staying. And suddenly they wrote to me: “Hey, you’re such a cool guy, we want to thank you for staying – here’s a bonus for you…”. And they gave me an amount that covered 60% of the land I needed to buy. And then it turned out that I am at work and I miraculously won the competition, I got another 50% of the amount, and if you count the tithe, I had enough money for this plot.

As a result, we bought a plot of land in Transcarpathia like this six months before the war, without understanding why. But the interesting thing is that I still know the person who sold it to me. And he is such a kind guy and knows how to solve all kinds of cases and helps people. And so he called me literally a day before the start of the war and says: “Listen, here people from Kiev are actually already renting apartments en masse in Uzhgorod … Maybe you need to rent a house too?”. My mother lives near Zaporozhye, so I thought – well, it would definitely be reasonable, maybe my mother will move here. And I agreed, and the price was only 6 thousand hryvnias per month.

And February 24, 2022 arrived…

Yes, I remember, sirens roared in Obolon and I went to the gas station in the morning, filled up the car and the canister while my wife was slepping, bought groceries for the week, went to the pharmacy – and there was nothing, and I understood that we have a problem. The fact is that right before the war, my wife began to seriously cure her teeth and she needed antibiotics – but there were no more … and in general, her dentist had already left for Belaya Tserkov. In general, it became clear that everything went wrong. And by that time DRG had already arrived in Obolon, so I decided to take my sick wife out of Kiev.

We drove to Lviv for one day, slept there for only an hour, and then another day – to Uzhgorod. Miraculously, we didn’t run out of gas – we never managed to refuel on the way, and we only ran out of gas at the entrance to Transcarpathia. There, on the way from Lviv, there were a million checkpoints and an 80 km long traffic jam.

Overall, we really appreciated having an apartment waiting for us in Uzhgorod – even though it was almost empty. And as soon as we bought the minimum necessary cutlery, bought food, our brother Fedya sent me a message: “Are you in Uzhgorod?”. And I understand what he means. I saw this message, turned off my phone and went to sleep. As I was lying down in bed I realized how wrong I was: God gave us an apartment in such a wonderful way, and my brother needed help now – but I’m not a good person… I answered him: “Yes, Fedya, I’m in Uzhgorod.” “Oh, cool, and I just took my wife to the border, so I’m coming to you!”

As a result, we put Fedya to sleep on the couch in the kitchen. In the morning we woke up to another message – this time from Seryoža’s brother: “Hello, are you in Uzhgorod?” :)

Somehow, it happened that Fedja and Serjoža decided to come to live with us, in a 1-room apartment, although there were probably places in Ukraine where they could have fit much more comfortably :) And at that time in Transcarpathia, apartment prices had already risen to cosmic heights… and the owner of this apartment told us later that he was offered 16 thousand hryvnias and then one thousand dollars a month for this apartment an hour after we had rented it.

And so, we kind of started settling in, doing different things, and my wife said – guys, we’ll get together somehow, we’ll celebrate Shabbat. So, through local volunteers, we found a place to hold a meeting “for ours” – and it so happened that we had eight “ours” and five new people. And in a week – nine “us” and ten new ones! And we understand that God’s hand is upon the continuation of this work.

To be honest, I wasn’t really keen to take responsibility for it – I kept thinking that maybe Fedya would take it on himself. Of course, I dreamed of leading a congregation, but somehow not in Uzhgorod. I’m all like – I speak English, IT … Maybe in San Francisco or somewhere in Argentina – yes … but in Uzhgorod?

It turned out that the Lord kindly and lovingly pushed you into this ministry?

Yes, despite the fact that some people who arrived went back or went somewhere further and had difficulties. Well, Uzhgorod is the edge of the world. It’s only 5 hours from Lviv…

So God miraculously sends people who cling to Uzhgorod and continue to serve Him. Even in various moments of crisis, when the situation was already directly critical, we cried out to God. And I began to understand why God has this city in his heart – Uzhgorod is closer to eleven capitals of other countries than Kiev: influence on Hungary, Slovakia, Romania… It is a very messianic transit point, you could say.

I understand that I am absolutely unfit for this ministry, and in general, none of us are suited for the positions we fill in our church. But it feels like God has been waiting for our congregation in this city for a long time. And He seems to say: “None of you are qualified for this ministry. But I use you because you came here – but those who were qualified did not come here…”

To be honest, I really like this ministry and this place. We even sold an apartment in Obolon for more than it cost before the war. And we managed to find and buy an apartment on the ground floor of an old house – which I always dreamed of – with its own garden, high ceilings, a chimney … And the most interesting thing is that four generations of Jewish families lived in this place. It turns out that we are, as it were, observing such a succession of generations …

Didn’t there used to be a messianic congregation in Uzhhorod? Do you know anything about this topic?

In general, the Messianic Jewish community of Kiev held a festival in the city about 10 years ago, and after that a small ministry began. But then it changed its format and as a result it somehow failed as a messianic encounter. In other words, there is another ministry that just doesn’t look like ours.

How many Jews live in Transcarpathia now? Do you have any statistics?

Before World War II, 60% of the Jewish population lived in Uzhgorod, 80% in Mukachevo, and almost 100% of Jews lived in other cities of the region. The Jews fled there from the pogroms of the Russian Empire – conditionally they crossed the Carpathians and that already meant freedom.

Unfortunately, during the war years, the Hungarians rounded up all Transcarpathian Jews – whom they could find, of course – and sent 100 thousand people to the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast ghetto. They were all destroyed there.

At the same time, there are many hidden Jews here, people with Jewish roots who renounced their Jewishness in one way or another. And if you start talking to them, they all have a grandmother – for example, Rosa Markovna Luxembourg.

There are also enough Jews in the city. There are also various groups influenced by orthodox Judaism.

In general, a lot of blood has been shed in this area. Uzhgorod is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine. It was once almost completely cut out by Batu Khan, then by the Hungarians, and before them by the Huns… and the fact that there is peace and quiet around here now is some miracle of God.

And how are the relations with the Christian churches of Uzhgorod developing?

To put it very succinctly, it can be said that some churches have certain problems with accepting the messianic vision. Of course, there are good churches that we come across from time to time. But we just realized that we need to settle down a bit, build up the ministry and then start working with other churches and congregations.

How are you doing in the ministry now? How many people attend Shabbat?

On Shabbat, we have about 40 people and another ten are young people. Some time ago we had a certain crisis with the youth, but thank God, now the youth ministry is recovering and I believe that everything will be alright.

Interestingly, we still have people with Jewish roots among IDPs (internally displaced persons – ed. note) and refugees. And in general, we have a very good home atmosphere on Shabbat now.

Recently, our first person received tvila – water baptism. In general, many people repented. When the clergy-chaplains came to us, we did such an evangelical Shabbat, and 80 people came – in fact, they all repented at the end of the service.

We also conduct the first stage of the School of Faith Foundations. 36 people take part in these classes. Eight of them have already repented and are now also on their way to tvila.

The team gets stronger, there are frictions – of course it’s not always easy but God keeps doing it.

Are the people in the congregation mostly locals or refugees? Believers or converts?

We have a team of 8 people. And the rest are mostly refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons). Among the young people there are Uzhgorodians, and we are consciously trying to reach out to more local residents. Because refugees and IDPs are such a category that they are here today and move on tomorrow…

True, one family repented among us, later they returned to Kyiv and went to KEMO. That is, we serve IDPs in Uzhgorod, and then we try to transfer them to the communities and churches of the cities where they return. We believe that when we serve people in Uzhgorod and then they leave for their homes, God will eventually bring ready people to our community. And we see steady growth and God brings more and more key people.

I understand that “cursed is everyone who trusts in man” – that’s why we trust in God first of all, and it’s very difficult to trust in people, because everyone has their own plans, someone has a chance to leave, someone’s plans have changed… And that’s why it’s important to reach out to local people.

What are your future expectations for the ministry of your congregation in Uzhhorod?

I think our team is just great! And God would not have dispersed such a valuable staff if He had not had plans for such a wonderful city as Uzhgorod. Uzhgorod is a small city, but it does not feel provincial. I like to think it has the feel of a Jewish shtetl where everyone sees each other but is striving for something and buzzing with life.

Interviewer – Alex Fishman.


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