Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley 

The war in Ukraine isn’t a faraway news item for one Free Methodist leader in Florida. Southeast Region Conference Elder Greg Kannon serves as the chief executive officer of Music Mission Kiev, which includes the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and a “mission to use the sacred classics to proclaim the gospel to the country of Ukraine and the world.”

The Kiev/Kyiv discrepancy isn’t a mistake. The nonprofit organization’s website explains, “Kiev is the Russian spelling and one that is most familiar to Americans. Kyiv is the Ukrainian spelling and honors the heritage and culture of the musicians, so we use it in the name of the symphony orchestra and chorus.”

In an interview with Light + Life nearly five months into the Russian invasion, Greg explained the impact the war has had on the Ukrainians who are served by Music Mission Kiev.

“So many people have been displaced from their homes, either temporarily or permanently. Families are separated. Ukraine has been under martial law for months now, which means men between the ages of 18 and 60 cannot leave the country and have to be ready to be conscripted into the military,” he said. “Wives, mothers and children have either moved to villages around Ukraine that are under threat, or many of them have moved on to [other countries in] Europe and are refugees, and so we’ve seen the separation of families has caused great anxiety.”

Music Mission Kiev does much more than create music. It supports an orphanage and provides food, clothing, medicine, home repair, weekly Bible studies and discipleship classes for widows and pensioners.

“Many of our widows don’t have families to go with. A lot of them stayed in Kyiv,” he said. “Out of our 450 widows that we serve on a weekly basis, 110 are homebound, which means they couldn’t leave, and so we’ve had great concerns with them as Kyiv was being attacked, and still random missiles are shot at them.”


“The amount of anxiety, depression and behavioral mental issues that is impacting young people since the enemy invasion … it has grown exponentially.”


Another impact is a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder. Music Mission Kiev already had begun an emphasis on PTSD treatment, but the need is much greater now.

“We have just started in the last two years training up some of our staff to do not only PTSD camps and counseling services but to get certified to go to other areas of Ukraine and provide this training to others who would offer it,” Greg said. “We see PTSD especially in the young people. The amount of anxiety, depression and behavioral mental issues that is impacting young people since the enemy invasion February 24, it has grown exponentially.”

Unexpected Connection

Greg said his initial connection to Music Mission Kiev (MMK) came through his wife, Donna, who manages a Christian bookstore inside of a church building.

“She had a board member from MMK and a staff person who served as volunteers in the bookstore, and, in February 2018, they had just finished one of their two yearly board meetings, and had decided they were going to spend $50,000 to search for a CEO for the mission,” said Greg, who added that the board member remarked to Donna, “Do you think Greg would be interested in the CEO position with Music Mission Kiev?”

The search wasn’t necessary after Donna encouraged the board member to call her husband directly to ask if he would be interested. When Greg received the call, he responded, “That’s really great. What is Music Mission Kiev?”

Although his wife knew about the organization, Greg said he “was totally unfamiliar, and so [the board member] began to tell me about the long history — 25 years of using music evangelism to open doors for a mission that operates out of Kyiv, Ukraine. They do music tours, and they’ve been in Europe, the United States, Canada. The focus of their mission is based around St. Paul’s Church in Kyiv, and they have a very large widows and pensioners ministry and an orphans ministry, and it perked my curiosity.”

What he heard seemed like a great fit for Greg’s call to ministry, musical talents, diverse résumé and life experiences. Greg, a vocalist and classically trained pianist, said the woman from MMK’s board “gave me more detail, and she knew I was widowed. My first wife, Kelly, and I were both ordained in the Free Methodist Church, but she died of cancer in 2010, and so I could kind of relate to the widow.”

At the time of the call, Greg worked in clinical research about Alzheimer’s disease. MMK leaders were impressed with his professional experiences, which included serving his alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary’s Orlando campus, for nearly three years as the director of advancement and for 16 years as an adjunct professor of mentored ministry. He had mentored more than 80 pastors in a decade, and MMK needed someone to help develop and mentor leaders in Ukraine while also focusing on fundraising and connecting with donors in the United States.

Greg liked his medical research job but sensed the CEO position was something he “was supposed to do,” and “it got to the point where I felt like I could not say ‘no,’ no matter how happy I was and what kind of money I was making.”

Elevating Ukrainian Leaders

Greg became the CEO of Music Mission Kiev in April 2018, and he and Donna visited Kyiv within a month to see the different ministries. Later that year, family illness forced another MMK leader to miss most of the U.S. tour by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, which led to Greg picking up an additional role.

“I had to go on tour for five of the six weeks and be the American spokesman, and so God really used that six months of just a hyper learning curve to put me into this ministry,” Greg said. “I still say it’s by far the hardest ministry I’ve ever been involved in, but it’s also the only ministry I’ve ever been in where I wake up every day going, ‘Man, what are we going to get to do today?’”

Greg has overseen a shift in key leadership from North Americans to Ukrainians. In his second year, Canadian missionaries retired from their work with Music Mission Kiev.


“God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit was in Ukraine thousands of years before the United States was even born.”


“The leaders in Ukraine had been being trained and mentored for 25 years, and I just felt like it was time to turn leadership over to them for the Ukrainian side,” he said. “When missionaries go in, they can reap a harvest, but once they begin to get that first generation of believers from that country involved and leading, evangelizing and discipling, the fruits are multiplied many times over.”

The change was well-received both in Ukraine and the United States.

“Many American donors were so happy to see us engaging with Ukrainian leadership and letting them lead, which has led to doors being open for us that we just didn’t have open prior to it,” he said. “One of the greatest things I learned early on is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit was in Ukraine thousands of years before the United States was even born.”

He said many Ukrainians have a mostly orthodox understanding of Christianity, but they don’t see their faith as a relationship with Jesus.

“My primary concern was not to take the Western model of church and Christianity to them, but to take Jesus and the Holy Spirit to them period, and that has become a rallying cry for us in the mission: If there’s not a spiritual component to it, why are we doing it?” he said. “There’s a lot of social services. There’s a lot of social support groups, and humanitarian aid is one of our three core values, but our primary reason for being in Ukraine is Jesus period.”

The musicians perform biblically inspired music such as Handel’s “Messiah,” Brahms’ “Requiem” and Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” that were banned in Ukraine under its past Communist rulers.

“When our founders went there in 1992, Ukraine was just coming out of 70 years of Communist rule, which had eliminated sacred music and had eliminated most churches,” he said.

During the past couple of years, the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus has been invited to perform for the first time in government-owned buildings and concerts halls.

“We’ve gone in and brought in professional actors who narrated the biblical passages and readings and what each song was about. The more we did it, the more these government-owned institutions wanted us to come back,” he said. “It’s never been done. The Bible never had been read publicly inside these buildings, and I attribute a lot of that to our conductor, Vika [Konchakovska], who is Ukrainian and has relationships in the music world.”

Both the orchestra and chorus include some of the country’s top performers sacrificing higher pay to share a gospel message.

“They come together to be able to work with peers who are at their caliber to do music no one else is doing in Ukraine anymore,” he said. “We have a really high-quality production when this group performs, and the basis of it is always to engage people with Jesus and to point them to getting connected with a church.”

From Prodigal to Church Planter

Music played a role in Greg accepting his call to ministry. “I definitely heard God’s call to the ministry at 15 and ran from it,” said Greg, who was concerned as a teen about how pastors and their families were treated.

After marrying his first wife, Kelly, he began working a night shift and playing competitive softball during the day. He sat in his car in his driveway while tired after a softball game, and he heard a radio station playing “The Prodigal Son Suite,” a posthumously released 12-minute song by the late Christian singer Keith Green.

“It’s long. It is a masterpiece,” he said. “But it absolutely ripped my soul that this was clearly what God called me to do, and I was not just the prodigal son. I was the older brother, and I really needed to relent and submit. I made the decision right then I would go back and finish my degree.”

He finished his undergraduate education by earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies at Stetson University. He attended Reformed Theological Seminary for one year before transferring to Asbury’s Orlando campus and becoming part of the first graduating class (2003) to earn a Master of Divinity there. His seminary education occurred during a challenging time.


“God told us during that time to stop fearing death.”


“Three months before I started at Asbury, Kelly was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease — late stages — and was not expected to survive that, and so she went through nine months of chemotherapy and then multiple surgeries, multiple transfusions and 16 treatments of radiation and was on the transplant ward in Orlando. There were eight people undergoing stem cell transplant, and she’s the only one that left the hospital at all; everyone else did not survive,” he said. “God told us during that time to stop fearing death. … God used that journey to heal her miraculously. Five year later, she was declared cancer-free.”

Kelly graduated from Asbury in 2006. The couple worked together in ministry and planted several churches.

“We ended up getting to speak all over the United States about the God who still heals,” said Greg, who added that the couple “never thought we would be facing cancer again. … Unfortunately, at the beginning of 2009, she was in pre-leukemia stages. Her bone marrow and blood cell reproduction was failing, and it took a lot of people sacrificing their blood to keep her alive.”

Kelly died in 2010 at age 46.

“I just truly expected God to heal because we gave Him the credit. He had done it before, so I didn’t have any anticipatory grief,” he said “It absolutely crushed me.”

Near the end of Kelly’s life, the couple reconnected with the Southeast Region’s then-Superintendent Darrel Riley who had been a friend and mentor to Greg before Riley was Free Methodist.

Greg recalled that he “was leaving the megachurch where I had planted three multisites and had never been part of a denomination, but, through relationship, the holistic message of the Free Methodist appealed to me.”

As Greg and Kelly connected with Free Methodists, the Wesleyan denomination asked the couple to help plant a church. They were conflicted and approached Riley who responded, “Well, as long as it’s about kingdom building, we’re going to support you and that would not prevent you from being part of the Free Methodist [denomination].”

Greg said this kingdom perspective is what keeps him a Free Methodist today even while serving an interdenominational ministry. He attended his first Free Methodist gathering “in the fall of 2006 and joined them in 2007, and even though I had been ordained, we went through the [Free Methodist ordination] process. I was ordained in 2008, and my wife, Kelly, was ordained in 2009, and then she lost her battle with cancer in March of 2010.”

Finding Love and Ministry Again

After Kelly’s death, Greg stepped away from ministry for two years before helping a church transition to becoming more missional. In 2015, he began a period as the South Atlantic (now Southeast Region) Conference’s director of church multiplication. Around the same time, he reconnected via Facebook with Donna with whom he and Kelly had previously worked at a large church.

“Donna was single, which just floored me, and she had a 15-year-old daughter,” said Greg who acknowledged he had a “ridiculous crazy list” of expectations for a wife that he didn’t think anyone would meet. “The more I got to know Donna, I checked off every single thing on that list.”

The couple married on July 3, 2015, and Greg joked that “every year the United States does fireworks for us.”

“I didn’t have the need to be married again. It just was another one of those situations that God said, ‘You can’t say no to this,’” Greg reflected. “I was crazy about her, and she was crazy about me. Even in your 50s, when love hits again, you feel like a teenager.”

Seven years later, Greg said, “we laugh a lot, and we enjoy life. She’s still doing ministry through the bookstore and discipling her staff, and I get to be in ministry with Music Mission Kiev.”+

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.