No Despair! Ukrainian Christians’ message of hope

R119 no despair

Four months on from the Russian invasion we caught up with our partner Pavel*, who is based in Ukraine, to find out how believers are responding to the war.

Q: In our last magazine we highlighted the restrictions on churches in areas under Russian separatist control. Since the war began has the situation deteriorated further?

A: Like the rest of the population, many evangelicals have left Ukraine because of the war, and they are dispersed across neighbouring countries. It is a miracle of the Lord that Western borders have been opened so freely and Ukrainians have experienced such generous hospitality. Around 90 per cent of the Christians in Mariupol were able to escape. In other cities such as Kyiv some more have remained, and churches have been gathering for daily prayer.

In the areas under Russian separatist control the situation is the same as before. Many evangelicals had already been forced out and some who left the regions were not allowed to return. Church buildings were confiscated, and evangelical Christians are not officially permitted to gather, although some have been able to continue meeting in homes. Positively, however, the upheaval of the war has made it possible for some Christians in newly occupied areas of the country to reconnect in fellowship with Christians in the separatist areas.

What is the message coming out of the church in Ukraine?

The Ukrainian people have a strong belief and hope for the future of their country. Many Ukrainian men who were working outside the country have returned to fight. People who have left because of the war are expecting to come back.

Ukrainian Christians have a strong faith. They are praying to God every day and they expect that their prayers will be answered. Although many Christians have fled the country those who remain have taken the opportunity to serve practically in their towns and cities. One church in Mariupol was providing food, water and accommodation for local people. But the people also wanted spiritual help, and some became Christians as a result.

One pastor told me that since the war started the church has had more opportunities to share the gospel with their neighbours than they ever did before.

I visited a church in the western part of Ukraine where more Christians have stayed. Every night it was full of people praying. Ukrainian Christians are praying for security for today and revival for the future. There is no despair. Christians are a special sort of people who always have a hope.

Are Christians concerned about what will happen if Russia takes control over parts of Ukraine?

I do not believe this will happen but if it does it will only be for a short time. I believe that occupied areas will be given back. The invasion is Putin’s vision but too many Russians have too much invested in the West and the sanctions are hurting them. And of course, there is God. Ukrainian Christians are expecting that God will do something in answer to our prayers.

Were Ukrainians fearful of a Russian invasion even before 2014?

Yes, we always expected something like this would happen. We knew that the partitioning of eastern regions eight years ago was only the start of Putin’s plans. Even when the Soviet Union collapsed more than 30 years ago and we experienced real freedom, some Christians left Ukraine because they anticipated it would only be a short window of freedom. Some evangelicals including my own father always believed that Russia would return and attempt to re-establish an empire.

What impact has the war had on believers Release International supports in Central Asia?

We are still able to support them, but there are more challenges. It is no longer possible for them to travel to Ukraine for meetings, training and fellowship, and it is much more difficult for us to travel to Central
Asia. We are still able to communicate daily, but they are more isolated than before.

What impact will this war have on the church in Ukraine and the wider region?

More than five million people have left Ukraine but, when the war ends, I suspect that not everyone will return. But this gives an opportunity to existing Ukrainian diaspora churches across Europe. They will become more active, especially in reaching out to their own dispersed people.

After the war is over Ukraine will be a changed country. Those who return will bring new ideas and new expectations. They will want to improve living standards and introduce new technologies.

Christians can also bring back new ideas. I am praying that the church will benefit from new ideas about mission and outreach.

What does the future hold for believers in Russia?

I believe they will experience increasing oppression. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, some Russian Christians have been manipulated by Putin’s propaganda, even some evangelicals. They have been tempted by a comfortable lifestyle and they need to ask themselves where their true loyalty lies. Too many are currently neutral and not bold enough to speak up against the regime. However, for a Christian, there comes a time when you have to stand up, when saying nothing is no longer an option.

How can we pray for Christians in Ukraine and Central Asia?

Please pray for peace, but not at any price. People need to know that freedom does not come automatically, it can be costly. Up until this point Ukrainians may not have appreciated their freedom enough.

Please pray for the church, especially in terms of outreach and evangelism. Local churches have to understand that the time of crisis is the time of the greatest opportunities. Christians need wisdom to know how to use the time wisely. Today the most important thing is to show compassion and help people with their practical needs – this is the most understandable sermon. This will impact communities and prepare the ground for evangelism.

*Not his real name


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