UKRAINE: CHRISTIANS LEARN TO LIVE OUT THE GOSPEL DURING WAR
“Now in the city there is a curfew,” says Vitaly, a 28-year-old Ukrainian church leader from a Baptist Church in Kiev, as he gathers together for the evening in a home with his coworkers, in a room with a small desk, a printer, paper, and scissors. “Some people are preparing ammunition and armor. Others might prepare Molotov cocktails. We are preparing our ‘armor’ - God's word and prayer.”
Living out the Christian life amidst difficulties is nothing new for Vitaly. His grandfather was imprisoned eight years for his Christian faith under the Soviet Union. His mother spent three years in prison for printing Christian materials. His father spent three years in prison for leading a Christian youth group. Now, Vitaly leads his own group of young people who have chosen to stay in Kiev and evangelize despite increasing dangers due to the war.
But Vitaly’s father addressed him and his young ministry coworkers on a call this week to warn them that the greatest dangers they will face will not come from tanks or artillery but from their own hearts.
Voice of the Martyrs is supporting local Ukrainian churches, as well as Polish and Moldovan churches along the border with Ukraine, as the churches respond to both the humanitarian and spiritual needs that are arising during the war.
“He told them, ‘If you see a Russian plane crashing, don’t rejoice; otherwise, God will not fight for you’,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.
Representative Foley’s organization operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution, with 12,000 followers from across the Russian-speaking world. The majority, approximately 7,000, live in Ukraine. Representative Foley says that many of the comments on the page these days are from Ukrainian Christians seeking both the right tools and the right heart to serve the Lord in the midst of war.
“There is a lot of hatred now against Russians, not only in Ukraine and not only against soldiers,” says Representative Foley. “Many of the Ukrainian Christians visiting our page are accessing our resources on how to plant or operate an underground church, or they’re reading the stories we publish about underground Christians in places like North Korea. But a lot of them are just saying to us, ‘I know I need to pray for my enemies’.”
Ukrainian Christians near Kiev prepare evangelism materials for distribution
Representative Foley mentions Victoria, a Ukrainian Christian who lives in Irpin, a city near Kiev. “Victoria wrote to us, ‘There is now a humanitarian catastrophe here. My church members who live very close to the church gathered just once for a worship service. It is dangerous to have a meeting now, roads have been destroyed, houses are damaged… May God touch [the Russian soldiers’] hearts, they need salvation too. It is very difficult for us, but as we struggle with the feeling of hatred towards them, we try to forgive them.’”
Ukrainian Christians’ efforts to learn to forgive are coming at the same time that they are also seeking to learn how to carry on their Christian life and ministry in the midst of war.
“Ukrainian Christians are telling us that their churches are experiencing three types of situations now,” says Representative Foley. “First, most of the churches located in combat ‘hot spots’ can’t meet in their buildings, so they are learning how to ‘go underground’ by meeting in small groups in their homes. Second, churches located in quieter areas are literally going underground, opening their church basements for use as bomb shelters. They are also providing residents with food, water, warm clothes, and sometimes shelter for those who are trying to leave the country. Third, some groups, like Vitaly’s group in Kiev, are actively out evangelizing. They are delivering food and medicine, helping doctors to get to and from the hospitals, and setting up bomb shelters. When they meet non-believers in the bomb shelters, they are evangelizing them, praying with them, and giving them specially prepared tracts.”
Still, says Representative Foley, many Ukrainian Christians are thinking less about ministry and more about survival. “One brother wrote to us, ‘Pray for us! Pray that the Lord will forgive me for responding poorly to the needs of others! War is scary. I am now taking my family to the border. In our area, it is relatively calm so far, but the situation is becoming more complicated every hour’. Another wrote, ‘This Sunday we had a worship service. I don’t know what will happen next.’”
Vitaly and a group from his church gather around a phone in order to listen to his father as he encourages them from the Word of God.
Victoria, one of our Russian language Facebook subscribers, sent us worship videos from her church in Irpin. This picture is a screenshot from their worship service. She said it is now currently too dangerous for them to meet in person.
But Representative Foley says that she has learned in her twenty years of leading Voice of the Martyrs Korea that the Christians God uses the most are often the least bold and the most afraid. “We have had 38 martyrs on our Voice of the Martyrs Korea team since my husband and I co-founded the ministry,” says Representative Foley. “What they all had in common was not some special heroic quality but rather a deep awareness of their need for and dependence on God. That’s why the message we share through our Facebook posts in all languages is not ‘Be bold for God’ but rather as Jesus said in Luke 12:7, ‘Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ I think that’s why so many Ukrainian Christians keep coming back to our page these days.”
Representative Foley’s organization and its sister mission, Voice of the Martyrs Poland, are supporting local Ukrainian churches, as well as Polish and Moldovan churches along the border with Ukraine, as the churches respond to both the humanitarian and spiritual needs that are arising during the war. Voice of the Martyrs Korea advanced 10,000 USD earlier this month to fund the churches’ emergency refugee and outreach ministries. Representative Foley says her organization hopes to send additional funds, as donations permit.
Individuals interested in donating to the Ukraine Christian Emergency Relief project can give at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the word “Ukraine” with the donation.
Vitaly’s church preaches the gospel wherever they can – in bomb shelters, and even in open residential areas like in the video. In the video, a church member reads from Psalm 91, but right before he reads verse 5, an explosion occurs nearby. But he continues reading.