UKRAINE: FORMER DRUG ADDICTS BECOME CHRIST’S “GREEN MARTYRS” IN WAR-TORN SEVERODONETSK
A church composed of twelve former drug and alcohol addicts, led by a pastor who is himself a former addict, are being hailed as heroes for staying to evangelize and provide aid to Severodonetsk residents as the city came under increasing attack.
Pastor Alexander Turgunov and his Church of the Transfiguration delivered food, diapers, clothes, medicines, and New Testaments and preached to Severodonetsk residents who were hiding in basements and bomb shelters from the outbreak of conflict in February. The group continued their work even after a shell struck the building which housed the pastor’s apartment, where church members had relocated during the conflict.
“The world calls Pastor Turgunov and the members of the Church of Transfiguration ‘heroes’, but we call them ‘green martyrs’,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.
Foley’s organization operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution. The organization also provides emergency assistance to local pastors and churches like Turgunov and his Church of the Transfiguration, who risk their lives to share the gospel in word and deed in areas of extreme danger for Christians.
The lighted window marks the home of Pastor Alexander Turgunov, where members of the Church of The Transfiguration stayed together as fighting reached Severodonetsk. A rocket damaged the adjacent apartments in the building.
Pastor Alexander Turgunov (tallest, in the back right) with members of the Church of the Transfiguration.
“Early in church history Christians recognized that there were different kinds of martyrdom,” says Representative Foley. “‘Red martyrs’ were those who died for their faith in a bloody instant. ‘White martyrs’ were those who died to the world, living their lives in the desert or in monasteries. And ‘green martyrs’ were those who died to themselves, laying down their own lives daily as faithful witnesses to Christ. According to this definition, Pastor Turgonov and his church members should be regarded as green martyrs.”
Pastor Turgunov, who is married and has five children, founded Church of the Transfiguration in 2016. He told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that after ten years of addiction, he was “dying from drugs”.
Members of the Church of Transfiguration distributing aid as Severodonetsk experiences heavy fighting.
“In 2013, I went to a rehabilitation center in Kharkiv. I heard about Jesus Christ,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “In 2014, my wife Yana and I entered into a covenant with God. God gave me a new life, freedom from the slavery of sin, and I clearly understood that I had to return to my hometown of Severodonetsk, where I was a notorious scoundrel, drug addict and criminal, in order to tell many children that there is another life that is Jesus Christ, who gives freedom from addiction.”
Pastor Turgunov returned to Severodonetsk and traveled throughout the region for five years, visiting hospitals, tuberculosis dispensaries, pharmacies, and wherever he could find drug addicts and alcoholics, sharing his testimony and preaching salvation in Jesus Christ. ”Many guys, after my personal testimony, went to a rehabilitation center and received freedom from addictions, and families were preserved and restored,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Pastor Turgunov also spoke to young people on the dangers of drugs, alcohol, and smoking, lecturing in educational institutions in Severodonetsk while he and his church members also played sports, lifted weights, and studied the Bible with at-risk youth. “One young girl who became pregnant was accepted into our family and chose not to have an abortion, so another soul was saved,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The girl named her son David, after King David, the pastor said.
Pastor Turgunov and his church worked in close cooperation with Severodonetsk city authorities and social services to reach low-income, large, and at-risk families, inviting the families to church meetings and home groups and distributing food packages. In the months preceding the war, the group started a rehabilitation ministry in the city.
“When war broke out the group had to set aside its own ministry projects, but the skills they had learned through their work ended up being needed on a much larger scale,” says Representative Foley. Church members prepared meals and fed their neighbors while delivering food and other aid to addresses across the city.
Members of the Church of the Transfiguration prepare meals for neighbors in front of the wreckage of an apartment building in Severodonetsk.
Church of the Transfiguration, with some members now dispersed as far away as France, continues to meet for worship online.
“Most importantly, when we distributed food to people, we distributed New Testaments and, of course, preached to people about Christ and called for repentance,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Since Pastor Turgunov lived in a first–floor apartment, several of the church members with children came to stay in the home, as did the pastor’s non-Christian parents and another non-Christian family in which the father was addicted to drugs. (The father is now in rehabilitation in Rivne in Western Ukraine.)
On March 3, a shell landed in another apartment in their building. “Thank God, everyone survived. Only glass fell in our apartment,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The group decided that parents with young children, pensioners, and those with health problems should evacuate to Rivne. The remaining church members cooperated with city volunteer groups and other local Protestant churches to assist in evacuation efforts and deliver aid.
“The guys went to those places where even volunteers were afraid to go,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Some members of the Church of the Transfiguration, now in France, reaching drug addicts with the message of the gospel.
Members of the Church of The Transfiguration share their message of freedom from drugs and alcohol through the gospel. Pastor Alexander Turgunov is in the back left.
Turgunov says church members remained in Severodonetsk as long as they could, but as the situation worsened, recently the last of the church members were forced to leave. “Now in Severodonetsk the situation is very terrible,” Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “We really want to return in order to restore the ruins of not only urban structures, but also the ruins of crippled souls due to the war, bringing the Good News to people.”
For now, members of the Church of the Transfiguration are scattered.
Some of the church members with children went to France to assist the Transfiguration’s mother church to reach alcohol and drug addicts in that country. Other members are in Kharkiv, assisting Transfiguration’s mother church with prison ministry and humanitarian aid distribution. The remaining members, including Pastor Turgunov and his family, are in Rivne. Pastor Turgunov keeps the church connected through online worship services and other meetings.
“The Lord continues to lead us and take care of us, but we, in turn, also want to be faithful to Him and fulfill His great commission, wherever we are,” Pastor Turgunov told Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Pastor Turgunov, his wife Yana, and their five children.
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is providing emergency assistance to local church congregations and individual Christians who are continuing to engage in faithful gospel-centered witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. “Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s calling is to help support the tiny churches like Church of the Transfiguration that are risking their lives to faithfully witness to Christ in word and deed,” she says. “These twelve men and their pastor are making an impact for the kingdom from Ukraine to France. Christians around the world can learn a lot from Pastor Turgunov and his congregation, as they continue to ‘go to those places where others are afraid to go’.”
Donations can be made to the Ukraine Emergency Fund 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 phrase “Ukraine” with the donation.