For most people living in the parts of Ukraine now under the control of pro-Russian forces, being detained for hours at a checkpoint is an inconvenience or a cause for concern.
But according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, many Christians in the region see the checkpoint delays as the perfect opportunity for evangelism.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution. Representative Foley says the organization remains in contact with Christians and churches who are currently in areas of armed conflict, including Ukraine and those parts of Ukraine now under the control of pro-Russian forces.
She says Christians there, speaking on condition of anonymity, report that churches are facing new restrictions on their activity but are finding new ways to share the gospel, including what Representative Foley calls “checkpoint evangelism”.
“Christians are ‘turning the tables’ on who is asking questions to whom at the checkpoints,” says Representative Foley. “Soldiers ask them, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Why are you traveling?’ But then Christians are asking the soldiers, ‘Do you know Jesus?’”
“One Christian doing ‘checkpoint evangelism’ told us, ‘I talk to the soldiers at the checkpoint about God, about the need for repentance. They are also the souls for whom Christ died.’”
Representative Foley says that Christians from the regions of Ukraine now under control of pro-Russian forces have turned to “checkpoint evangelism” and other forms of mobile evangelism as their day-to-day lives have been disrupted.
“Believers tell us that the conditions in the war-torn cities where they live are extremely difficult,” says Representative Foley. “Most stores are not operating. Water is only available in some places. Whole villages are without electricity. People are experiencing financial difficulties because they cannot earn money, or if they have money, they cannot access it because the banks are closed.”
“Voice of the Martyrs Korea continues to document many cases of the incoming authorities ordering churches to register or even close. Christians tell us that authorities arrive from the regional center, photograph church signs, give instructions to church leaders to close the church and not to gather,” says Representative Foley. “Christians tell us that authorities seize and confiscate books and tracts at the churches on the grounds that they are foreign periodicals. We have received multiple reports of the authorities telling believers in the region that Russian Orthodoxy is the only correct faith and that other faiths are illegal.”
Servicemen of the RF Armed Forces at a checkpoint near the territory of the Azovstal plant in Mariupol © RIA Novosti / Alexei Kudenko
Christians, she says, face an added burden.
Representative Foley says that Christians mainly focus on evangelizing other local residents. But she says that when authorities come to investigate their churches or when soldiers stop them at checkpoints, Christians see it as an opportunity to evangelize. “They’re responding in faith, not fear,” says Representative Foley.
“One brother told us that he uses every opportunity to testify about God to whomever he meets,” says Representative Foley.
The brother told Voice of the Martyrs Korea, “I went into a house in one village, and soldiers were laying on the floor. ‘Hello,’ I said. ‘How do you like God’s territory?’ ‘Oh, okay, father,’ they replied. ‘The soldiers were using Christian literature as fuel for the stove. ‘And what are you doing?’ I asked them. ‘Do you want to bring the wrath of God on yourself?’ ‘No, father,’ they said. ‘We just arrived today. We do not smoke, we do not drink, we are not like that.’ ‘Well, look,’ I said. Then I gave them a Gospel tract, they all took it. Now they have already left. It was at the very beginning.”
One Christian told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that he warned soldiers that he was “armed and dangerous”, because of the New Testaments and tracts he carries.
“I told a few of the soldiers, ‘I am armed and very dangerous to Satan’,” the brother said. “I try to make sure that I have a spiritual sword—tracts—so as not to miss the opportunity to tell them about God.”
According to Representative Foley, Christians in the region say that the checkpoints residents must pass through provide frequent opportunities to evangelize the soldiers sent to the region.
“When I pass a checkpoint I stop and distribute tracts and New Testaments,” one Christian told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “These are soldiers from the territories controlled by Russia. Sometimes I meet Russian soldiers. I distribute the material to everyone, saying that they should read it daily in the morning and in the evening.”
Representative Foley says that Christians report that the soldiers willingly receive the materials.
“Some soldiers say that they have learned the Lord’s Prayer,” one Christian told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “I see that they are ordinary people. It is clear that they are not military men. They came to work, were handed the summons, were sent to the draft board, and were brought to the battlefield. Therefore, it is easy to communicate with them. They listen and I face no problem.”
Christians told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that even multiple trips through the same checkpoint provide opportunities for follow-up with the soldiers there.
“Once, I saw a soldier sitting and reading the New Testament,” one Christian said. “The last time I had passed through that area, I had handed out New Testaments. Praise God that somehow we can sow [the word] so that our ministry spreads to everyone. As it is written, God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It’s a pity that Satan sentences entire nations to destruction, but we must do God’s work – to save and help people.”
One Christian told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that he believes God is protecting believers as they evangelize the soldiers.
“One morning we prayed before leaving our house, but the car would not start,” the Christian said. “We tried for two hours, but nothing worked out. Two hours later the engine finally started, and we drove off. At the checkpoint, the soldiers checked our documents and said that they would confiscate the car, since we did not have a power of attorney document for it. We decided to go back to get the owner of the car. We had just arrived back at the house when shelling began in the place we had planned to go. That whole city was covered in black smoke. I thought, ‘It’s good, Lord, that you didn’t let us in there.’”
According to Representative Foley, the ministry of evangelizing soldiers goes back to the beginning of Voice of the Martyrs. “Voice of the Martyrs global founders, Rev. Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina, began the ministry by evangelizing the Russian soldiers who were sent to Romania. They showed the soldiers the love of Christ and paid a high price for sharing the gospel with them and other Russians and communist officials: Both Wurmbrands spent time in prison, with Rev. Wurmbrand ultimately being tortured and imprisoned for 14 years.” Representative Foley says that the Wurmbrands’ ministry to Russian soldiers is shown in the movie ‘Tortured for Christ’, available for free viewing at https://vomkorea.com/tfc/.
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 witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. Donations can be made to the organization’s 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.