Baptist church planters and their congregations in Ukraine have been at the forefront of providing physical and spiritual ministry to Ukrainians displaced, surrounded or occupied by invading Russian forces.
“A great number of Christian churches and humanitarian organizations from around the world provide relief to war victims. All (Baptist) churches and church plants in Ukraine are actively involved in aiding the needy,” said European Baptist Federation Mission Coordinator Daniel Trusiewicz in an update published May 18.
Trusiewicz shared accounts from church planters from across the besieged nation, including one from a pastor identified only as Valery, formerly of Luhansk, Ukraine. His and others’ statements reflect the personal sacrifice clergy and laypeople are making in the face of Russian aggression.
“During the first two months of the war, my wife and I served in a refugee center in western Ukraine,” Valery reported. “My wife cooked food and led meetings for women. I organized humanitarian assistance, led prayers and preached in different churches. Later we moved to Mukachevo in the south to care for the wounded soldiers.”
Valery also described the organization of evacuations from Luhansk, a city in eastern Ukraine, including those of mothers and children sent to other countries to escape the onslaught. About 30 are now in Germany.
“Meanwhile, the brothers from our church have now organized a volunteer center in the city of Vinnytsia where they serve the refugees from Donbas,” he said. “They have bought a street kitchen where they can cook meals for 70 people at a time. They also carry out humanitarian aid to people from the bombed villages.”
From the city of Zolotonosha, a church planter identified as Yuri reported the ongoing war has upended his congregation: “The war changed our country and our church very much. Several men were drafted into the army, and some mothers with small children found refuge abroad or in Western Ukraine, but most people remained in their hometowns.”
Those who remained behind immediately began serving refugees there and in surrounding areas, Yuri said. “Our people regularly go to Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy to bring humanitarian aid and evacuate people from those regions to our town where we continue helping them further. I believe that this is our opportunity to serve people who now have a great need for protection.”
He added that religious services continued despite the hardships imposed by the fighting. “During the first two weeks of the war, we gathered every day to pray for Ukraine, read God’s word and encourage each other. This was a special time when members of our church became very close to one another, and this made us stronger. We continue our Sunday worship services and new people — soldiers and refugees — visit our church every week.”
A church planter identified as Andrii was out of town when Russia invaded Ukraine, blocking his return to the city of Irpin. But his co-pastor at New Community Bible Church assumed responsibility, he told EBF.
“Victor… stayed in Irpin until March 7, preaching and praying with those who were there. Eventually, he had to leave with his family, escaping from the terror of Russian soldiers. The great majority of Irpin inhabitants ran away to save their lives. Victor again returned to Irpin on March 27, still during the Russian occupation. He found there several church members who experienced a deep trauma but Petro was injured by a bomb fragment. Deacon Hennadii also survived the Russian occupation but buried his mother and some neighbors who were killed by the cruel occupants,” Andrii said.
When the Russian military withdrew from Irpin March 29, it left behind city-wide destruction, including a demolished roof and musical instruments at New Community Bible Church.
“The church can still use the ground floor, and since the middle of April, our people started to serve neighbors with meals, food packages and other humanitarian aid,” Andrii said. The congregation “restarted worship services on May 1 and invited the war survivors to join in. The congregation is now led by Victor, who is raising funds to fix the broken church building.”
The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, meanwhile, has stepped up its calls for restraint by Russia and urged a swap of captured Russian soldiers for the safe passage of Ukrainian defenders in occupied areas.
Last month, the organization urged leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to use religious holidays as a time to press for peace.
“The whole world should realize that this is not a ‘Ukrainian crisis,’ it is not even a ‘war of Russia against Ukraine’ — it is a war of humanity, moral values, virtue with concentrated evil that has a satanic fascist nature,” the council said in an April statement. “The cult of war and chauvinism have been celebrated in Russian society for decades.”
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