By Bob Allen
Violence in the Ukraine is up close and personal for a Southern Baptist church in Texas praying for an eight-member mission team working with college students Feb. 13-March 2 in Kiev.
Missionaries from First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas, were reported safe after clashes between demonstrators and police killed at least 26 people and injured 241 in Kiev’s central Independence Square on Feb. 18.
“Fellow pastors and friends, please pray for our FBC Odessa Kiev mission team,” Pastor Byron McWilliams appealed on Twitter. “They are 2 miles from the action, but safe. Prayers are welcome!”
“Please pray for Ukraine!” Missions Pastor Jesse Gore posted on Facebook. “The day brings continued violence on both sides, 20 dead and thousands injured, as we minister here in the city of Kiev.”
The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert Feb. 18, urging U.S. citizens in residences or hotels in the vicinity of protests to leave those areas or prepare to remain indoors, possibly for several days.
The protests began Nov. 21, after Ukraine’s government announced it was suspending preparations to sign an agreement with the European Union in exchange for a $15 billion bailout from Russia.
In a daily prayer guide issued prior to the trip, Gore said with large numbers of students from all over the country, Kiev “has become a melting pot between the Ukrainian nationalism in Western Ukraine and the pro-Russian mentality in Eastern Ukraine.”
“God could use this revolution against the government to ignite a spiritual revolution which will give the Ukrainian people what they need most — freedom in Christ,” he said on the mission team’s Facebook page. “We ask you to cry out to God for us as we take the revolutionary gospel of Christ to a people searching for freedom.”
“The last thing we need from our friends and family is a sense of panic, and the first thing that we need is a commitment to pray for us and for Ukrainian people,” stated a memo from First Baptist Church quoted by the Associated Press. “May God bless Ukraine, and may He use this crisis to precipitate a spiritual awakening.”
Both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board maintain personnel in Kiev.
The CBF’s Gennady and Mina Podgaisky minister to orphans, runaways and children at risk and are featured in the CBF’s annual Global Missions Offering emphasis this year.
“The Podgaisky’s are doing great ministry among a group of children in need of something positive in their lives,” said Jim Smith, CBF’s interim global missions coordinator. “The recent shift to violence has forced them to keep a low profile, but they are safe. To this point, the violence in Kiev has been contained to Independence Square, which is about five miles from the Podgaisky’s location.”
For security reasons, the IMB doesn’t identify its personnel in Ukraine by name but recently reported through Baptist Press that they are continuing to minister in the midst of the violence.