Something remarkable and courageous, perhaps even miraculous, happened in Russia on Monday, March 14.
Marina Ovsyannikova, a news editor at Channel One, the Kremlin’s leading news channel with 250 million viewers worldwide, suddenly appeared behind the news anchor during the evening broadcast holding a sign that read “No War” in English, and then in Russian, “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. They are lying to you.”
She was immediately arrested. Under a new law passed since the beginning of the war, she faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Ovsyannikova is a mother of two.
Her protest was not limited to her brief appearance on one of the most-watched official Russian newscasts. Prior to appearing on the newscast, she recorded a message to the Russian people explaining why she decided to speak out:
What is happening in Ukraine is a crime. And Russia is the aggressor here. And responsibility for this aggression rests on the conscience of a single man: Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian. My mother is Russian. And they’ve never been enemies. And this necklace I’m wearing is a symbol of the fact that Russia must immediately end this fratricidal war. And our fraternal peoples will still be able to make peace.
Unfortunately, I’ve spent many of the last few years working for Channel One, doing Kremlin propaganda, and I’m deeply ashamed of this. Ashamed that I allowed lies to come from the TV screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of the Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when all this had just started. We didn’t protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this anti-human regime at work.
And now the whole world has turned its back on us. And the next 10 generations won’t wash away the stain of this fratricidal war. We Russians are thinking and intelligent people. It’s in our power alone to stop all this madness. Go protest. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t lock us all away. (Translation from a news post by Ryan Grenoble)
As of Tuesday morning, March 15, Ovsyannikova’s attorney was unable to determine where she is being held.
I remembered Ovsyannikova before our Heavenly Father during my morning prayers on Tuesday. I offered thanks to God for such a courageous woman who risked imprisonment to speak the truth to her fellow Russians who are victims of their own government through propaganda inspired to present lies to conceal the truth.
I prayed for her safety while in police custody. I prayed for her children who do not know what has happened to their mother nor what will happen to her. I prayed that her courage and strength would not wane while facing the consequences of speaking truth to power. I prayed that others would be inspired by her courage to speak out against the war. I prayed that her words of truth would ignite questions in the minds of the viewers who saw her sign however briefly. I offered thanks to God that Ovsyannikova courageously followed her heart at great risk to herself.
I prayed for her, for she is one answer to my many prayers. Since the invasion began, I prayed for the dissenting voices in Russia and for those courageous protestors who have been arrested and imprisoned for opposing the war. I prayed for people like Ovsyannikova to speak out.
I have prayed this way because I know God needs human agents to collaborate with in fulfilling God’s will. I have no way of knowing what inspired Ovsyannikova’s courageous act or how she decided she was willing to risk 15 years in prison for speaking the truth. I have no way of knowing these things, but I do believe the God whom I have experienced in Jesus will be with her and sustain her with divine presence. I believe that same God will amplify her action as others are inspired by her courage and her truth-telling.
As people of faith, we often talk about prayer as if it is an end to itself. We may say, “I prayed about that,” as if merely speaking to God about something is a sufficient act of faith. Somewhere along the way we missed this axiom about prayer: Prayer inspires action, and action calls us to prayer.
“Somewhere along the way we missed this axiom about prayer: Prayer inspires action, and action calls us to prayer.”
Prayer without action becomes merely a recitation of words. Action without prayer becomes an expression of our stubborn desire to do something even if it is wrong. Without prayer, our actions often simply satisfy our impulse to do something immediately. Prayer inspires actions that reach beyond ourselves, for we seek not our own will but God’s will for God’s children.
I am confident that Ovsyannikova is not alone in Russia. There are other courageous voices speaking out. I have no way of knowing who they are, but I pray for them daily.
There is an inescapable truth: One man started this war, and if it is to end, courageous people will be instrumental in ending it. God does not have a magic wand to wave bringing this war to an immediate conclusion. God depends on human agents pursuing God’s will that all people live in peace.
As I learned of Ovsyannikova’s plight, I realized how dangerous prayer is. The answer to my prayer that Russian dissidents speak out means she is in the custody of the Russian police. She is separated from her children. She is alone and denied her legal representation. She faces 15 years in prison.
Yes, there are even voices in Russia advocating that people like Ovsyannikova, who betray the Kremlin, be killed. Yet I pray this prayer from the safety of my home. I pray this prayer out of my love for the Russian people whom I have met, who are my friends, and who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Yet my prayers may place them at great risk if the Spirit of God inspires them to speak out or to protest in the streets or to sign a proclamation calling for peace or simply call Putin’s “military operation” a “war.”
Prayer has a dangerous side. Answered prayer may put people at risk.
“Prayer has a dangerous side. Answered prayer may put people at risk.”
When we pray for peace in Ukraine, we must realize that people are at war. Soldiers become combatants killing one another. Innocent civilians become casualties of war. Villages, towns and whole cities bear the scars and devastation of the machines of war. Millions of people become refugees. Millions more experience the deprivations war brings. People are hungry and cold. Water and power are cut off. Hospitals run out of medical supplies. Critical medications are unavailable. People seek safety in all kinds of places. Emergency workers, ambulance drivers, firefighters, doctors and nurses risk their own lives in hopes of saving someone’s life. Inevitably, atrocities are committed. In praying for peace, I am asking many people unknown to me to place themselves in harm’s way.
When I pray for peace from the safety of my home, if my prayer is to be answered, many people will take great risks, even risking life, in pursuit of peace. People will face unbelievable hardship and loss. Lives will be disrupted. Grief and sorrow will become unwelcome companions. Fear will take souls hostage. The wounds and scars of war may never be healed or forgotten. It will take decades to rebuild a war-torn land. People may never recover the lives they lived before the war.
It appears we are often confused about how God works in our world and the risks God asks us to take to accomplish God’s will. In the early chapters of Exodus, we read:
The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose to God. God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
God was not indifferent. God heard the groanings of his children. God took notice of their plight. But when God chose to act, this is what we read as God approached Moses in the wilderness:
I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmaster. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has come to me; I have also seen the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharoah to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.
Did you notice God said, “I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians”? I can see Moses nodding with approval since he had once tried to intervene for his people. Yet I wonder how he reacted when God suddenly changed from “I have come down” to “I will send you, Moses.”
For God to accomplish God’s will in our world, human agents must be enlisted to collaborate with and take risks for God. Moses became God’s human agent. Collaborating with God, the Israelites were set free. Yet, it appears, it takes at least two to initiate a process for accomplishing God’s will in our world.
“To be a peacemaker is a call to action.”
Prayer is a dangerous thing. When our prayers for peace are answered, people may put their lives on the line. What are we to do from the safety of our homes far from the war zone? That is the question that weighs on every one of us who pray for peace.
To be a peacemaker is a call to action. I don’t know how dangerous or life-threatening our response may be or if it will call for any risk at all, but a prayer for peace calls for some sacrifice on our part as we stand in solidarity with peacemakers everywhere.
Yes, prayer is a dangerous thing. Answered prayers may place the lives of others at risk. Let us pray for peace without ceasing. May we become willing instruments of peace in the hands of God. May we be willing to let God do with us whatever is needed to bring God’s will to an earthly reality.
We may be as reluctant as Moses to become God’s human agent, but let’s pray for the courage to surrender to God’s will for us and for the world.
Jamie Broome serves as senior minister of Immanuel Baptist Church in Paducah, Ky.
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