Eastern Ukraine’s Evangelical churches face closure threat

Ukraine (MNN) – Evangelical churches in Eastern Ukraine are facing a closure threat. Recently, the local government in the Luhansk region, which is controlled by separatists, passed a law, which restricts how churches in the area can operate.

Restrictions on Churches

“Basically [it] forbids the churches to conduct worship, hold small groups, or meetings in homes. And also, it looks like they’re going to require each religious organization to obtain a new registration by August,” Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith shares.

Damaged building in Ukraine (Photo courtesy SGA)

To obtain registration, churches must have at least thirty members permanently living within a specified area. If churches fail to comply, they’ll be considered illegal.

Furthermore, the law, which was passed in February, is also affecting ministry and outreach within church walls as well.

“Apparently, distribution of religious literature, even among churches, is prohibited without personal written permission of the authorities,” Griffith explains. “It also appears the distribution outside of the churches isn’t even really referenced in the law. So, that’s kind of a question mark.”

Churches are practically walking on eggshells because of the lack of clarity, leaving a lot of room for error. Griffith says the UECB leadership in Eastern Ukraine is concerned this law could be used to blame churches for extremist or terrorist activity and espionage. And when local pastors have asked the authorities for clarification, they haven’t been given a straight answer.

“Certainly, I know that they’re going to do all that they can in obedience to Christ. He is their first concern there. And they’re going to go ahead and proclaim the Gospel, no matter what happens,” Griffith shares. “They’re just going to have to adopt [a way] they can best do it discreetly.”

Who it Affects

However, this new law hurts more than just the churches. It also hurts the people these churches minister to in war-torn Eastern Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine has been in crisis mode since November 2013 when protests erupted after Ukraine’s then-President Yanukovych’s cabinet decided to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union, in favor of closer relations with Russia.

“Because of this conflict, Ukraine is now among the countries in the world that are most threatened by landmines or unexploded ordnance,” Griffith shares.

SGA Crisis Evangelism Fund

SGA Crisis Evangelism Fund

In fact, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty recently reported that a family of four was killed in an antitank mine explosion. It’s believed that the family drove over the mine and triggered the blast. The family was reported missing on April 7.

And it’s in this dangerous region where Ukrainian Evangelical churches are meeting the needs of people living in war-torn towns. Church members face life-threatening situations to provide people with food and other necessary items. These supplies are purchased by aid given from SGA, through its Crisis Evangelism Fund.

But as these Christians meet the physical needs, they’re also sharing Christ’s love and bringing light into a dark place. With churches’ activity being restricted by this fresh law, Eastern Ukrainians, whom these churches minister to, are also going to feel the law’s effects.

“They’re really making every effort they can to reach out with the Gospel, and the love of Christ, to people whose lives have been shattered by this violence,” Griffith says.

Be Prayerful, Be Active

So please, pray for wisdom for these churches, the people they serve, and clarity in how to move forward. Also, pray for these hurting people’s needs to be met, and for their hearts to be impacted by Christ. Finally, pray for peace in the region.

“We just need to lift our brothers and sisters [up in prayer], who are not only having to live in the midst of this, but then also how they can best lift up Christ and help needy families as a part of this outreach,” Griffith shares.

Find more ways to pray here!

Learn more about and/or donate to SGA’s Crisis Evangelism Fund here!