Ukraine — (SGA/MNN) — Germany’s foreign minister warns that Ukraine is close to war.
Deadly clashes took place Monday outside Slavyansk as Ukrainian troops clashed with pro-Russia separatists, killing 30.
Slavic Gospel Association remained vigilant as Odessa convulsed in vicious street battles. The city is home to the SGA-sponsored Odessa Theological Seminary, as well as SGA missionaries.
Last Friday, pro-Russian activists and demonstrators for the unity of Ukraine clashed, leaving behind more than 40 dead.
Yet even in the midst of this terrible violence and tension, the evangelical churches SGA serves have a singular focus. Slavic Gospel Association spokesman Joel Griffith says, “The evangelical churches that we’re serving are sort of in the ‘fire zone’ there, and they’re just praying for peace to be restored to the region.” They’re also praying “that the Lord would, even in the midst of this hostility, somehow give them the means to be able to proclaim the peace and the love and the reconciliation of Christ.”
Pastor Pavel wrote the following in the wake of the Odessa violence:
The events of the last days in Odessa have been really terrifying. Odessa is a peaceful city on the Black Sea, and we haven’t seen such an eruption of violence since Ukraine gained independence. The violent clashes downtown between pro-Russian protesters commonly called separatists, and Ukrainian government supporters killed at least 4 people and many others received severe injuries. But the death toll would rise. The pro-Russian activists began to seize buildings, burn cars, and even shoot at people. At this point, social media exploded with SOS messages, which called thousands of patriots to protect the city and the unity of their motherland.
The separatists retreated to their base near the Odessa Trade Unions House, followed by a crowd of thousands shouting “Glory to Ukraine.” The separatists barricaded themselves inside the building and were throwing gasoline bombs. Moments later, a fire started raging in the building. The Trade Union House was surrounded by the fire department and special police forces, who demanded that the separatists leave the building and save their lives. Those who came out were detained, yet sorrowfully, 38 people died in the fire. Small groups managed to escape the flames by heading to the top of the building, and they ignored the calls of the police to come down.
The entire country is grieving for the senseless and absurd deaths of 42 people on May 2. The Ministry of Interior is warning everybody to keep demonstrations peaceful and to abstain from violence, which results in deaths. They also demand that the separatists stop undermining the country’s unity, security, and stability because the people’s anger has reached its limit.
According Pavel, Odessa’s Christians are mourning. However, Griffith notes, “The church leadership wants to pray for unity in the churches. They really want to be focused on the Gospel and showing the love of Christ and not allowing this situation to divide the congregations.”
That’s especially true at the end of the month. The freedom of Ukraine is at stake, and not just from Russia. “Leaders in other. It’s just that the acting Speaker of Parliament happened to be put into the position of acting president temporarily until they have this election on May 25th.” This election could be precedent-setting, although “there’s a lot of speculation whether that election will be allowed to take place or not, depending on what Russia may or may not do.”
Until then, Griffith says the violence caused by the political conflagration rivals what was seen when Ukraine declared independence in 1991. It’s causing its own crisis within the larger tensions. Not only has it prompted a refugee crisis from the Crimean area, but also sanctions are being felt. “We are looking at help for missionary pastors who have large families as sanctions take effect. They’ve seen a lot of inflation that has taken place, so costs are going up in Ukraine and that’s having a direct impact on families.”
Pastor Valery Antonyuk (first vice president of the Ukrainian UECB and a graduate of the SGA-sponsored Irpen Biblical Seminary) shared several needs experienced by missionary pastors across the country. For security reasons, their names and locations have been sanitized:
In the Lugansk region (eastern Ukraine where the tensions have been the highest), the Regional Association of Churches needs help for missionary pastors who have large families. Sergei is a young brother who works at a mine and serves as acting pastor in a church of 18 people. He has six small children, and three of them are foster children. Oleg pastors a church of 44 members, and the congregation was planted in the village through a drug rehabilitation ministry. He and his wife have five small children.
Another example is Victor, pastor of an 80-member church. But he is also planting several other churches in his region simultaneously. Another faithful pastor has four children but is disabled with several fingers on his left hand missing, so he cannot do many things physically.
The Ukrainian Baptist Union is mobilizing people to help. “They want to try to set up teams of four to five men that would be sort of like an immediate reaction force, and their purpose is to try to help local churches, ministers, and believing families who are in these ‘hot spots.'”
What does that kind of help look like? Funds, more than goods. Griffith explains, “We found in more recent years, that [when] trying to actually ship over hard goods, customs makes that very difficult [and] the shipping costs make that prohibitive. So it’s a lot easier just to be able to have the funds to help the churches purchase the aid that they need to distribute on a local basis.” He adds, “The churches are trying to help them with humanitarian aid as much as they can. They’re praying for help with travel, food for distribution.”
Please be praying for fellow believers in Ukraine who are living and ministering in the midst of such unrest. The good news is that so far, God has kept the churches, the pastors and their families, and seminary students safe.
SGA wants to help those who have been stricken by these events, and above all, to share the love of Christ and the hope of the Gospel. If you would like to help the churches reach out to these families with humanitarian aid, click this link, which will take you to SGA’s donation page. Please pray for peace in Ukraine and in Israel.