Mission Ukraine stresses unity as strife continues

Mission Ukraine from Crossfield News on Vimeo.

Unsteady ceasefire holds as country clings to peace

Two women pray at a Mission Ukraine outreach event in Kiev.

Two women pray at a Mission Ukraine outreach event in Kiev.

KIEV, Ukraine — As Ukraine strains underneath military conflict and economic turmoil, Protestant church leaders are calling for the national church to meet the trouble with a unified front.

Late last year, church leaders from all over Ukraine met here in the country’s capital to launch Mission Ukraine. Organizers want to train Ukrainian Christians from numerous denominations both to spread the gospel and send a new generation of missionaries into foreign countries.

A team of international evangelists and speakers, including Ravi Zacharias, headlined the kickoff event. The kickoff was held one year after the Maidan Square protests. Those protests metastasized into armed conflicts with Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine that have killed more than 6,000 people.

As with nearly every country, Protestant denominations in Ukraine have a history of infighting (see graphic). Both Ukrainian and international church leaders are hoping that as Ukrainian churches rally around the cause of evangelism, the unified vision will serve to heal the fractured nation as a whole (see sidebar).

“I deeply love my country,” says Edmund Rudnitskiy, a pastor from Nikolayev, a city with about half a million people 290 miles south of Kiev. “My real desire is for all the men in my country to unite. When we have war, we really need God.

“I am interested in the unity of the church, because we cannot do the Great Commission without the church being united.”

Mission Ukraine has given at least a glimmer of unity, one local Christian leader says. For example, regional Baptist, charismatic and Pentecostal leaders are working together to host an evangelistic concert with the Christian band Kutless later this year.

“M.U. is a great start, where most of the unions at least agreed to work on the outreach together,” says Vladislav Agapov, 27, a businessman in Kiev who is helping with Mission Ukraine outreaches in four different cities.

Zacharias, who gave several talks across Kiev during the kickoff event, offered the analogy of horses and donkeys to illustrate the danger that Christians under stress often pose to each other. When attacked, horses will face toward each other and kick backward, toward their enemies. Donkeys tend to do the opposite.

Ravi Zacharias speaks at a Mission Ukraine event at Kiev Jewish Messianic Congregation.

Ravi Zacharias speaks at a Mission Ukraine event at Kiev Jewish Messianic Congregation.

“Sometimes Christians and evangelicals fight this world like donkeys,” says Zacharias, founder of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. “We turn our backs to each other kick each other and wound each other. We need to stand together. We might have some of our doctrinal distinctives, but the most important thing is to gain the ground on which the gospel can be preached. So the church needs to stand together.”

The push for church unity comes as Ukraine’s economy is disintegrating. Much of the country’s heavy industry is centered in the same eastern cities suffering the worst military fighting. Despite agricultural sector growth of almost 3 percent in 2014, the Ukrainian economy as a whole shrank by 7 percent last year, according to the Bleyzer Foundation.

Ukrainians also worry about the plummeting value of their currency, the hryvnia (UAH), which a Ukrainian woman working in Panama recently compared to “toilet paper.” The rate was 15 UAH to 1 U.S. dollar in November. It’s now 30 UAH to 1 USD.

“Devaluation is terrible,” Agapov says. He reports that fuel prices in Kiev have skyrocketed from 8 UAH per liter to 30 UAH in the past few months. Price hikes are crushing everyday people in Ukraine. Many of them — including professionals like doctors and other government workers — make only 1,200 UAH ($40) a month.

Military tensions in the east continue, as well, though Russian separatists claim to be honoring recently signed ceasefire agreements this week. People all over eastern Ukraine have suffered immensely from the recent conflicts, and even some pastors have fled for safer territory (see story).

Mission Ukraine consultants Blair Carlson (left) and Anatole Glukhovskyy speak at Mission Ukraine's kickoff.

Mission Ukraine consultants Blair Carlson (left) and Anatole Glukhovskyy speak at Mission Ukraine’s kickoff.

Despite that, Ukraine can use the current hardship as spiritual opportunity, leaders there say.

“Sometimes we think that prosperity or comfort is something that we want to have,”Agapov says. “But God thinks differently. We see it in our past, we see it in our history, that in the worst situations that have happened, we had the most fruit for Jesus. So I don’t know what God has, but I know for sure that it will be the best for the country.”

More than 80 percent of churches now operating in Russia were planted by Ukrainians, says Anatole Glukhovskyy, deputy international director for the Lausaunne Movement in Eurasia and a pastor in Kiev. Ukrainian churches and missionaries once had a lot more money. That’s not the case now. However, now is not the time to slow down, he says.

“I think this is a season of maturing, because we cannot have a sabbatical,” Glukhovskyy says. “And Mission Ukraine 2015 could be this season of maturing for the church. Still, so much needs to be done.”

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