Ukraine (MNN) – There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘thumbnail sketch’ of the situation between Ukraine and Russia.
Politics are at the surface of complex loyalties that run generations deep. Most ministries in the region walk carefully, skirt the political buzz phrases like potholes, and try not to say or do anything that will jeopardize their church’s future.
That means when something happens, telling the story to the world comes fraught with landmines. Eastern Ukraine remains a war zone and occupied. Many people have forgotten that. Lugansk is one of the regions that declared independence from the rest of Ukraine.
Compulsory re-registrations in Eastern Ukraine
What awaits the evangelical church in these territories? Slavic Gospel Association’s Joel Griffith shares some disturbing trends, as told to him by SGA-sponsored missionary pastors and the leadership in the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (UECB), “Apparently, the officials that are in this separatist region of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have threatened Baptist Union pastors to not meet for worship or else they could face raids and fines.”
It has to do with a re-registration process of these churches. The deadline for compliance was last Sunday, March 17. Griffith says that in February, an SGA-sponsored missionary pastor in Rovenki near the city of Lugansk told them of the registration directive. “All the pastors of the Baptist churches had been summoned to the local Ministry of Internal Affairs and they were warned that any gatherings would be disrupted because they were illegal.”
Red tape impact
Some churches have again submitted documents for re-registration, but Griffith says, to be on the safe side, “For now, they’ve agreed not to meet at their church buildings, but instead they’re going to plan on discreetly gathering in small groups.”
In addition, Pastor Igor Bandura told Forum 18 that all Baptist churches that have Houses of Prayer will stop meetings in them from March 17 onwards. What’s more, notes Griffith, “Church members believe that they’re under surveillance and even their phone calls have been tapped, so this is a major concern for us.”
Pastor Bandura also said that the Lugansk authorities have warned pastors from Ukrainian government-controlled western Ukraine that they risk arrest if they try to visit the region. As for the impact on Crisis Evangelism teams and other similar programs, Griffith says it’s a wait-and-see. “We have to see what happens in the days ahead just to see how severe this crackdown is going to be, but certainly the potential is there for the ministries to be impacted.”
Pray, pray, pray
SGA is calling Christians to prayer. Ask for God’s hand of protection in Ukraine and neighboring regions of Russia. Griffith reminds us, “Our motto since our founding days has been ‘Much prayer, much power’. Please pray for these churches and pray for not only the pastors but also the lay workers that go out and carry ministry. Pray somehow that this conflict can be resolved and that they would be able to regain their legal status and registration to be able to minister.”
Pray for wisdom and creativity as church leaders navigate a new ‘normal’. “They’re not going to stop proclaiming the Gospel. God is their first and foremost authority; they just have to be a little bit more discrete and careful about how they do it, but they’re going to keep on ministering, one way or the other.”
Headline photo courtesy Slavic Gospel Association