Crimea (MNN) — It’s been four months since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Violence in all three areas continues, and Russia is enforcing their laws on all aspects of Crimea.
That includes religious entities.
We spoke with Eric Mock of Slavic Gospel Association to get an update on the situation in Crimea and Ukraine.
Mock explains that Russia has relative freedom of religion. That is, they don’t support extremism or encourage physical persecution. Or do they?
Under Ukraine’s rule, Crimea had incredible freedom. While the Tatar and Jewish populations were often under attack, they are now fleeing the peninsula due to increased violence and persecution under Russian rule.
Mock says, “There are groups within Crimea that are taking advantage of the opportunity, persecuting the ethnic Tatars, who are a Muslim people, as well as we’re hearing a mild amount of persecution of the Jews as well.”
Some sects of Christianity are being targeted as well, though not by violence necessarily.
Protestant churches, for example, are viewed with confusion and suspicion.
According to Forum 18, the Russian government is raising the church rent for the Kiev Patriarchate Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The increase is so substantial that church leaders are certain the government is trying to liquidate them altogether.
Meanwhile, Greek Catholic priests from Ukraine can only serve in Crimea for three months at a time before they have to leave for a month and re-register. All religious communities must re-register with the Russian government.
“Here’s what I need you to know,” says Mock. “The Christian Churches, even in the midst of this, remain unified, and we see them work together for the sake of the Gospel. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Ukrainian Christians from all over the country are trying to meet the needs of refugees, even while neglecting their own.
In one area of Ukraine, Christians were asked to help 160 Tatar families.
This particular group had been told by their Muslim leaders that Christian pastors were philanderers and immoral people who take advantage of women and children. They believed the Christians to be idolaters.
When this community fled to Ukraine, the pastor in the area gave up his house, and the students of the Bible college gave up their rooms to sleep on mats in classrooms.
The Tatar community soon learned the Christians were moral and loving people.
They asked for a Bible that explained the Christian beliefs, but they wanted one without a cross on the front. They viewed the symbol as an icon–an idol.
SGA was able to provide them with over 100 study Bibles.
Mock says, “We believe in a sovereign God. He will change hearts. But we believe in our effort to provide God’s Word, that nothing will come back void– that God’s Word in the hands of His people given to these Muslim families [let’s them] see that Jesus is not only a prophet, that He is also Lord, King, and Messiah.”
Later, the Muslim community explained that if the Christians had come to their door, they would not have let them in because they would have felt like they were dishonoring God.
It took the situation in Crimea for them to hear the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“This incredible witness for these people was poured out through the chaos of the conflict in Crimea,” says Mock.
While truth is spreading, so are the difficulties.
“The believers in Ukraine [are] running out of resources, but they’re rallying together to feed and care for these people. It’s costing them more than $300 dollars a day,” Mock says.
“Given the reports of persecution we’re hearing in Crimea, I don’t expect these families to return to Crimea in the near future. They’re trying to set them up and see them resettled.”
Christians are doing more than providing food and bed for these refugees. They’re even sending them to summer camps where the kids hear about Jesus and are ministered to.
“What we’re seeing in the middle of great conflict is…the Ukrainian believers stepping up for the sake of the Gospel at a time in which there could be great confusion in their hearts. We’re seeing them step up in an amazing way and reach those who would normally push Christians away.”
SGA is providing relief to pastors in the Eastern Republics of Ukraine to make sure they have enough food on their table to feed their families while they provide aid to the refugees.
You can contribute to the Ukrainian Crisis Relief here.
Mock says that every $15 you are able to send will provide food, evangelistic literature, and other items to churches.
This includes the churches in Crimea and other conflict zones.
SGA is equipping believers to be a witness to these people who have left everything behind.
Pray that God will soften hearts to the Gospel through these times, and that the church in all areas will come together with one purpose.