by Roger S. Oldham
My first visits to Eastern Europe in the 1990s were eye-opening events. The process for visiting Ukraine for the first time was quite involved. Securing a visa to visit the country was complicated and expensive. When the plane touched down on that first visit, the first of three passport controls took place while I was still standing on the plane’s exit stairs. Armed guards, rifles at the ready position, were fanned out across the tarmac. An army colonel scrutinized each passport and interrogated each deplaning passenger before our foot ever touched Ukrainian soil.
My second visit was not quite as intense, although still quite involved. On this trip I was privileged to visit a number of villages away from the major cities. I found small pockets of Baptists anxious to reestablish visible churches in their communities.
One village stands out. John, an elderly man, was visibly moved to know that his village would again have a Baptist church. He had experienced the challenges of living as a Christ-follower under Communist rule during the 1930s. His Baptist community of about 400 believers was decimated under Nazi rule when they advanced across Ukraine in fierce fighting in 1941. Others from his church were killed when the Nazis retreated, razing and looting the land of everything with any military value as the advancing Russian army retook Ukraine in 1944. Being “liberated” from Germany, he then spent many years in the gulag under Stalin’s cruel rule during the post-WWII communist era.
John hosted me in his home for a meal, his extended family crowded around him at the table. Though his aged body was racked from obvious signs of great suffering, his eyes shone with the radiant light of Jesus as he told his story and reveled in the fact that a new church was being established in his village.
My most recent visit to Ukraine was altogether different. No visa, no armed guards, no intense scrutiny. I saw open Christian witness and beautiful church houses and experienced vibrant worship services. So, it is with intense interest that I have watched the unfolding events taking place in Ukraine this past month.
Oleksandr Turchynov, a Baptist preacher, was elected as Ukraine’s interim president in late February. Valery Antonyuk, vice president of the All Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Churches, Baptist, released the following statement at the time of Turchynov’s election. It is a powerful commentary on an appropriate Christian response to the changing and challenging political winds that sweep across countries. It is a call to prayer and serves as a prayer guide for us as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ living in the midst of a nation in crisis. I urge each reader to read it as a prayer to the Lord.
SOURCE: Baptist Press