13 May 2014


As published in the Baptist Trumpet, Little Rock, Arkansas,  Photo:  Nikolaevka, Crimea on the Black Sea

I will admit we were caught up in a dream of sorts.  Here we were, living in a peaceful Ukraine where churches had the freedom to preach the gospel publicly and train their leaders in seminaries.  Though the Baptist churches were relatively few, their pastors and leaders could continue to pray and work toward their visions of multiplication.  I really didn’t see it coming, that in November of 2013 our idyll of a peaceful future here would shatter.

Throughout the winter Maidan square in central Kyiv became both a protest site and a battleground.  The Yanukovich administration sent in riot police and introduced draconian laws which restricted the public’s freedom of movement and speech.  The citizens pushed back, reinforcing their number of protesters.  Nationalist, right wing elements, though percentage wise were few, took full advantage and led a more violent resistance.  As missionaries, Coleen and I were shocked to hear that we were now required to register as “foreign agents” and display those words on our official documents.   Our illusion of a peaceful Ukraine had been shattered, but things didn’t stop there.

After the change of power in Kyiv in February 2014, Russia craftily engineered a takeover of Crimea in March.  Then Russian armed forces amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border.  Eerily reminiscent of the seizure of Crimea, armed men in unmarked uniforms began to take over government buildings in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Donetsk.  

Throughout April and May we have witnessed the largely feeble attempts of the new Ukrainian government to wrest back control militarily.  Civilians who are brave enough (or in some cases paid) to go on the street take videos of these clashes and post them on Twitter and YouTube.  They are hard to watch because of the civilians’ extensive cursing, shaming and name-calling of the Ukrainian soldiers, the most common of which is “fashisty,” meaning fascists.   

Yesterday, on Sunday, May 13, the pro-Russian separatists held an illegal referendum in the Donetsk province, seeking to call themselves independent and autonomous from Ukraine’s Kyiv-based government.  This was also a repeat of the Crimean scenario, and we fear a similar outcome eventually in Ukraine’s eastern provinces.

It is not clear whether Ukraine will be able to defend its territorial integrity, but even if that is the case, many changes will take place in government and society because of the deep divisions between Ukrainian citizens.  At some level the new government will need to account for them.  Moreover, the new government will have to deal with Russia’s long-range plans and strategies from this point forward.  Much has been written about Putin’s Eurasian game plan, but I will summarize the current Ukrainian conflict with one phrase: Russia cannot tolerate a pro-Western Ukraine.

The crisis in Ukraine means different things to different people.  For some it is East vs. West, the reinstatement of the cold war between Russia and the USA.  Some say it is the revival of the old USSR.  For those who live in the conflicted regions who have bought into Russia’s propaganda  it means a choice between civilization with strong executive power and reasonable salaries (Russia) or being under the boot heels of an oppressive neo-Nazi junta, as Russia characterizes Ukraine’s interim government.    For those who know better it means an opportunity to build a new nation state on transparency and rule-of-law.  

But for Christians this crisis means a call to prayer, to greater dependency on God, to greater unity among believers, and to standing for the truth of the gospel.  We must remember that even if the worst possible outcome should occur, nothing in this conflict could change the God-given mission of even a single local church!  Our marching orders come from the Lord Jesus Christ who has all power in heaven and on earth!  Therefore, our dream remains for the success of the Ukrainian churches, only now unfettered by our former rosy illusions!

Coleen and I are praying to know God’s will during these troubled times.  We ask you to join us in praying for peace for our Ukrainian friends, not the idealistic kind, but the kind that involves compromise, understanding, and a willingness to listen to one another.  Thank you for your prayers!

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