27 November 2015


 Andrew Kelly was the host of our missionary group Thanksgiving celebration.  Andrew & Jenny have a camp way out in the country where they host groups in summer. 
 Andrew cooked the turkey as he always does and everyone else brings the rest.  It was so good.

 Jeff and Jeff.  My Jeff left and Jeff Crane from Kiev.  A reunion of friends, some of which we don't see all year.
 A time of fellowship and catching up on each other's lives. 

This is Jenny our hostess.  She baked many of the desserts.  Such a treat to have pumpkin pie.  Our thanks to them both for giving us this great "taste" of home.

23 September 2015

UKRAINE: "Sounds of Silence and Rumors of War," By Jeff Franks

Russia has been backing separatists at war in Eastern Ukraine, but you’d never know it by watching the evening news. The predominate sounds in Western media seem to be mostly silence. However, here in Ukraine TV, radio talk shows, and newspapers are just abuzz with rumors. Everyone’s on edge about one big question: Will Russia invade? Fighting in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, collectively called Donbas, flares up from time to time, and then dies down.
To date about 8,000 people have been killed and at least twice that number have been wounded, both soldiers and civilians. These figures do not take into account Russian soldiers, whose existence is officially denied. However, no few of them have been transported back to Russia for burial, sadly. More than a million people from Donbas have fled their homes as refugees in Ukraine and Russia.
Recently, General Ben Hodges, Commander of U.S Army in Europe, estimated that there are up to 12,000 Russian soldiers now fighting inside Ukraine, another 50,000 are amassed on Ukraine’s eastern border, and 29,000 more occupy the illegally annexed territory of Crimea. Why does Russia keep this many troops at the ready?
People who think Russian President Vladimir Putin will invade give these reasons:
1) For more than a millennium Ukraine and its capital Kiev (spelled “Kyiv” Ukrainian- style) have been part and parcel of Russian history and therefore of the Russian soul. After all, the ancient state of Kievan Rus’ began under Prince Oleg of Novgorod here in 882 AD.
2) Therefore, many Russian leaders want to return Ukraine to Moscow’s political, social, economic, and cultural control, and not allow her to remain in a Western-leaning orbit.
3) Allowing Ukraine to keep it’s Western stance means it could either become a NATO country or at least could be used as a base for an invasion by others. In Putin’s mind Ukraine must never become a military threat.
4) Allowing Ukraine to trade freely with Europe and the West will lead to a more robust economy and increased trade, like in Poland.. This in tandem with increased political freedom could lead to widespread popular dissatisfaction in Russia, and thus threaten Putin’s authoritarian regime. The only cure for this is invasion, some say.
5) The next president of USA will undoubtedly be more firm and decisive militarily than the current president, and therefore it will be more expedient for Russia to invade Ukraine earlier, rather than later.
Here are some reasons from people who think Putin will not invade Ukraine:
1) The costs far outweigh the advantages. First, Russia cannot risk the West coming to Ukraine’s aid via outright military assistance. It cannot risk NATO’s encroachment up to its very borders. Secondly, increased economic sanctions at this point might turn Russia’s financial tail spin into a horrendous crash.
2) Russia has already won and militarily occupied Crimea. This and their present control of several hundred kilometers of Ukraine’s border can be held ad-infinitum as a buffer against NATO encroachment.
3) Ukraine has borrowed so much money from the Europe and the IMF to bolster their war-footing, that it will take decades to recover economically. Therefore, Ukraine will no time soon become a vibrant trade partner with an economically ailing Europe.
4) Putin is “happy” with a frozen conflict in Ukraine similar to those that Russia engineered in Transnistria in Moldova, and in Abkhazia and North Ossetia in the Republic of Georgia. Perhaps Russia’s intervention in Syria is the very thing Putin is counting on to help the UN Security council “forget” Ukraine as just another frozen conflict.
We and the Baptists of Ukraine have been praying intensely that the reasons for NOT invading Ukraine will take center stage in the minds of the Kremlin’s leaders. We do not rejoice in Russia’s economic distresses, but of late they have helped her leaders to more soberly count the costs of military aggression.
We are also keenly aware that peace in our world comes through strength, both political and economic, but especially military. For the sake of peace in Ukraine we invite you join us in praying that military strength will be used by wise leaders here who know and fear God. Though Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, he is also the only one worthy of the title “Prince of Peace.” Let us remember Ukraine and Russia before Him in our prayers today!

10 April 2015


As printed in the Baptist Trumpet, April 7, 2015:

Since the beginning of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine the Russian propaganda machine has

greatly increased its pressure on Baptists. The truth of what it really means to be a Baptist in

Russia or Ukraine has once again been completely distorted by Kremlin-backed radio,

television, and printed media. Persecution of Baptists began in the 19th century under the

Czars. In the 1930’s, Russian Baptists had to report to “The Commission for the Affairs of

Religious Cults”. Now, just as in past repressions, the name Baptist in Russia has come to be

synonymous with “enemy of the people”, “that American sect”, something entirely foreign and

even sinister.

In America it is natural that names and labels should hold different meanings for different

people. Here some happily call themselves “conservative”, and others are pleased with the

name “liberal”. And so it is here with the name Baptist. But in Russia and especially in Eastern

Ukraine, the very survival of believers is at stake. Before returning to the subject of repression,

let us reflect for a moment on just what it means for you and me to be Baptists.

Many of us are proud to be Baptists because of our belief in the Holy Bible as the inerrant and

sole source of truth. What higher standard could there be for life and for the practice of faith? If

anyone among us does not believe that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of

God,” then let him deny this noble name! Is there any among us who does not believe that

Jesus Christ is God the Son, co-equal in his divinity with the Father and with the Holy Spirit?

Let him think what he will, but let him not have the honor of carrying the venerated name of


Therefore, I am grieved today that the highest authorities in Russia have become the source of

the latest repression against this noble name. I am grieved because of the wonderful friends

we’ve made among the Russians both before and during our missionary journey. Though we

have lived in Ukraine, we have friends among the ethnic Russians who live there. How is it that

the world does not know that a great many of them are patriotic citizens of Ukraine? Our

journey has taken us to Russia, and to many of the republics of the former Soviet Union. In all

of these places we have been honored to make friends among those who proudly call

themselves Baptist, and who hold to our cherished values. Sadly, they are once again

becoming the victims of state-sponsored repression.

In a previous article for the Trumpet I wrote about Alexander Turchynov, the Ukrainian Baptist

minister, who became the interim president of Ukraine when Moscow’s favorite, Victor

Yanukovich, was deposed. Perhaps this fact alone became the stumbling stone which led to

Russia’s targeting of the Baptist name.

Recently, a Ukrainian friend told me about a billboard he had seen near Moscow’s international

airport. Posted there were three portraits and the words: Jimmy Carter is a BAPTIST, Bill

Clinton is a BAPTIST, and Alexander Turchynov is a BAPTIST. Three undeniable innuendos

that lead to two wrong conclusions: First, that America was behind the Maidan revolution which

removed Russia's man and placed America's puppet in the seat of power. Second, the Baptist

faith is American and undermines Russia's national interests. Both of these lies have become

the oft-repeated refrain of the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.

What is at stake? I believe the most condemning answer was in two simple words:

“PROPAGANDA KILLS”, carried on the placards of protesters who rallied against the late

February murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

In Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Baptist pastors and church members have been

kidnapped, tortured, and killed because of their faith. Churches have lost their buildings to

Russian-backed fighters who have converted them into field headquarters, gyms, barracks, and

make-shift hospitals. Others have been completely destroyed.

Finally, for us who cherish our defining values, let us pray that the renewed repressions of our

brothers and sisters in Russia and Ukraine will only showcase the surpassing value of their

genuine faith as Baptists: faith in Christ and in his Word! (1 Peter 1:7)

05 March 2015

WHO CARES? By Jeff Franks

Why should we in the West and Europe be the slightest bit concerned about the assassination February 27, 2015 of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in the shadow of the Kremlin?  Precisely because Nemtsov was one of the few Russians who dared to voice his opposition and expose Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine. Amazingly, Vladimir Putin and those who believe his narrative now blame the USA as the prime instigator of the Ukraine conflict.  

Many of us find this laughable.  Especially those who agree with Senator John McCain, who expressed shame at our hesitancy to come to the aid of our beleaguered Ukrainian friends.  Even so, every hesitant step we take only feeds Putin’s narrative, regardless of the facts, and of course that plays beautifully into his poker hand.

It is all too easy these days to imagine that the Russian President represents and/or controls the thoughts of common Russian citizens.  No, that is not entirely the case!  Nemtsov and the 70,000 Russians who attended his memorial march were proof.  That day they carried signs: “Those bullets were fired at us!” and “Propaganda Kills!”.  These are people of conscience who deserve our respect and prayers.

Nevertheless, we should be cautious not to allow our presumptions about Russia and it’s leaders to become the source of our conclusions about Nemtsov’s murder.  Therefore, I offer here a summary of facts as reported by Brian Whitmore in his Power Vertical blog, “Chaos or Terror”, and also his well-reasoned conclusions:

What are the undisputed facts? First, as an opposition leader, Nemtsov was under constant surveillance by Russian security services.  Second, he was killed in one of the most heavily policed and monitored parts of Moscow.  Third, the shooting was stunningly professional, highly efficient, and the assassins got away clean.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that the security services or elements connected to them were involved in the killing.  Amateurs without inside connections could not have done this.  

Is this Terror or Chaos?

Two possibilities then remain: the killing was sanctioned (terror) or someone inside the Kremlin regime was going rogue (chaos).  If sanctioned, then why?  Terror.  To send fear into the opposition: anyone can get hit anywhere at any time.  A warning to the opposition: Watch your step and measure your words!

If the killing was by rogue elements, then there is chaos in the Kremlin.  Putin is losing his monopoly on the organized use of violence. This kind of chaos in the security services in the long run could be even more destructive than deliberate terror.

Terror and chaos are not what any thoughtful person in the West wants to see as ruling in Russia.  Let our prayers therefore be toward the end that people of conscience will gain the upper hand and that cooler heads prevail.  Otherwise, as in past world wars, we will once again see our sons and daughters drawn into an uncontrollable, descending spiral of war.  God forbid!  That is why we should watch and pray for Russia and its citizens.