Article by John Birnie

John Birnie

The history of Ukraine is one of almost continuous subjugation to other military and political powers. Vikings, Tartars, Mongols, Poles, Lithuanians and Russians are some of the races which at different times extended their rule over parts of this vast region. Ukraine has only existed as a truly independent nation twice in its history, a few decades in the 17th century when Polish domination was broken, and then with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The spectre of a hostile Russia continues to throw its dark shadow over this nation, as the political and military struggle continues in the east of the country.

More critical from an evangelical perspective is the fact that the majority of Ukrainian people are in spiritual darkness. Around 70% of the population declare themselves to be Christian. Almost all are adherents of various strands of Eastern Orthodoxy which was declared the official religion by King Vladimir I, back in the 10th century AD. Orthodox adherents are caught up in a false religion built on sacramentalism, veneration of the ‘saints’, religious affiliation and human works of merit. The Orthodox religious establishment is hostile to the evangelical faith.

The beginnings of SGA’s ministry in Ukraine go back to the turn of the millennium. A young Romanian man, David Chidesa, was involved in church planting in southern Ukraine. SGA began to support his efforts. God was blessing him, and his work expanded westward to the Poroscovo area where the Mission has become increasingly involved in supporting workers and helping to finance evangelistic outreach and humanitarian relief.

David Chidesa (r) with good friend, Oni Mladin

Around that same time [1999] former SGA Director William Smylie visited Kazakhstan where he met the new pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Odessa, Igor Bandura. Igor shared with William the moving story of finding two young children living in an abandoned car near the church, and the church’s step of faith in commencing a Children’s Shelter ministry. The response to this report back home was immediate and generous. Financial help was forwarded, a further step in SGA’s involvement in the cause of the Gospel in Ukraine.

What began as a fairly small and specific helping hand began to grow and develop. In Odessa the Children’s Shelter project was followed by SGA’s substantial support of a Transition House for orphans who had outgrown the shelter. Hand-in-hand with this, aid was given for the support of widows, for Christian workers in needy situations, and more recently increased involvement in the training of Christian leaders. Several Mission Schools have been successfully completed, and SGA staff have a continuing input to the training of church planters through a specially designed course of study organized in Irpen at the BU headquarters.

Heaters for families

When hostilities broke out in the east, with disastrous consequences for ordinary people, and for believers in particular, SGA made funds available to provide food, clothing and heating for families which had been displaced, forced to flee from the conflict. Provision was made also for continuing Gospel ministry in the conflict area, and that continues to this day.