Ukraine: Light in the Darkness
Recent reports from Ukraine have focused on the fierce battle which is raging for the city of Bakhmut, now little more than an area of smouldering ruins with every building damaged or destroyed. Commentators have described its strategic importance for both countries.
For Russia the control of this small city would be ‘a springboard’ for further territorial gains particularly in relation to the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. However, for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the city is an important emblem of resistance. Russian forces had been earlier driven out of the territory in what was essentially for them a humiliating defeat.
The battle of attrition now waging in that region underlines a number of sombre truths, and challenges God’s people to remain prayerful for, and generous to believers and all those caught up in the conflict.
Let us remember that:
- Hundreds of lives are being lost every week leaving families in indescribable grief and pain.
- Hundreds more, perhaps thousands, are being seriously wounded, many with life-changing injuries.
- More and more widows and orphans are being added to those in desperate need.
- Believers who remain to worship and witness in these ‘red zones’ need the protection of God and our prayerful intercession.
Is there anything in this horrendous picture of violence, destruction and death, from which we can take encouragement? Yes – there is. Inexplicably from a human perspective, but not from the divine, the war has served to advance the cause of the Gospel in the country. Christian leaders have reported that there has not been such spiritual hunger in the nation since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the freedom which ensued for the former Soviet republics. God is at work in the surrounding darkness and the evidence is there to be seen.
- The atmosphere of fear and the close proximity of death are causing people to turn to God.
- Despite apparently insurmountable problems, believers continue to share the Gospel and people are repenting.
- Believers are also courageously ministering to others physically and materially despite their own great need.
- Church buildings are filled – recent reports tell us of thousands of new believers and tens of thousands additional people attending services.
- New churches are being planted across the country by church leaders who have been forced out of their ministries in the war zone.
In recent days cities and towns across the country have been targeted again by missile attacks in the continuing attempt to crush the spirit of the nation. Evangelical pastors and preachers are bringing the Word of God to fearful hearts. This is the ‘voice’ they most need to hear in their distress.
SGA is actively involved in supporting these efforts, by supplying financial support to hundreds of Christian workers and their families which enables them to continue in faithful Gospel ministry. The Mission has also provided funds for the printing and distribution of adults’ and children’s Bibles, which have been eagerly received and taken into the homes of unbelievers.
Humanitarian aid continues to be vital on a massive scale, within Ukraine itself, and in the bordering countries to which refugees have fled. SGA continues to channel finance to support the relief efforts being undertaken in the most needy areas by many of our friends and associates.
In the beleaguered city of Kherson for example, liberated in late 2022 from Russian occupation, a medical team which is supported by the Mission was confronted by widespread need. The team arrived at one church at 6.30 a.m. and already many people had gathered at the church gates. Every day the church prepares 250 food packages for people who are hungry, and many come early in order to receive one before the daily stock runs out.
These people have no food, water, electricity or heating, and this local Gospel church has become their centre of help and hope. The medical team and the church members take the opportunity to share the Gospel with those they treat and provide for, and God has blessed their faithful witness, with many coming to faith in Jesus.
Many stories of courage and sacrificial Christian ministry could be told. Peter Mihalchiuk, SGA’s Regional Co-ordinator in Moldova, says ‘I’ve seen a sea of Christian love in Ukraine’. He tells of one pastor in Kherson, Sergei Synii, whose church suffered greatly when the Russians invaded the city. Nearly all of Sergei’s flock fled. The congregation dropped from over 200, to just 30 believers.
However, even in this time of occupation, he continued to lead the church in worship and witness. Lost ground has been regained – and more! There are now four church services each week with between 300 – 450 attending.
Many other pastors had been forced out. Sergei had stood his ground, refusing to move out. Peter explains more:
Pastor Sergei is 69 and very sick with bone cancer. He needs chemotherapy drugs every evening. But every morning he leads a gospel service for those awaiting the food parcels. On Sundays there is no food distribution, but between 300/400 people are coming to the church service. They are looking for more than food – for hope.
Pastor Sergei has two daughters living in America. They call him and say ‘Come to America and receive good medical treatment’, but he doesn’t want to leave his ministry. Sergei told me, ‘Look outside, people are waiting, who will help them?’ Sergei has dedicated his life to serving Jesus.