NASHVILLE (BP) -- 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.
"During this time of fateful change in the life of the Ukrainian nation, the Church and each Christian individually cannot remain spectators on the sidelines of the battles and losses. The Church serves society and mourns together with it. We went through difficult days together with the nation -- we served through prayer, evangelism, volunteers, medical help, clothing, and food. Today a time has come for a ministry of active reconciliation, which will help maintain unity in our country and nation.
"We supported the nation's demand to put an end to the tyranny of the authorities and repressions by the police. Now it is important to restore justice and due process of law in the country, to form a government that has the people's trust, and provide fair presidential elections. We believe that those guilty of crimes against the people will be justly judged, and that peaceful citizens will be protected.
"But on behalf of the Church we must say more, we must speak the whole truth; we must say that which is still hard to accept and fulfill; that, which is a precondition for a better future.
"Therefore the Church calls the Ukrainian nation to more than just feelings of human justice -- to Christian forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. We pray to God for repentance for the guilty. However at the same time we ask victims to forgive those who are already repentant as well as those who are still lost. In order to unite the nation, in order to reconcile its various parts, its various social, cultural, and political groups, laws and justice are not enough. Without repentance, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, the country will remain divided and in conflict. This is the precondition for a deep spiritual transformation of Ukraine.
"The Bible says that there is, 'a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace' (Ecc. 3:7-8). In accordance with these wise words, we declare today to be a time to mend, and not a time to tear the nation apart; a time to seek peace, and not a time to fan the flames of war; a time to learn to love yesterday's enemies, and not a time to continue to hate rivals and those who have hurt us.
"We call on the Evangelical churches of Ukraine to serve to bring peace between people and healing to the wounds of war. We do not call black white and do not justify crimes or even mistakes. But we, as Christians, forgive, because we have been forgiven by God. He reconciled us to Himself, and gave us a message of reconciliation. This grace-giving Word to our whole nation should be heard from Lvov to Donetsk, from Kiev to Simferopol.
"We also call upon the international Christian community asking for prayer and intercession for the Ukrainian nation and for help with peacemaking. We mourn for the victims, and thank God for His grace toward Ukraine, and pray for peace and spiritual revival in our nation."
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. For related stories, click here andhere. Click here for story collection.
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