Ukraine Baptists: responding to the war 'with compassion and open hearts'
Baptists in Ukraine continue to respond to the war in their country 'with compassion and open hearts', according to the European Baptist Federation (EBF)
The EBF is in close contact with the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists (UCECB), and is sending weekly bulletins to update members around the region.
The UCECB numbers more than 2000 congregations, making it among the largest Unions in the EBF region. With fighting having spanned eight years in the contested Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukrainian Baptists have long been living with the reality of war - and have prepared for the possibility for it to worsen. Following the invasion on 24 February, many of its churches became refuge centres, and the Union is working to co-ordinate the distribution of aid.
The latest EBF update was sent on 11 March:
'Our brothers and sisters in Ukraine continue to respond to the war in their country with compassion and open hearts. 600 churches are actively responding to the needs inside of those fleeing, acting as beacons of refuge across the country, including one small church in Yaltushkiv that feeds nearly 800 people every day.
'As local food supplies start to diminish, Ukrainian Baptists have organised logistics centres ready to receive and distribute aid.
'In response to the increasingly dire supply situation, the Coordination Centre of the Ukrainian Baptists is working from Lviv to establish aid distribution warehouses in Eastern and Central Ukraine.'
Also in Lviv, Baptist volunteers have been helping to erect two mobile hospitals, the report continued, where local Baptist pastors will be providing 'spiritual and psychological support to patients and staff, as well as offering training to others to provide such support.'
The report highlighted that 300 people are taking shelter in the basement of Mariupol central church, with another 300 people in another city centre church - and included the following eye witness testimony:
From Mariupol, one Baptist writes, “There are terrible ruins in our city, factories are on fire, stores are closed. Russian forces are destroying houses, apartment buildings and complexes, there are lots of tanks, they are ruining everything. You can’t get out of the city, they surrounded it with tanks. Many people lost their loved ones and relatives. There is no connection, no roads, the disaster is everywhere...”
Nevertheless, amid war, 'life continues to find a way', the update continued.
'A church in Odessa performed six baptisms this week by the hands of Pastor Igor Kucher, church services and prayer groups continue to meet and we received news of three people accepting Christ into their hearts while hiding in the basement of a church in Kiev.
'In Zaporizhzhia, church youth groups attempted to spread joy among the streets as they went from place to place handing out flowers and using the opportunity to share the gospel at the same time. While we also ask for your prayers for a church in Chernigiv, which was struck by a Russian shell earlier this week.'
A previous update mentioned baptisms, weddings, and even one report of a woman giving birth in the basement of a Baptist church. Sunday services are held wherever they can (some underground) with churches gathering to worship, pray, and serve communion.
EBF is gathering weekly on Wednesdays throughout March to pray for the situation.
Pastor Igor Bandura, the Vice President of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, joined the most recent gathering, and shared the following prayer requests:
Pray for those trapped in churches in occupied cities, that even while surrounded by enemies, God would surround them with Christian love and care
Pray that Churches will be able to minister to all and that leaders will know the guidance and wisdom of the Holy Spirit
Pray that peace will reign in Ukraine. Pray for those those fleeing - for safe passage, welcoming arms and hot food.
Register for the weekly EBF prayer gathering here. Subscribe to the email update here.
'We ask you to continue to stand with and for us'
The All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists has been sharing its own updates, through its website, Youtube and Facebook page.
Its president Valery Antonyuk recorded this message on 14 March to the international Christian community, giving thanks for the kindness and support already received, and asking for it to continue.
'From the very bottom of my heart I want to express my gratitude that through these extremely difficult days, and weeks, you have been showing the greatest kindness, openness and sacrifice in your willingness to support the Church of Jesus Christ in Ukraine, and all our people right now,' he said.
'Blood is still being shed in besieged Mariupol, in shattered Kharkiv, in the Sumy region, in ruined Chernihiv, in the surrounding towns of Kyiv.
'And now, I appeal to you from the very heart of our capital, and I ask you to continue to help us to keep our hands up in these difficult, uneasy times.
'We ask you to continue to stand with and for us in this spiritual breach and hold this shield of prayer over Ukraine.'
Access Valery's message here:
Its Facebook page has many updates of church activities across the country, from those in occupied areas such as Kherson to updates from the humanitarian hub in Lviv in the west of the country. It included this moving post from Pastor Alexander Vyalov about why he stayed in Kharkiv:
I stayed in Kharkiv
There were several reasons. The most important thing is a strong inner feeling that I need here. To those who also stayed.
I have no vehicles to transport people/grocery/medicine. I am not seeking/ distributing humanitarian aid. I am not a firefighter/ electrician/doctor/ military who are currently on the frontline and carrying the biggest burden.
I am only a teacher and a priest. My mission is to encourage, play with children, write poems, comfort, pray and just be around the people who are here.
I don't consider myself strong and courageous. Struggling with fears, sadness, doubt. But at the same time, I feel some inner strength that comes from God these days.
To be safe is to be where He intended you to be.
And I still have a jacket. On it I saw a label that said in English: "Remain. Ultimate protection."