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Letter Leads to Ukrainian Chaplains Training Conference, Results in Immediate Impact

Bishop Mykhaylo Panochko of the Ukraine Pentecostal Union sent an appeal letter to Ukrainian churches and ministers and mentioned the need for help with rehabilitating war veterans. That request made it around the world and a surprising personal ministry to dozens of Ukrainian chaplains resulted!

The letter, dated October 10, 2014, came from Mykhaylo Panochko, the senior bishop of the Ukraine Pentecostal Union. It was written to churches connected to the union, requesting humanitarian aid and finances to help offset the extreme suffering within the country brought on by the current conflict.

Included in the recipients of Panochko's letter was U.S. Slavic District Superintendent Victor Prokhor. Prokhor contacted Assemblies of God Ethnic Relations Director Scott Temple to see if the national AG office could assist.

Prokhor read the letter to Temple. It was the final paragraph that grabbed Temple's attention.

"If you or your church has any experience with rehabilitating war veterans, we would love to learn from your experience," Panochko wrote. "In fact, our government is turning to us for help in treating our war veterans."

Temple contacted Chaplain Scott McChrystal, AG national military chaplaincy representative. McChrystal explained he had just finished a four-volume devotional set -- Daily Strength for the Battle -- for soldiers that he felt would be ideal. He also knew AG-endorsed, Army Chaplain (Maj.) Ron Boyd was just completing a book on preventing suicide in the military. Temple also had some ideas taken from the AG media campaign, God Gives Hope that would be useful for soldiers. The timing was perfect as a three-point literature plan unfolded!

Through a series of conversations with Bishop Panochko, the Slavic District, U.S. personnel, and other AG entities, a group including Temple, Navy Chaplain Lou Rosa (ret.), and Boyd traveled to Scinia Church in Kiev, Ukraine, to conduct the first Pentecostal training conference for Ukrainian military chaplains, May 11-13, 2015.

The conference theme was "Choose Life," named after Boyd's book, Choose Life, which is based on Deuteronomy 30:19.

"More than 70 chaplains -- men and women -- came for the three days of training," Temple says. "In addition to training sessions, each chaplain received a 70-page chaplaincy resource manual, generous quantities of God Gives Hope brochures, McChrystal's four-volume disciple-making devotionals, and Boyd's Choose Life book. The joint American and Ukrainian effort translated these materials into Ukrainian and Russian and printed them in Kiev."

Rosa says the conference revealed several truths to him, one being that combat trauma is universal. "The Ukraine military men and women are having the same issues as our troops coming back from service in Iraq and Afghanistan," Rosa says. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very common in the Ukraine and they have an epidemic of suicide among military personnel returning from the field."

"There are three aspects to combat trauma," Rosa explains. "Physical (injury), mental (PTSD), and spiritual. Spiritual is where the chaplain comes in. The spiritual aspect goes beyond restoration to wholeness through the grace and mercy of Christ. Without wholeness, a soldier remains in distress."

Temple says the conference was far more than a social gathering and light conversation. "The materials presented each day were at the masters and doctoral degree level," he explains. "Twenty hours of high-quality sessions were presented to the chaplains -- and by the end, they wanted even more!"

Boyd says that it's important to understand that the Ukraine military chaplains are pastors who have no military training, but are frequently ministering in the front lines and carry no weapons. Many also find the government and military coming to them for help. For those ministers not in military areas, Boyd says they're still in need of crisis care training as many churches have become refugee centers, where refugees have experienced the trauma of war.

Throughout the conference, courses on crisis care giving were presented to the chaplains. Among the topics covered were stress and financial management, encouragement, stages of deployment, suicide intervention, combat trauma definitions, counseling tips, PTSD symptoms and spiritual responses, and much more.

Through the assistance of BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge), AG World Missions, the Pentecostal Union in the Ukraine, and the national Slavic district in the U.S., more than 50,000 books and pieces of translated discipleship and evangelistic literature were distributed to the 75 chaplains and churches in attendance.

"While medical reasons prevented me from making the trip," states Chaplain Scott McChrystal, "I had complete confidence that chaplains Rosa and Boyd would have an immediate positive impact. Their vast knowledge and experience, particularly in combat zones, proved to be invaluable. I anticipate that this will not be our last trip to assist the Ukrainian chaplains in their ministry efforts in this time of conflict."

In addition to ministering at the conference, Temple says that the group also visited a rural military hospital with 135 Ukrainian soldiers currently recovering there. "We gave each soldier literature, candy, fruit, and prayer," Temple says. "The director of the hospital, a lieutenant colonel, told the chaplains what the soldiers needed the most was hope. So, they gave each soldier a God Gives Hope brochure and a Daily Strength for the Battle devotional, designed to fit into a soldier's pocket, that features 49 daily devotions."

McChrystal strongly praises Temple's efforts to bring about the conference and provide the necessary materials. "His leadership was indispensable to the success -- and ongoing success -- of this training conference," McChrystal says of Temple. "We couldn't have done it without him!"

Rosa says that through the training received and the materials presented, the chaplains were able to have an immediate impact on lives. He shared about another hospital visit, this time the central military hospital in Kiev. "When we first arrived, all we were allowed was a basic tour." But as they explained about the conference, showed the lieutenant colonel the materials they had developed, and the strong background of the presenters, the mood of a "typical tour" switched dramatically.

"As he looked through our materials, he became excited about what he was reading," Rosa says. "He then invited us to come back in the afternoon and that's when chaplains got to meet and interact with the soldiers and give them some of the materials. Although I was unable to attend, Chaplain Boyd and about 20 Ukrainian chaplains went back there. The lieutenant colonel then gave us all an open invitation to return any time to speak and pray with the soldiers!"

Boyd shares that he was invited to speak at a chaplain's church on Sunday and following the service, the chaplain took him to what appeared to be an old abandoned warehouse. But inside there were 1,000 people praising and worshipping God. Then the pastor guided Boyd to a side room where there were 50 people ready to start the chaplaincy certification process themselves with the crisis materials this pastor/chaplain had just received.

"I was amazed at how proficient he was in presenting the materials after such a short time," Boyd says. "I was even more amazed that when he was presenting the materials, he was holding up the very last copies he had -- as he had already given everything else he received away!" 

"I've heard from the Bishop Panochko, and even though it's been less than a month, they have already gone through a second printing of the materials are in need of another reprint," Temple says. "The chaplains put them into the hands of the soldiers and family members who need them." Temple says BGMC has stepped forward to make raising the funds for reprinting the materials one of its Special Target projects under AG World Missionary Paul Pierquet. 

"There is an incredible opportunity to reach hundreds and even thousands of Ukrainian soldiers with the gospel," Boyd says. "Most of them are drafted, they end up in a hospital where members of their military units are rarely able to visit them, and where many times their families can't afford to travel to see them -- they feel abandoned . . . in many cases, hopeless," he explains. "Since they don't have televisions, they're looking for something to read. What better time to visit, let them know they're loved and appreciated, and to provide them with literature that gives hope. I'm excited to see what God is going to do next!"

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.