Ukraine’s Pentecostal Churches Growing Tremendously
War and relief efforts create appetite for the gospel.A recent road trip across Ukraine revealed that Pentecostal and evangelical churches are experiencing significant growth, and may emerge from the war stronger than ever before.
“Churches are packed out because people are seeking God,” says Jane M. Dollar, 57, an Assemblies of God world missionary to Ukraine who has spent the past year operating a center for Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
There is great spiritual hunger in the nation, according to Mykhailo Panochko, senior bishop of the 100-year-old Ukrainian Pentecostal Church.
“People heard the message of the good news,” Panochko says. “Many repented and have been discipled and baptized. The harvest is so big that we lack workers, ministers, people who can feed and grow the people, maturing them in Christ.”
For example, a small church in the once-occupied southern city of Kherson has more than 500 new people attending, but only one minister.
“Everyone has many questions about the present situation, but also the future destiny of their souls,” Panochko says. “People are looking for answers.”
The fellowship’s 1,700 churches and 115,000 adherents responded to hostilities by stepping into the breach and learning to minister in new compassionate ways.
“The full-scale invasion showed us the incredible potential of the church in ministry to our nation,” says Panochko. “The churches immediately started huge social projects to help people in need. Pentecostal churches rescued and evacuated 100,000 people combined from combat zones.”
MEETING IMMEDIATE NEEDS
Those zones include the eastern border with Russia where, in late February, a small team of Christian laypeople took a van and trailer loaded with food and Bibles into hostile territory. When the Russian army pulled back from occupied places last fall, Pentecostal church teams rushed in to bring food, hygiene items, and medical supplies to people in places like Izium. That city today looks as if torn from a postapocalyptic graphic novel; bombed and blasted to pieces; multistory buildings cloven in two by missiles; and few people moving about the vacant streets.
In some cities, Pentecostals delivered the first loaves of bread to residents after de-occupation. “It was an absolutely new realm for churches,” says Panochko.
In Lyman, six miles from the front lines of conflict, the team of Christians unloaded food and free Bibles in a village which sometimes sits between the armies. Artillery boomed nearby, tanks lurked in forests, and hundreds of soldiers traversed muddy roads going to and from the front lines as the team chatted with villagers.
A mother and daughter approached, eyes gleaming as they talked about how they discovered a nearby evangelical church they called “the house of prayer.”
“Now all my family is going to church,” said the mother, holding her Bible confidently. “I couldn’t live without church!”
The pair survived in a basement without water or electricity when war swept over. But they have found spiritual life while surrounded by armies.
While some people stayed, millions fled and became internally displaced. Churches in western Ukraine opened their doors to thousands.
“Churches provided housing for people heading for the border to get out of the country,” Panochko says. “There were many mattresses all over the sanctuary, the stage, the pastors’ offices, the Sunday School classes, everywhere.”
Pentecostal churches, with the aid of AGWM, bought semi-trucks full of fuel to help those trying to reach the border. The congregations kept around 150 vehicles on the road at all times, transporting thousands of women, children, and elderly people away from the front lines.
The Ukrainian Pentecostal Church fellowship also delivered more than 50,000 tons of humanitarian support to people in crisis. In winter, men in the churches built and delivered simple stoves and firewood to people in war zones. Wives made and donated canned foods, like fish, that could be heated on an open fire in the absence of electrical power.
“The Church understood that this is the best time to show Jesus’ compassion to those who are in need,” says Panochko. “Besides all the humanitarian support, we gave people more than 1 million copies of the New Testament.”
REVIVAL IN POLAND
Further west, in comparatively wealthy Warsaw, Poland, revival has broken out among Ukrainian refugees. Young people conduct daily street-and-subway ministry downtown, where their joyful guitar-playing and singing draw young people to Bible studies and church meetings.
On a Thursday night, 45 young people gathered in an upper room to pray, worship, laugh, and discuss the Bible. All fled the war in Ukraine. Alexander, who preferred to give only his first name, led the meeting.
“We have never seen a time like this when the Ukrainian people hear the gospel,” says Alexander, who pastors a network of Pentecostal churches. “When we talked about revival many years ago, we were thinking it was going to be something very nice in a peaceful time, and everybody would repent. We never thought it was going to be war. We never thought that people would hear about Jesus in this way.”
Because of the war, people now tell him they never wanted to hear the gospel before, but now they are listening.
“Right now is revival time in Ukraine,” says Alexander. “We need workers and good ministers who will serve because very soon, we feel that this time will be over. We want to do as much as we can right now, and we believe God will help us.”
In the Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk, one independent evangelical church has more than quadrupled in size in just a few months. Pastor Vladimir Avilov has rented a large hall downtown to accommodate those showing up on Sunday mornings for teaching, music, and fellowship.
“Before the war, we invited people to church all the time, and no one came,” Avilov says. “Then, in one moment, people came, and more and more people are coming.”
Avilov and his family hold meetings in various parts of the city and surrounding villages to preach the gospel and distribute free food. One Friday night in the darkened city, which is often menaced by drones and targeted by missiles, the church met for worship during the one hour electricity was available. Afterward, the assembled group had tea together — until the landlord turned the lights out.
Yana, 33, a wife and mother, eagerly spoke of the joy she has found among these Christians.
“The situation here is awful, but we believe in God,” Yana says. “Every day we are praying, ‘God, help us. Protect our army, our people,’ and we are waiting for it to end soon.”
In Kiev, Jane Dollar’s husband, Gerald Dollar, serves as the chief financial administrator at Evangel Theological University. He stayed in the city during the bombing and Russian siege to help coordinate church aid to local people.
“When the war broke out, the Pentecostal churches didn’t have to create aid networks,” says Gerald, 61. “They had them and all they had to do was scale it up.”
By giving aid, congregations have grown tremendously, he says.
“Pentecostal churches became the source of help,” Dollar says. “When people spend hours on church property receiving aid and being ministered to, loved, taken care of like nobody else has ever done for them, there’s an attraction there. It’s bringing people to the Cross.”
There has been no better aid organization than churches, he says.
“The church will have a different image coming out of the war and it’ll be an opportunity to have an even greater impact,” Dollar says.
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