Despite Challenges, Churches are Multiplying in Ukraine
Across Ukraine, a nation just slightly smaller than the state of Texas, 28,000 villages exist. Large or small, most of them need churches. More accurately, most of them need willing church planters, because the resources for the buildings are already promised.
In a remarkable turn of events, the provision of physical church facilities is being met thanks to God’s tremendous blessing on a handful of Ukrainian businessmen who are also Pentecostal Christians. Partnering with the Pentecostal Union (the AG’s sister denomination in Europe) and AGWM missionaries Gerald and Jane Dollar, these entrepreneurs are using their wealth to build churches and Christian schools across Ukraine.
Qualified men and women are urgently needed to fill the newly built pulpits. Considering the Pentecostal Union’s goal of planting 400 new churches by the year 2020, that is no small task.
During the Soviet era, Christians were blocked from both employment and education. As a result, no one could be formally trained in Bible or theology. Since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Evangel Theological Seminary (where Gerald, an experienced missionary builder, oversaw the facility’s construction), Kiev Bible Institute, and other Ukrainian Bible schools have leapt into action to make up for lost time.
In September 2015, Evangel Theological Seminary launched the first Russian-language Doctor of Practical Theology program in the former Soviet Union. ETS has also launched an aggressive, expedited program for church planters.
“Things have changed in Ukraine,” states ETS President Vasiliy Voytovich. “We don’t just have open doors, we are all together free of doors. But we must seize this opportunity and plant as many churches as we can before doors reappear and are closed. Our task is to prepare and send leaders to new churches.”
His wife, Lyubov, adds, “This is not something we can put off. These opportunities are totally unusual. It would be easy to miss something in our sense of urgency. Please pray that we will have the wisdom to catch and realize what God wants us to do in the midst of what He is doing so quickly. We don’t want to miss anything that He needs us to do.”
Lyubov well remembers when local pastors were not trained and believers were persecuted.
“Every day I and my 10 younger siblings left for school unsure if we would even get home to see our parents,” she says. “The government was threatening to take us from them unless they raised us as atheists. So, I know that what we have opportunity to do now is important!”
Students from across Ukraine are rapidly filling these training programs. Some are first-generation Christians, some are fifth-generation. Some are former musicians, beauticians, teachers and diplomats; all come to answer the cry of those forgotten in the villages.
“No one wants to live in the villages,” Jane Dollar explains. “But pastors must live there to relate to their people and be there for them always. We already have churches in Kiev. So, we’re ingraining into our church planters that they will be going into villages to serve those without hope.”
Ukrainian church leaders in Kiev also want to minister in eastern Ukraine, where what some call “Europe’s forgotten war” still rages. Every day, conflict costs more lives, and suffering for the living intensifies. Yet, that suffering has brought an increased openness to the gospel.
In the post-Soviet landscape, there are unique challenges to building the kingdom of God. Many differences exist among evangelicals. Gerald has become skilled at mediation and conflict resolution. Sometimes conflicts, and even splits, are unavoidable. “Conflict is always challenging,” he admits, “but despite the differences, we must see our churches multiply.”Excerpted from the October 2017 WorldView magazine article “Where the Church Was Not.” To subscribe or to read a free e-zine, click here.