KIEV, Ukraine – A Baptist preacher has been elected as Ukraine’s interim president, prompting calls for Christians to pray for the beleaguered nation and its new leader.
New interim president Oleksandr Turchynov was the right-hand man of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister imprisoned by Viktor Yanukovych when Yanukovych became president in 2010. The former prime minister was released immediately following Yanukovych’s removal from office Feb. 23, an ousting that came on the heels of a three-month-long protest movement in Kiev, the nation’s capital.
Parliament voted Turchynov interim president until early elections take place in May.
“We need to pray for him,” said Nik Ripken,* an expert on the persecuted church and 25-year veteran with the International Mission Board.
Baptists in Ukraine have a reputation, a moral base, that dates back to their witness to the government during the days of the Soviet Union, said Ripken, who visited with many of Ukraine’s Baptist leaders in 1998 to hear and record the stories of their faith and persecution in that era.
“Now they [Baptists] are reaping the rewards of that witness and moral fiber,” he said. “We must pray that they do not lose in power what they held so dear in opposition.”
Tim Johnson,* an IMB worker in Kiev, said Turchynov is generally well liked by the public and has a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.
Photo by [URL= http://www.flickr.com/photos/lomteff]Olek Serge Lomtev[/URL].
Interim president Oleksandr Turchynov, a Baptist preacher, interacts with supporters in Kiev, Ukraine.
Turchynov has been in touch with the leaders of Ukraine’s union of Baptist churches, and they are supportive of his appointment and committed to pray for him, Johnson said.
“My Ukrainian friends have expressed pride that a Baptist can hold such a role in a majority Orthodox country,” Johnson said.
In a Christianity Today article, Valery Antonyuk, vice president of the All Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Churches, Baptist, said in a statement, “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,” he said in the statement. “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.”
In the midst of changes on the political front, Ukrainian believers continue to share Christ faithfully in Independence Square. The evangelical prayer tent remains busy and continues to provide a venue to comfort the brokenhearted and give hope to the grieving in the name of Jesus.
Since Feb. 23, Ukrainians have flooded the city center to honor the protesters who died in the conflict and to mourn corporately the loss of life and the destruction. News sources vary on the number of deaths, but most agree that more than 80 people died and thousands were wounded.
Johnson – along with Brady Sample,* another IMB worker – was in Independence Square recently to visit the prayer tent. They marveled at the way Ukrainian believers were faithfully ministering despite their exhaustion.
“The people who have given of themselves, especially the people who have served, are tired and weary,” Sample said. “But they have hope – hope for a better future, a better life.”
Volunteers were set up all over the square giving out food and offering medical help. In the prayer tent, believers also gave Scripture portions, Christian literature and comfort.
“Best of all, people were speaking with those who stopped – gracious words of welcome and listening ears. I was touched when a young man offered me a gospel portion,” Johnson said. “I explained that I was there to make a donation and wanted to thank him and others for their ministry. Their little box for offerings was full and so was my joy in seeing my Ukrainian brothers and sisters serving in such a meaningful way.”
The prayer tent has been a fixture on Independence Square throughout the protests.
Vera Moroz,* a Ukrainian friend of Johnson’s, called the Christian volunteers heroes.
“I am not sure we will ever know in this lifetime, but I do believe that one day in heaven we will meet many who came to Jesus because of the believers on [Independence Square],” Moroz said. “These are heroes who were willing to give up everything to be Jesus to their countrymen and to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in the struggle against tyranny, oppression and injustice. The nation will forever be in debt to them – the church in Ukraine even more so. They are truly heroes of the faith.”
Although the violence has passed, there is a sense of sorrow and mourning throughout the city. Johnson said he was overcome with grief as he walked around the conflict zone.
“People slowly walked and took time to pause in front of memorials, which lined the streets. Some bowed their heads. Others crossed themselves and prayed. Many placed flowers. There was no thrill of victory on the people’s faces, only sadness,” Johnson said. “God is at work and people’s hearts are open. I too am sorrowful, but also hopeful.”
Below is the full text of a statement released by Valery Antonyuk, vice president of the All Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Churches, Baptist.
A Message of Reconciliation
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.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Nicole Lee is an International Mission Board writer based in Europe.)