Monday, September 29, 2014

The Ukrainian Church: Prayer with Tears

I recently returned from spending a week in Zaporozhye, Ukraine, teaching at Zaporozhye Bible College and Seminary (ZBCS). Zaporozhye province is a mainly Russian speaking province in the East of Ukraine. Although it borders the provinces which have seen recent fighting the fighting has not reached Zaporozhye. I have a lot on my mind and will break my thoughts into several posts. First up, the church.

On Sunday I preached at a small local church of about 60 people. Several things deserve comment. 1. The church was structured around three sermons! Time between sermons was spent on singing and prayer. I could only imagine a U.S. or Dutch church trying to have three different sermons on a Sunday morning :-) I was told that this tradition developed during the time of Soviet persecution when the churches never knew if their pastors and leaders would be arrested from one week to the next. There was a need for many people in the congregation to be trained so that the church would always have someone capable of preaching and teaching.

Here I am with the other two men who preached: the pastor Eduard (on the left) and Yuri, a deacon (on the right).

2. Prayer was heartfelt and genuine--mixed with tears. Between sermons there was time for anyone who wished in the congregation to lead in prayer. Although I could not understand the Russian language, prayer mixed with tears communicates in any language!

3. They had joy in the midst of difficulty. This was not a wealthy congregation; only two families in the church owned a car. After Ukraine gained independence some people who had connections in business became quite wealthy but the majority of the population in Zaporozhye did not benefit from this growth.

Christians in Zaporozhye are a minority but they are faithful. They love God and are active in outreach and discipleship. It was a joy to see Samiritan's Purse boxes here at the church; they use them in outreach and camps with children. It was wonderful to be able to tell the Christians there that many of our supporting churches helped send the boxes. I also assured them that churches in the U.S. and the Netherlands were praying for them during this difficult time in their country. There are 17 churches in the network of Christians that banded together to start ZBCS in 1994 when they gained the freedom to start a Christian school.

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