As the first cold blasts of winter blanket Ukraine in snow, the battle for land, minds, and hearts continues.
Three years ago we had to leave Ukraine, and the idea of not going back to a country where we had sown many years of our lives and where our daughters grew up was difficult. Since we left, there has been a revolution, a new government, and ongoing conflict with neighboring Russia. Nonetheless, God has reopened the door for us to continue to serve Ukraine, and when we returned from a two-week trip in October, the scope of those open doors was made clear. Not only are our Ukrainian churches prospering during a time of national crisis, but the leaders are full of faith to plant more churches.
Many people gathered on Kyiv’s Maidan Independence Square on November 21 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Maidan protests. What began as a protest to highlight Russian coercion to stop Ukraine from leaning westward quickly became a revolution that ousted a corrupt president and ushered in a war with Putin’s Russia on its eastern border. More than a place, Maidan has become a symbol of hope that the people can unite against corruption and make a difference. The churches played a significant role through prayer, public ministry, and humanitarian assistance.
The recent changes in Ukraine have brought about greater political freedom — except in occupied territories where minorities and Christians are persecuted and thousands of refugees are now fleeing the conflict.
One such family, a pastor and his wife, recently came to the Every Nation church, Christ’s Fellowship, in Lviv as refugees. The church welcomed them, helped them get settled, and treated them like family. Several of our churches, since they are located in western Ukraine, have helped refugees from the east.
Hope through the Gospel
Our trip began in the city of Ternopil where we and other leaders from Europe and North America ministered at the twentieth anniversary conference of the Love and Healing Church. Pastor Oleg Savchak and his team are now in their own building, which will better facilitate preparing teams for a new wave of church planting. Every Nation currently has eight churches in Ukraine as well as one in Spain that was planted from the church in Ternopil.
With around three hundred members, the church in Ternopil is one of Every Nation’s largest churches in Europe. The leaders and volunteers diligently reach out to their city by ministering in hospitals, sending out evangelistic teams every Sunday, leading small groups in student dorms, and ministering in prisons. They also lead outreaches in cities where their daughter churches are located.
But their main lane for effective outreach is through their rehabilitation centers for those dealing with substance abuse. Participants go through a twelve-step program integrated with Biblical foundations. Then they find work in Christian businesses and attend the Bible school offered through the church. Finally, they are able to go through the main leadership track. This process is so successful that the church in Ternopil has raised up more than thirty leaders from their center. Many former addicts now have families, own businesses, and serve in the church.
Because of their effective track record, they decided to try a new approach. They’re planting a church in Mikolaev near Odessa by starting a rehabilitation center in the city. A team of nine leaders from the rehabilitation center in Ternopil moved there to start the new center as well as the church. Ten people are currently at the center and the team has been renting a place for church meetings for six weeks now.
Just a few hours from Ternopil in the city of Lviv, a cultural hub, the church has more of an artistic vibe and has found its niche in reaching out to the many youth and students who come to the city to study. We started this church in 1993, and since handing it over to Pastor Igor Ivanishin eight years ago, they’ve grown tremendously. In fact, God has opened more ministry doors than there are leaders, so we spent a week with Igor’s leadership team to help them develop strategies for making disciples.
Along these lines, we’ll return to Ukraine in 2015 with other leaders to inaugurate our first Every Nation Boot Camp in Ukraine. This intensive training equips senior leaders who are ready to start new churches with effective strategies. Going from pioneering to raising up and equipping new pioneers is only natural as we mentor and encourage the next generation to do even greater works.