Psalm 119: 157, 161
“Many are the foes who persecuted me, but I have not turned from your statutes.
Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word.”
Ukraine has been a home to Christians since the beginning of the Christian era, and Christianity has been a major shaper of Ukrainian society for over 1,000 years.
Ukraine was known as the “Bible Belt” of the Soviet world, testifying to the deep spirituality of the populace and the witness to Christ that emanated from Ukraine to the rest of the Soviet empire even during decades of intense persecution.
These are people who have a long history of maintaining a strong witness for Christ amidst persecution and difficult political circumstances. Ukraine has long formed a cultural bridge between East and West, and the body of Christ in Ukraine is uniquely placed to be peacemakers in this troubled region. There is perhaps no other region of the world in which Christians are so strategically placed to positively impact a major trouble spot by being the hands and feet of Christ.
Eastern Ukraine, now being torn apart by fighting, is isolated from the rest of the world and suffering from massive needs – food, medical supplies, energy, crumbling infrastructure, etc. The cease fire agreements signed in Minsk do not appear likely to actually bring political resolution to the conflict, and it is therefore likely that the trauma suffered by the people of Eastern Ukraine will only get worse. Please pray for the every day needs of the people in this region – for food, energy sources, medical supplies, and physical safety.
Another major issue is that ecclesiological divisions are seen as political divisions in Ukraine, with major implications for how members of various churches are treated by the pro-Russian rebels in control of much of eastern Ukraine. The Russian Orthodox Church has been supportive of Vladimir Putin’s regime, and is seen by the pro-Russians separatists as being an appendage of the Russian state with which they are allied. Therefore, other Christian groups are viewed with suspicion by the rebels.
There are reports that non-Russian Orthodox Christians are being targeted by pro-Russian militias and are being kidnapped, tortured and killed.
Some of the targeted Christians are going underground, while others are facing death to remain in the open in an attempt to preach Christ’s love to the rebels. Please pray for God’s protection for all members of the body of Christ in eastern Ukraine. Many have lost loved ones to the fighting, including a close friend of mine whose fiancee was killed by a random shell. Pray for psychological support for those traumatized by violence.
Pray most importantly that Christians in Ukraine, no matter what their ecclesial leanings, can be ministers of reconciliation and a calming influence in a deeply divided country.
Crimea, which was annexed by Russia a year ago, has been the scene of much persecution of Christian churches and groups for the same reason as persecution is taking place in eastern Ukraine – suspicions on the part of the Russian authorities regarding the political reliability of the various churches and religious groups. Under Russian rule, severe restrictions on religious practice have been imposed.
Many religious leaders have reported surveillance from the security services and questioning by FSB officers.
All religious organizations that were registered as a religious organization under Ukrainian law were forced to re-register under the new government. Only 1% of those which had such registration status previously succeeded in regaining such status under the new rule.
This is partially because many did not even apply as they expected their applications to be rejected by the new authorities, and partially because few of those who did apply were granted legal status.
Please pray, therefore, that the Christian church and other Christian organizations in Crimea continue to have a major impact socially and culturally despite the new restrictions on their legal status and on their activities.
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”
Paul Coyer is a contributor to Forbes. Paul’s first two degrees were in theology, including a degree from Yale Divinity School, and his next two degrees, including a PhD from the London School of Economics and Political Science, were in international relations and diplomatic history. Paul spent several years as a visiting scholar at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University in Washington, DC. His pieces have been published in Ukraine in the Kiev Post and in other publications in the region. Paul is an active member of a church in Upperville, Virginia.