UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965

The Stakes Are High for Ukrainians Praying for Peace

By Andrew Hess, May 24, 2022
In the weeks, and now months, since war in Ukraine escalated in February, MTW missionaries across Eastern Europe have prioritized the traumatized refugees who have come to them weighed down by physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. 

During interviews in those initial weeks, several experienced missionaries broke down, spontaneously wept, and showed how the huge needs are weighing on them. The war’s psychological carnage on the hearts of the people they are serving is devastating. As one missionary said apologetically through tears, “I’m sorry. I haven’t had time to process all this."

Protect the People, Burn the Evidence

In rare moments when they do have time to themselves, these ministry leaders are thinking about how to continue to shepherd and protect the people of God who are walking through deep pain and suffering. Doug Shepherd, MTW missionary serving in Lviv, Ukraine, described some of the surreal steps pastors are taking to protect their people: “Some pastors who’ve stayed behind in eastern Ukraine are destroying church documents and member lists to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands and being used to harm the believers listed.”

Alister Torrens, the president of Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine located in Kyiv, said he instructed staff members to paint over the name of their seminary so it wouldn’t be targeted by the Russians. Alister’s wife, Sarah, explained, “Ukraine has enjoyed unique religious freedom. Ukraine is commonly referred to as the Bible belt of Eastern Europe.” She continued, “Many missionaries over the years haven’t been able to minister in Russia the way we are free to in Ukraine.” 

For those who’ve dedicated their lives to advance the cause of Christ in Ukraine, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Jon Eide, MTW Ukraine’s country director who has served in Ukraine for 20 years, shared what many fear could happen if Russia takes authority over Ukraine: “Churches and seminaries may close. This could drive the Church out or underground. Ukraine is the most religiously free country in Eastern Europe right now.

Anticipating Russian Persecution

Alister and Sarah said, “All that we have built [referring to the seminary and churches planted by alumni] has the potential to be destroyed. We might not be allowed back in the country, let alone be allowed to continue in ministry.”

Russia is far more religiously restricted, as Alister explained: “By Russian law, people don’t have the right to share the gospel with friends or relatives in their own home. They are only allowed to share the gospel in registered churches. The rules are very strict.” It is these strict rules that many fear will be enforced in Ukraine if Russia’s plans succeed.

Jon said, “This is a geopolitical crisis and we know it has implications for the United States. But besides these implications, we must remember these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s imperative that we recognize and empathize with them. They are looking at the prospect of losing their freedom to worship.” He continued, “This war could restrict access of the gospel to the rest of Eastern Europe for a generation.” 

In addition to the loss of the freedom to worship, there is also a threat of persecution. Alister explained, “When Russia invaded eastern regions in 2014, some pastors were abducted and tortured. Other believers were kidnapped and murdered. The violence against Christians was extreme.” This is the very real threat Ukrainian Christian are living under as the Russian attacks continue.

Unshakeable Hope and New Opportunities for the Church

Despite this grim threat, hope is not lost. As Alister said, “On the other hand, I’m hopeful that Putin has overreached.” As of this writing he noted, “We are seeing news that Ukraine is going to have the victory. We remain hopeful and prayerful that Ukraine will stave off the Russian attack.” 

Jon also has observed a strong hope in many people. “The Ukrainians I talk to don’t feel like this is going to end soon, but they have a beautiful hope for their country and their freedom,” he said. “They are choosing to have a long-term outlook, not a short-term one. In the end, their hope is in the eternal kingdom of Christ.”

While the war has caused some ministry to pause, missionaries and Ukrainian believers have found other ways to meet needs in the name of Christ. Alister explained that his seminary staff and students have scattered all over Eastern Europe but have stayed connected and have been able to meet the needs of others. When seminary leadership learned that businesses and shops were still accepting debit cards, they began to provide emergency funds, some of which came from MTW, to meet needs. He explained, “We learned that many believers didn’t have any money left to buy anything. Much work and access to salaries ceased.” So, through the seminary, they wired money onto people’s debit cards. Alister shared several stories where the seminary wired money to staff and students who were then able to share those funds with many others who had need.

Many missionaries have noted how these hard circumstances have created unique opportunities. Jon mentioned several new church-planting opportunities in the places where Ukrainians have fled to. He explained, “When you’ve lost assurances in what you always assumed was true, it is a time when the gospel often becomes the most attractive.”

Alister has observed the same phenomena. “People are more open to praying. People who wouldn’t normally pray now want to pray,” he said. He has heard stories of many pastors who have had opportunities to share the gospel and pray with people in bomb shelters, people who wouldn’t normally attend church.

Fedya,* a pastor and staff member at the seminary, said, “As we continue to gather as a church, we remind each other of the hope we have in the gospel and in Jesus Christ, who conquered death. We know that even if we don’t survive this war, we will be raised by Christ. And we need to share this. This is the truth the world needs right now.

Watch and Pray

In Matthew 26:38–45, Jesus asked His disciples to watch and pray with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane during His own time of sorrow and trouble. Sadly, our Lord soon found them sleeping and asked, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

Many in Ukraine share this sentiment of Christ. They find themselves asking a similar question: “Who is still watching and praying with us?” As they face the threat of a difficult future, they remain persistent in prayer, pleading with their brothers and sisters around the world to continue praying fervently with and for them. They see firsthand how high the stakes are for the body of Christ in Eastern Europe. And yet, they remain hopeful, believing that God will glorify Himself through their lives and continue to build His Church, even in a time of war.

For more information on how you can give and pray and to read recent updates visit

*Last name omitted for security reasons.

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is content strategy lead at Compassion International. He holds an M.Div. from Denver Seminary and is a ruling elder at Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965
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