"This is our 9/11"

By Susan Fikse, Jul 1, 2014
The riot police, dressed in black, bullet-proofed vests, hard hats, and gas masks, gripped their batons and steel shields, poised to descend on protesters at the slightest misstep. Independence Square, which the world came to know as “Maidan,” in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, brimmed with the tension of power struggle and the anger of unmet demands. Into this chaos walked the young women of Big City Church. For weeks they had served during the Maidan uprising. They’d swept the ice and snow clean of the remnants of 24-hour protests and served protesters food and tea. When they weren’t laboring physically, they labored in prayer, kneeling in the prayer tent established by Protestant churches.

This was February 19, a frightful night when the protesters’ cause seemed doomed, the riot police destined to attack, and the corrupt government ready to triumph. Yet these same young women walked boldly into Independence Square. Instead of seeking sanctuary from the violence, they served by standing with the protesters, hoping that the appearance of young Ukrainian women would influence the riot police to hold their fire.

Instability sparks spiritual openness
Within two days Maidan was quiet, fires doused. The Ukrainian president fled the country, the Constitution was restored, and renewed hope buoyed the people of Ukraine. But the need for Christians to stand with their countrymen in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty remains.

Throughout the country, the 12 churches in the denomination MTW helped plant are pointing Ukrainians to the One who can answer their spiritual questions following the events in Maidan. “People are asking, ‘How did this happen?’” said Ivan Bespolav, pastor of Presbyterian Church of the Holy Trinity in Kyiv and MTW national partner. “Six months ago, it was unthinkable that people with arms would walk our streets. People don’t know how life became so unpredictable, so unstable … how their lives that were solid just crumbled down that easily.”

Members of Bespolav’s church have lost jobs and savings due to uncertainty in the economy. Some have lost property with the Russian annexation of Crimea. “But this drives people to the Lord,” Bespolav said.

Max Tikhonov, pastor of Big City Church in Kyiv and MTW national partner, said the level of spiritual openness is reminiscent of the days after the fall of the Iron Curtain. “We feel really free to share the gospel. People around us are really open to that.” He is a part of a council of Protestant churches that holds a prayer service in Maidan each Sunday. “People throw out a lot of questions. We pray for Ukraine, for peace, for unity. It is a great atmosphere of spiritual openness.”

“This is our 9/11,” said Jon Eide, MTW Ukraine country director. “The churches are filled. People are seeking truth. It’s an exciting time to be a missionary here.”

Speaking out for truth and justice
Part of that spiritual seeking is a desire to restore truth and justice in a culture characterized by unthinkable corruption. When the ousted president’s storied residence was finally unveiled to Ukraine’s citizens, the absurd excess revealed the plunder politicians acquired at the expense of the people. While the president enjoyed his opulent home replete with golf course and private zoo, working Ukrainians survived on a few hundred dollars a month.

“People want to live in a country that values honesty,” explained Eide. “This is where the Church comes in. The Church needs now to talk about two things until they are blue in the face: justice and truth. Both of which are the core of the protesters’ demands and the core of the gospel.”

An uncertain future, a certain God
Right now, the forecast for the days to come is uncertain. With the Russian seizure of Crimea and threats of violence in eastern Ukraine, Tikhonov said, “It is not really over yet. I am talking more now about the unity of the people, unity in the Church. The Bible gives answers for unity in the Church whatever situation we’re in. I want to show that no matter what is happening, we are still with God. He is with us no matter what.” This is a message he preaches foremost to himself, as he could be called for service at any time by the Ukrainian military. He said, “I try to prepare people for the worst and hope for the best.”

Ukrainian believers—alongside the courageous young women of Big City Church—continue to stand with their countrymen, proclaiming the message of truth and justice, seeking a peaceful resolution to this political conflict. “The days to come may be difficult, even sorrowful,” Eide said, “but worth it because there are open doors for the gospel to go forth, and we believe that these will be days of great eternal significance.”
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