One of the most obvious and common questions we are asked when telling people about going to Ukraine is, “Why Ukraine?” Now, i don’t know why we would be called to Ukraine as opposed to Africa or China or North Korea, but i do know that we feel called to go there and i trust that when we get there, God will show us something incredible, a need will rise up before us that we cannot ignore, and we will be on fire to fulfill that need. At any rate, it was suggested that we should give a short bit of history on the place so that everyone (ourselves included) will have a better idea of just what is going on over there and what kind of place we will be in.
In Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of the population adheres to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which rivals the Roman Catholic Church in size and scope. It is also very similar to Roman Catholicism in that it is buried in complex layers of tradition and practice. I believe that this is the sort of rigid forced piety that separates “religion” from true Christianity, and the reason why despite the strong presence and influence of this church, Ukraine is far from what anyone would call “a Christian nation” (which of course, so is America, albeit for different reasons).
In researching the history of Ukraine, i have noticed that the most prominent recurring theme in their history is conflict. It appears that the neighboring countries have been fighting over this land for untold centuries, with the nation being divided for a large portion of its history. It was not until 1939 that the nation was united as one, but still another 52 years before they gained independence. In the past several years, however, this independence has come under attack. Coming from an ignorant American, this will surely be a little shaky, though i have tried to do my research. Here goes:
From what i have been able to find it seems that the trouble traces back as far as 2004, when a man named Viktor Yanukovych won an election for president that was later determined to be rigged. This sparked the Orange Revolution, which was a peaceful revolution that successfully removed Yanukovych from power and placed Viktor Yushchenko in power instead. Yanukovych ran for president again in 2010, winning the position. However, by the end of 2013, Yanukovych was trying to establish ties with Russia and plotting to bring Ukraine under Russian control. This did not go over well with the Ukrainian people, whose independence had filled them with a strong sense of national pride, and the move led to a great deal of civil unrest which ultimately led to Yanukovych being removed from power and exiled. He was replaced by one Petro Poroshenko, who was later officially voted into power by the Ukrainian people. But even from exile, Yanukovych was determined to have his way, and in 2014 Yanukovych requested the installment of Russian troops in Crimea “to establish legitimacy, peace, law and order, stability and defending the people of Ukraine.” Very quickly, Crimea became Russian territory, and the fighting has been going ever since.
Now, to refer back to the question posed at the outset, one of the best reasons we actually do have for going to Ukraine is the church in Kaharlyk, the pastors of which we have been in contact with for some time now. When we stumbled upon their church website, and saw what they were doing to impact not only the souls of the Ukrainian people, but their physical and emotional needs as well, we became excited. Personally, i saw something in what they were doing that i have always felt is lacking in the majority of American churches. Here was a church that took the gospel and the whole counsel of the Word of God seriously, a church that was willing to step daily outside of its own four walls and minister and demonstrate and BE Christ’s love to the people around them. That is something we both long to be a part of, to learn about, and to share and to spread and to cultivate right here in our own country (for which ultimately my heart still burns deeply), and it is our hope and our prayer that by going to Ukraine, and being a part of this radical ministry, and watching the transforming power of true Christian love in that community, that we might learn something firsthand that we have only heard about, that we might catch onto the wonder of what they are doing, and bring it home, and watch it grow.
This is the verse that speaks most perfectly to what we feel, though i also like to think of how the opposite is true:
James 2:15-16 — “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”