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Ministries of Hope in Beleaguered Ukraine

My name is Taisiia Lukich, and I live seven miles from Kyiv.

It’s been more than two years since tanks began rolling through my neighborhood, more than 18 months since my boyfriend, Alex, was killed in combat, and more than a year since a missile struck my basement and left a hole in it.

TGC Ukraine and Russia editor Taisiia Lukich / Courtesy of Taisiia Lukich

What can I say about what’s happening now? Everything in the news is quite scary, and military friends share not-very-positive news. Contrary to propaganda and false positive information, Russia has strong troops and good weapons and is capable of decisive action.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s resources are depleted. After all, the battles aren’t happening in just one place—the line of contact stretches for hundreds of miles. Weapons and equipment are needed everywhere.

In May, a new mobilization wave started, which means those men previously not subject to mobilization requirements are now required by the army. As for women, for now only those with medical education are required, but the war isn’t over yet, so there may be changes.

Our church, Irpin Bible Church, continues to work in various spheres to lead people to the Lord and make their earthly lives easier. In times of war, we call our ministries “Ministries of Hope,” and they fall into several categories.

Pastoral Care

During Sunday services, meetings, conferences, and video messages, our pastors and other ministers try to emphasize who God is, what his attributes are, and how he’s present in different times and periods of people’s lives.

Our pastors also travel to military units to talk to personnel serving in various hot spots, finding out their spiritual and physical needs and helping them however possible.

The rest of us do this too. For example, I travel once a month with a team to provide dental services to military personnel in dire need.

Church Groups

As before the war, our church continues to lead and develop various social ministries for adults and children so the church can be a bastion of “normality” in these times of un-normality.

Kids camp / Courtesy of Taisiia Lukich

We run many groups, including clubs for children and teenagers. Statistics show the number of such places for children and teenagers run by the state has decreased due to loss of funding; but in the church, this figure has increased during the war. Our teen club has grown from 40 participants to 100. About 150 children attend our soccer club, and 250 attend the school at the church.

Among the adult ministries, the “School of Married Life” is growing stronger as we’re facing a crisis in families. Many women with children have gone abroad in search of safety, while the men stay in Ukraine. Some of these couples haven’t seen each other in person since the war began more than two years ago, which cannot have a positive effect on the family’s health.

Community Outreach

In our city, Irpin, there are about 25,000 resettled people from the east and south of the country, in addition to the local people who’ve suffered from Russia’s military aggression. For these people, we organize regular meetings and themed holidays and parties, giving them a sense of belonging in our church community. We also work with a team from the Netherlands to repair and build houses for people who’ve lost their homes. In addition, we hold spiritual evenings for the resettled people where they can pray, praise God, reflect on various topics, socialize, and be heard.

The first class to graduate from chaplaincy school / Courtesy of Taisiia Lukich

We’ve launched a chaplain school project to train willing church members to assist military personnel to transition when they return to their homes and communities. Logically, we anticipate a huge gap between military and civilians in the postwar period. We predict a lot of fear, misunderstanding, and aggression between these social groups, so it’s important for the church, as at all times, to act as a wise facilitator and mentor.

Our church has launched and is developing a ministry for women who’ve lost husbands or sons in the war. We help them financially, organize meetings, and host conversations with pastors. We also organize trips, camps, and retreats for them.

In the west of Ukraine in the Carpathians, where it’s much safer, we conduct camps for children. We have big plans for camps this summer.

During the full-scale war over the past two years, about 100 people have joined our church through baptism and about 100 displaced people have moved from their churches to ours. We also opened four new daughter churches—some formed from volunteer centers that opened at the beginning of the war.

Church Challenges

About 30 percent of our church members have moved abroad or are in the process of moving. Half of those who have left since the beginning of the war haven’t returned and don’t plan to.

Because so many young church members have left, there are fewer workers. But because of the war, there’s more work to do. This inevitably leads to burnout for those who remain.

We’re also facing financial challenges. Those who fled the country were mostly young, able-bodied people, while most of those who joined our church were pensioners. Their income is about $70 to $80 U.S. dollars a month, which means funding for the church has decreased even as the number of ministries has increased. One of our church’s most urgent prayers now is that the Lord will provide funding for the various projects and ministries that are already producing results.

Moreover, summer is here and we have many outdoor camps planned for children and teenagers. Our church is in great need and is looking for partners who could help implement these children’s ministry plans.

Occupied Territories

We don’t know much about the Ukrainian churches currently under Russian occupation—only what the brothers and sisters who managed to leave these terrible conditions tell us.

We know that Baptists in the occupied territories are under oppression and persecution. There are bans on meetings, and if the Russian authorities find out people are attending, these meetings are brutally dispersed. Some church buildings have been taken away and turned into detention facilities or Russian administrative institutions.

Easter event for refugees / Courtesy of Taisiia Lukich

The Russian government prohibits registering new churches if they refuse to join the Russian Baptist brotherhood. We know of several cases where Ukrainian Baptist pastors were imprisoned for having letters from American brothers or sisters or books by American authors because the authorities assumed they were foreign spies. We see that to be a Ukrainian Baptist is to be outlawed. In the self-proclaimed republics of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, the Ukrainian Baptist Union has been officially declared a terrorist organization.

Ukrainian Baptists aren’t allowed to carry out humanitarian service or otherwise help people in the occupied territories. We find it significant that in television propaganda videos, Baptists of the Russian Fellowship are filmed serving in cities that have suffered the most from Russian aggression and occupation, for example, Mariupol or Lisichansk.

Because of the war’s duration, the fact that it turned out to be so protracted, I know Western societies are tired of the constant news and problems of Ukraine. And this is understandable because these countries are also full of problems that need to be solved.

We, too, are tired of it. We’re tired of constant electricity blackouts. We’re tired of being killed every day. We fall asleep and wake up to the sounds of air raids, aircraft missiles, and unmanned kamikaze drones, even in a city where there’s no active fighting on the streets. That’s why in Irpin, a place with so much despair, hopelessness, and exhaustion, our church is offering ministries of hope.

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