Jason Gupta’s church and many others in Kiev, Ukraine used to travel to Crimea, ministering to Muslims and running youth camps there. Now, With the Russian takeover, this type of ministry is no longer possible for many of them.
This isn’t the only change Ukrainian Christians have witnessed since Russia invaded Crimea.
The 1,546 official religious groups previously registered in Crimea have been reduced to 14. According to Forum 18, a religious liberty advocate, Crimean religious groups must re-register with the Russian authorities to receive recognition.
Four WorldVenture missionary units were evacuated from Donetsk last spring, significantly halting their momentum for ministry.
In other words, the country’s political crisis has changed the way evangelical churches function, says Jason, a WorldVenture missionary and professor of missions at Kiev Theological Seminary. In Kiev, the influx of refugees from the east has meant helping to meet their immediate needs. Because the church is so interconnected, most believers in Kiev know others who have experienced great loss in other parts of the country.
“We have refugees coming from other cities where their church has been burned or taken over by rebels,” he said. “When there’s a tragedy in one part of the country, everybody feels it.”
At the seminary, one of Jason’s goals has been to mobilize Ukrainians to become cross-cultural missionaries, especially as Ukraine has a strong evangelical presence. “We believe Ukrainians have the unique ability to reach the Russian-speaking world because they share aspects of their culture, and the gap is much smaller between Ukraine and many of the former Soviet republics.”
With the political crisis, Jason thought the rift between the two countries would ruin this goal. But as Jason interviewed students for last semester’s enrollment, their motivations surprised him. “Over and over and over, I kept hearing them say their purpose for wanting to come to seminary was they wanted to be missionaries to unreached peoples in Russia,” he said. “They weren’t deterred at all by the conflict.”
Tension between Ukrainian and Russian evangelicals has become developed, however. Many Ukrainians feel betrayed by their Russian brothers, who have accepted the Russian propaganda concerning Ukraine, Jason says. As many Russian and Ukrainian church leaders are on committees together, Jason laments the fact that interactions between the two camps may become increasingly difficult.
But while the war-torn situation continues in Ukraine, Jason sees the role of the Ukrainian evangelical church as one of enduring hope. “The church is going to have to adapt to this for the long haul,” he said. “One of the unique things about the Christian community is we do offer hope of a different kind.”