07 Mar Ukraine Crisis
We arrived in Kiev late afternoon here. We walked down from our hotel to Maidan Square, where all the riots, demonstrations, and killings by government SWAT teams happened a couple of weeks ago. Peace and calm have been restored there now, since the former president has fled and a new acting president, a strong Christian, is in place.
But the scene leftover down there is almost beyond description. There are many barricades that were erected to keep the SWAT teams out. There are piles upon piles of flowers in multiple locations beneath pictures of innocent civilians who were killed. There are stacks and stacks of tires, which the protestors would burn to create a lot of smoke to prevent the SWAT snipers from being able to sight a target. And the sidewalks and streets are mostly mud because the protestors had to pull up the bricks a few weeks ago to use as their only available form of self-defense. Many people are still living near Maidan Square in tents, mostly young protesters.
I went into one of the tents and interviewed three people ages 18-24. One of them had been there two months. It was amazing. They talked about being very close when some of their compatriots were killed a couple of weeks ago. We got into some very deep spiritual discussions. I had the great honor of sharing the gospel with them. They seemed very open. One of them said that the protective vests and helmets they wore didn’t really serve as armor if they were struck by a bullet. He said they felt no true protection or safety in their equipment and that the only real protection comes from God.
I also met with one of the leading pastors in Kiev who has manned a prayer tent since all of this started. He is quite a guy. We are scheduled to meet with some church denominational leaders tomorrow and are still supposed to meet with the acting president before we leave.
Understandably, the locals are really, really upset with Putin and believe that, in part, he is threatened by the freedom they have found since the former president, who they viewed as evil, left office and was replaced. They also know that this is a very tenuous time for their country. It’s certainly worth reiterating that things are fine here now and that Crimea, where the Russian troops have invaded, is a long ways from Kiev.
Many blessings, Charles
Every day it seems that the Ukraine Crisis ratchets up to a new level. It is already being called the greatest crisis of the 21stcentury, and it likely is the most dangerous. Even if it is resolved without more conflict, it has set in motion events that will have major, worldwide implications.
Two of the biggest factors this crisis is illuminating are: the disrespect that most of the world now has for the United States and the European Union, and the apparent aligning of Russia and China. Many are now asking if this is the beginning of another Cold War, or worse.
The tragedy is that even with many of the national and cultural wounds still unhealed from the Cold War and World War II, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the United States and Russia should have become close friends and allies. We could have, and should have, helped Russia in a greater way through the transition she has struggled through to find her way in these times. The possibility of this friendship and alliance is not totally out of reach now, but it is slipping further away every passing day, and with it, the potential for much good for the whole world that could have resulted from it.
We will seek to address this in some depth later, but for now I want to focus on what is happening with Christians in the Ukraine.
The Light is There
Yesterday Randy Strombeck and I had a Skype meeting with six groups of believers in Russia and the Ukraine. With so many groups on one split screen like this, it is a challenge to not interrupt each other. Randy joked that we were having a Skype battle between Russia and Ukraine. All of the groups protested at once, saying “No! We love each other!” They knew Randy was joking, and they were not offended, but they were resolute that nothing would divide the believers in these two countries. It was both touching and encouraging.
I shared this with Charles Chandler who is in Ukraine on assignment from Decision Magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His response was, “The head of the Baptist Union said today he had received a call from his Russian counterparts, and they were one together as well.”
With the nations fracturing, which is expected as we enter these times foretold in Daniel 2, we can also expect the church to begin uniting. The devil may be able to stir up hatred, division, and conflict, but we will see the Lord raising up a standard against it—bringing healing, restoration, and unity.
Below are communications I edited from emails from Charles Chandler in Ukraine that have insights into the crisis, as well as encouragement:
Thanks, Rick. Please see the linked photo of a father and son who were beaten and bloodied by Yanukovych’s Berkut riot police, but survived. The picture was widely circulated. In a true “God thing,” we just happened upon them today while making our last visit to Maidan Square and were able to interview them. As you can imagine, their story is gripping.
Quite a day yesterday, met with the head of the Pentecostal denomination here, Mykhailo Panochko. He talked about how God has moved so miraculously here. Over the years, about 80 percent of the missionaries in Russia were sent there from Ukraine. This is said to be the most evangelical nation in Europe, and there are many examples of God defending them in recent weeks. He shared that he believes God wants to show Himself great to all of Europe through what He is doing for His people here. Two hours after meeting with us, Panochko met with John Kerry along with a group of other religious leaders.
We also visited the former mansion/estate/compound of deposed former President Yanukovych, who stole from the people and ordered the killings of peaceful protesters at Maidan Square a couple of weeks ago. No one in Kiev even knew his compound existed until he fled the country on or around Feb. 21. The public is not allowed to go inside, but we were allowed to do so because of being journalists. Given the low economic standing of the nation, it was literally sickening to see the elaborate riches he had there, including a museum of cars, including old Soviet vehicles, plus a zoo, a golf course, gold everywhere in the mansion. Viktor Hamm, BGEA VP for Crusades, said it was like visiting Babylon, and it was.
We were guided through the house by a man who calls himself “Delta.” He is from Ukraine and formerly served in Israel’s army. He came back here to be a part of this cause against the evils in the Yanukovych regime. He marveled at how this once-great president who was in control of the people and tormenting the people, suddenly went on the run and was chased by the common folk, like him. Like a story right out of the Bible! Delta is an orthodox Jew, but said there is no doubt that God has done this miracle.
Also visited Maidan Square again and interviewed Christian counselors who told some powerful stories of ministering to the people here. Most gripping was a woman counselor, on the front lines of ministry here for weeks, who said these people here are in such pain, and are not in a place to want to hear the Gospel spoken because their trust in man has been so shattered. Instead, she said what they desperately need and want is to experience the love of Christ through real deeds and actions of those willing to help them and serve them. What a word for all of us!
I am so honored and humbled to be here at this moment in time. Thank you for your prayers as, together, we have the incredible privilege of serving great Jesus!