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What are the missiological implications of the war in Ukraine?

The Church in Ukraine needs to respond to the emotional and spiritual needs of its people as the ongoing extension of the mission of God. An aticle by Kristy Williams, Ruslan Maliuta and Yuriy Kulakevych.

VISTA JOURNAL 25 DE NOVIEMBRE DE 2022 15:50 h
Shelled apartment building in Mariupol. / [link]Wanderer777[/link], Wikimedia Commons.

As Vista continues its reflection on crucial issues for mission in Europe today, few incidents appear to be more relevant than the Russian Federation’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.



The February 24th attack on a sovereign nation of 43.2 million people [1] and the war that has ensued remain on Europe’s heart and mind.



While the conflict has resulted in 6.4 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across Europe, even more Ukrainians are displaced inside their country. [2]



The Russia-Ukraine war carries significant missiological implications for all Christian stakeholders involved but particularly for the body of believers remaining in Ukraine.



The Church in Ukraine has been ready to respond to the mission of God ever since the 2014 Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.



As 2021 concluded, churches across Ukraine felt the direct threat from Russia and began to mobilise for a new season of mission – physical and spiritual preparation not only for an enemy invasion but also for a new wave of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) that would flood west from Ukraine’s existing eastern battlefront.



While no one could have predicted the extent of the first weeks of attacks in places like Kharkiv, Kherson, Mariupol, Kyiv, and its now-famous suburbs like Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, and Hostomel, Ukrainian believers quickly realised the time had come “to rescue those who are being taken away to death” (Prov. 24:11).



They recognised that part of being on God’s mission is to be in direct battle with the devil himself.  



Since the onset of war, the Ukrainian evangelical community has been active in bringing the message of Christ to those in pain, and in responding to a plethora of needs.



In God’s kingdom, there is no template for missional identity and action – the options for mission can vary radically from person to person.



Each Ukrainian Christian has had to seek God’s will as an individual, as a family unit, and as a local church body, and then follow Him into the invitation and command to mission.



Since February 24th, we have asked ourselves many questions: “Should we offer social services? Should we partner with the city hall? Should we feed the hungry? Should we share the Gospel? Should we house the homeless? Should we join the armed forces or the territorial defense services? Should we start a church for IDPs? Should we go to the front as chaplains?”.  



Ukrainians have done it all and more for the sake of the Gospel, that they might win some (I Cor. 9:22).



Ukrainian believers’ witness to the mission of Christ to save the lost has been an inspiring testimony over the past 200+ days of war.



The missional opportunities during war times in Ukraine have been endless, and the whole world is watching. The Ukrainian Church is not isolated from society but rather lives out its calling to be salt and light wherever it goes.



This aroma of Christ is attracting the masses. The Church is building trust with people they only dreamed about reaching in the past. Many Evangelical churches in war zones have not closed their doors.



This phenomenon is particularly true in places of targeted violence and attack, where the once frowned-upon Protestant church building has become the provider and shelter for the town.



Although many congregants in cities under shelling have fled abroad or to safer areas of Ukraine, the servants of the Lord who stay are reporting church attendance of 2-3 times more people than before February 24.



Also, reports of co-operation between Catholic, Ukrainian Orthodox, and Protestant churches are on the rise.



The missional focus of believers is not without noticeable challenges. For example, churches in areas that come under Russian occupation are soon persecuted by the Russian authorities through physical abuse, confiscation of property, psychological pressure, and constant questioning and monitoring.



For example, three large facilities that belonged to different Evangelical churches have been taken over by the Russian soldiers in Melitopol, a city in Southern Ukraine.



Historically, Protestants have been viewed as western spies and any church but the Russian Orthodox Church is considered heretical. Nonetheless, some pastors in occupied Ukraine continue to shepherd the flock and take their churches underground.



During war times, evangelism in Ukraine has come in two forms. The more obvious one is, for example, sharing daily Bible teaching and the practical love of Christ at churches and community centers that serve IDPs.



Ukrainians have been more drawn to the church in war times, whether free food packets are offered or not. Ukrainians from the east and south often experience their own version of culture shock as they resettle to more western regions of Ukrain,differences in language, mentality, religious practice, and attitude add to the complex reality of mission and ministry.



Ukrainian IDPs, especially youth, struggle with loneliness in a new place, which is where the church is offering community, friendship, and aid for their transition. 



The second form of evangelism is more urgent and direct: “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the kingdom of Heaven is near” (Mat. 4:17).



Since many Ukrainians live on a precipice between literal life and death with no guarantee of tomorrow, their time to make peace with God is today. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2) has never been a more relevant and welcomed message.



In spite of great uncertainty and challenge, the Ukrainian Church is setting the direction of its core ministries for the months and years to come.



The Resolution of the Ukrainian Partnering Summit, hosted by the UA Council of Evangelical Protestant Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance, determined that while humanitarian assistance to IDPs, refugees, and those caught in economic hardship is still essential, pastoral care for the soul is of primary concern (June 28, 2022).



The Economist estimated that 3-4 million Ukrainians will need medication to handle the mental implications of war, and that 15 million Ukrainians are in need of psychological support [3].



The Ukrainian Church needs to focus on rehabilitation and spiritual and psychological support for those affected by the war.



The Church in Ukraine needs to respond to the emotional and spiritual needs of its people as the ongoing extension of the mission of God to help bring healing and redemption.



This goal will require not only the conceptual unity that the evangelical community in Ukraine has been experiencing to a significant degree over the past half-year; the Church also needs to strengthen its functional unity that effectively partners to face a crisis of mass proportions.



And the war is not over yet. Ukrainian believers are still in the midst of a daily struggle while living out a unique narrative, “written in the heat of missionary efforts”[4].



As Ukrainians grapple with invasion, oppression, and a front-row seat to a battle between good and evil and darkness and light, their war rages on. The gut-wrenching reality is that no believer can make this right.



It is God alone who ceases wars, who changes the hearts of kings, and who can stop aggression. God is the sole Redeemer, with the mission to make this right and wipe away every tear.



Kristy Williams is a US missionary with Josiah Venture and a team leader in Ukraine.



Ruslan Maliuta is Ukrainian and serves with OneHope and the World Evangelical Alliance.



Yuriy Kulakevych is a pastor and foreign affairs director of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church.



This article was first published in the Vista Journal number 42 (November 2022) and re-published with permission.



Endnotes



1. United Nations World Population Dashboard, Accessed 15th September 2022



2. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesAccessed 10th September 2022



3. Ukraine is on the edge of nervous breakdown. (August 6, 2022). The Economist.



4. Wright, C. J. H. (2006). The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. InterVarsity Press.


 

 


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