Evangelical churches in Russia have been praying for peace and ministering to those in need right now for 6 months in Ukrainian cities. By Pavel Kolesnikov.
EDITORIAL NOTE: Vista has always sought to provide a breadth of perspectives on the issues under consideration. We have also committed to representing our authors fairly and not to censor the content.
That is why we include our disclaimer at the end: “The views expressed in Vista are those of the authors of each article and do not necessarily reflect the position of the editorial team.” Most of the articles in this edition of Vista could be understood as being written "from the Ukrainian side".
The following article gives a Russian perspective on the response of the Russian Evangelical Protestant Churches to the refugee crisis. By what it says, and what it does not say, Vista readers can appreciate something of how they might pray for Russian Evangelicals in these dark days for our continent.
Life after February 24th changed all over the world. One can think a lot, guess, speculate or ask: “Why? How?”. But God still exists, we believe in Him and we have hope even in times of grief, suffering, and misunderstanding.
God created the world and gave us a command through Jesus Christ: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19)
The Russian Federation is a country of 145 million people with approximately 1.5 million Protestants. As of 2021, there are 14,500 Protestant churches in Russia.
We love our country, we are citizens of our country, we are Christians, and we are here and now working for the salvation of the nation.
We are called by God to be in our country, and we ask for His wisdom and strength to fulfill God's plan here in Russia. "Whatever your hand can do, do according to your strength." (Ecclesiastes 9:10)
Evangelical churches in Russia have been praying for peace and ministering to those in need right now for 6 months in cities such as Taganrog, Bryansk, Donetsk, Lugansk, Mariupol, Severodonetsk and others.
Here are a few stories:
The pastor of an Evangelical church tells me: “Last weekend we once again took part in a charity trip to Mariupol and Volnovakha. Every day teams travelled to churches in Mariupol and held children's parties at their sites.
They played games with the children, gave them sweets, school kits, and gave away lots of clothes and shoes. Words cannot describe the children's emotions!
While the organisers were getting ready for the festivities, the rest of the team went around the neighborhood inviting children and adults to the festivities.
And during the holiday, everyone who was not directly involved in the event went to distribute food packages to the most devastated areas.
People there were in particular need of help. Their highrise blocks are nothing but embers, but they don't leave because their papers are burned and they have nowhere to go.
They continue to live in the remains of these appartments with no water, no electricity and no gas - in very great need. We gave them humanitarian aid and tried to speak the Gospel.
Up to five pastors go to Mariupol with the team on every such trip. I was asked a question: "Why? Why would pastors leave their flock and go to the affected cities? Why isn't it enough to just send a team of volunteers from the church?"
Pastors go because there is a need there. There is a type of ministry that only ministers can fulfill. The pastoral help is needed by the team of brothers and sisters themselves - it is spiritual support and encouragement for them.
When people have their ministers with them, it helps them. Pastors also serve as a source of encouragement and instruction for local churches. Many churches were left without ministers, because when they had the chance, they left town.
Ministries are now performed by ordinary church members and they themselves need pastoral care. The churches are scattered, and though they belong to different associations, those ties are now severed.
Our pastors help to build inter-church relationships and they, along with the rest of the team, of course do whatever else is required during the trip.
A team from Rostov-on-Don and Bryansk have travelled to serve the ordinary people who live in Severodonetsk. There are those who lived there during the hostilities, and those who returned after the hostilities.
Most of them are elderly, but there are young people, teenagers and children too.
A few statistics about the teams ministry there: lunches for 150 people; food kits for 150 people; hygiene kits for 150 people; baby food for 2 families; medicines for 150 people and people with disabilities; a girl with cancer always asks for sweets, we bring them to her individually.
The main need is for housing repairs, which can't be met. Also, food and hygiene kits and medicines are only partially replenished. We ask for prayer for the restoration of infrastructure: electricity, gas and water. People have fear of the approaching cold weather.
There is round-the-clock assistance by non-believers at the TAC (Temporary Accommodation Center) in Taganrog. During the last few months through the combined efforts of the churches for the refugees of Ukraine, 62,624 rubles were raised.
All of this amount was spent on volunteer trips to the city of Taganrog, where temporary refugee shelters have now been set up.
Between 200 and 400 people arrive at the TACs per day, so there is a constant purchase of humanitarian aid, from food to clothing and personal hygiene products. The entire amount collected by these churches has been spent on these purchases.
The need is unending and is growing each day, so all of the churches in Krasnodar and the Krasnodar region are actively involved in the work of refugee ministry, not only financially, but also physically.
Groups of volunteers have been working around the clock for more than a month, sharing God's love and care with the suffering people! Thank you for your participation in our common work for the Glory of God!
"We met Tatiana the first day we arrived in Taganrog. She and her husband came to the TAC from Mariupol, and all that time they were in the city, hiding in basements. Then a shell flew into their apartment. Of all the entrances in the house, only their entrance was hit and the apartment burned down completely. They were still in town for a while despite not having electricity, water, or gas.
At the first opportunity they decided to go to Russia to survive. They themselves are very modest. Although they weren’t very talkative, we chatted a little with them for two days, while they were waiting for the train to be assigned to them. The day came when the train was scheduled and volunteers escorted refugees to buses and to the station.
I ended up next to Tanya and I asked her how she was feeling. She said so childishly and openly: "I'm scared, we don't know what awaits us, we have nothing and we have no idea what's next.”
I inwardly prayed that God would give me the right words. I said, "God saved you, you were under bombardment for such a long time, but you are healthy, alive and safe now, God will not leave you.” Then Tanya started crying and said, "It is so important to know that we are not forgotten."
We stood there hugging for a while. And then she asked: "Where do all you guys come from, all these kind and compassionate volunteers?"
God told me to share, and I said: "We are from the church, almost all the volunteers here are believers, and all the good things in us are from God, He takes care of you through us.”
And then Tanya said, "Aren't you Pentecostal?" Then I thought to myself, "I think she's on to something.” I answered that I go to an evangelical church.
And then she said, "I went to a charismatic church for a little while, and then I stopped quickly, but a guy from our church often writes to me to say that he prays for me, prays that I would meet people who would help me, and here you are!”
Here I was already so surprised at God's work myself. We talked some more with her about God, His love, and the hope they needed so much.
I suggested that Tanya pray, and she replied, "Can you?" We stood in the midst of a large crowd, I prayed for Tanya, cried with her, and I had this feeling inside that this was the moment I needed to be in Taganrog.
We exchanged numbers and are now in touch. I believe that God will continue to carry their family in His arms.
God calls us to love, to bless, to serve. We are His instrument on this earth. This is the time in history when we must be united as Christians as we confess one God and work for one kingdom.
We pray for peace and work in His Name! And we urge you to pray for the Christians in Russia, we need God's wisdom, strength and joy with which to go to those who have lost it.
Pavel Kolesnikov is senior pastor of Zelenograd Baptist Church and Regional Director for Eurasia for the Lausanne Movement.
This article was first published in the Vista Journal number 42 (November 2022) and re-published with permission