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10/24/97 Ukrainian crusade records TV audience of 52 million

KIEV, Ukraine (BP)–Fireworks lit the sky above the ancient city of Kiev as Ukrainians celebrated the sixth anniversary of their country’s independence from the former Soviet Union.
And in the city’s October Palace, originally built to house meetings of the Communist Party Congress, many Ukrainians were experiencing yet another kind of newfound freedom — the freedom from spiritual bondage only Christ can give.
Literally thousands of people made decisions to accept Christ as Savior during a three-night crusade in Kiev and a week-long evangelistic effort in the region spearheaded by Orlando, Fla., evangelist Jim Ponder in August.
Of note, the services were broadcast on the Ukraine National Television Network to an audience estimated at 52 million in Ukraine and five regions in Russia.
Gregory Komendant, president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Ukraine, described the crusade as “the greatest religious meeting in the history of the Ukraine. Millions of our people have heard the gospel for the first time and thousands have received Jesus.”
The crusade and personal witnessing efforts during the week led to 8,417 professions of faith, according to the UECB, plus more than 10,000 letters received in response to the broadcasts during the first two weeks.
Sergei Karpenko, vice president of the union and coordinator for the crusade, pointed out “to understand the real significance of the response by mail, you must understand, first, that postage is very high and stationery is almost impossible to secure” and that Ukrainian people, conditioned by 70 years of communism and interception of letters by the KGB, do not easily decide to write such letters.
With that level of initial response, “it is safe to believe that about 30,000 have received Jesus,” Karpenko wrote. “Attendance in churches across Ukraine in these few weeks has risen dramatically,” he reported.
In one coal-mining town of 65,000, a group of 10 ladies gathered in an apartment that had a television. They watched the crusade service from Kiev and all 10 prayed to receive Christ. One of the ladies wrote asking for Bibles, and they all signed the card. A deacon was sent to meet with the ladies, and now more than 75 people have received Christ and are waiting for baptism.
At a hotel in Kiev, a parking attendant and four prostitutes who had been crying approached a driver for the evangelistic team and said they had been watching the services on television.
“We have all asked Jesus to forgive our sins and have received him by faith to be our Savior,” one young lady said. “Can people as bad as us have a Bible, too?”
Team members opened the car trunk, presented the women with Bibles and new believers’ materials and prayed with them.
Ralph Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church, Winter Haven, Fla., one of the 35 team members who joined Ponder and his wife, Joyce, said the one thing that impressed him most was the people’s eagerness to hear about Christ.
“There are people in these tough places around the world who are hungry for the gospel,” he affirmed.
Harris traveled to several villages around Kiev during the week of the crusade. One service was held in a grape vineyard; another was held in a pasture with cows and horses nearby. A gospel concert one evening drew a crowd of about 50 people; about half of those accepted Christ, Harris said.
Van Capps, a vocational evangelist from Lake Hamilton, Fla., also was impressed with “how deeply interested people were in the message of Christ” and how they listened intently and many responded.
Capps and his wife, Patsy, spent much of the week in Rokytnoe, a town of 18,000 people. They ministered in hospitals, campgrounds and a marketplace.
While visiting at the hospital, Patsy Capps led a woman to the Lord using a bilingual gospel tract. The woman had been wanting to visit her mother for three months but had not been able to get transportation until that particular day.
After the woman had prayed to receive Christ, she asked, “What about my mother?” Using the same gospel tract, “I let her lead her mother to the Lord,” Patsy recounted.
Van Capps told about stopping at a crossroad and asking a young military man for directions. The young man — who was going home for the weekend from a nearby base — asked if he could ride along. As they drove, the volunteers talked with him about Christ.
“With tears in his eyes, he gave his life to the Lord,” Capps recalled.
The crusade was the 12th in a series of Regional Capital Crusades carried out by Jim Ponder Evangelistic Ministries in partnership with the Ukrainian Baptist union. The crusades are projects undertaken in cooperation with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and the Fellowship of Baptist World Ministries.
Ponder noted the crusade teams have received excellent cooperation, not only from Ukrainian Baptists, but from officials in cities where the crusades have been held.
Acting as a “goodwill ambassador” from his home state, Ponder took greetings from Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood to the governor of the Kiev oblast (administrative region) and presented him with the key to the city of Orlando.
Capps noted the crusade efforts were backed by prayer of Baptists, both in the States and in the host country. “It was the prayer that made all the difference,” he said.