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Darling, Land join Ukrainian Baptist leaders in letter to House Speaker

Displaced Ukrainians seek refuge at a church in Eastern Europe. (Send Relief photo)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) – The namesake of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement as well as its current director have joined two Ukrainian Baptist leaders in a letter urging House Speaker Mike Johnson to “consider the plight of Christians” suffering brutality at the hands of invading Russian forces in Ukraine.

Issued on April 8, the letter is signed by Dan Darling, director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Richard Land, former president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and former commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

They are joined by Yaroslav Pyzh, president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, and Valerii Antoniu, president of The Baptist Union of Ukraine.

The election of Johnson last fall, the letter said, placed the fellow Southern Baptist in a God-ordained position “for such a time as this.”

“The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine has been a tragic hallmark of the war,” it noted.

A systematic erasure of “faithful Christians in occupied areas of Ukraine” has included threats, torture and the removal of pastors, even retired ones who are considered too Western and not sufficiently pro-Russia.

Pyzh recently lauded the work of Southern Baptists in Ukraine.

“The help is critical, but it’s more than just help. It’s a message of hope,” said Pyzh, a Send Relief ministry partner and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary alumnus.

He spoke of the five WeCare centers in eastern Ukraine opened by his seminary through help with Send Relief, providing humanitarian aid as well as counseling and Bible Study support.

“Giving bread and giving food is critical,” he said. “But the idea of these WeCare centers is more than that. We would like people to know Christ and have hope and abundant life.”

The letter also pointed to the destruction of Baptist churches by Russian forces. At least 270 houses of worship, religious educational institutions and sacred sites were either destroyed or damaged during the first five months of the war that began in February 2022.

Experts believe it is not a case of collateral damage, but a step toward Russia eventually weaponizing religion and using it as a propaganda tool.

Religious organizations are allowed to exist once they “fully and publicly support the authorities, namely their military actions,” said Ruslan Khalikov, a Ukrainian religious expert and the head of the “Religion on Fire” project that documents the damage Moscow’s war wrought to Ukraine’s religious life.

“Baptist organizations have been the largest contributors to relief in Ukraine since Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war against Ukraine,” the letter read. “The Southern Baptist Convention’s Send Relief ministry has poured millions of dollars into helping Ukrainian refugees in the surrounding countries and continues to assist Baptists in Ukraine.

“We desire peace. But more than that, we desire a peace that is based on the principles of justice. Our God is both perfectly just and the author of perfect peace.”