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Invitation to Ukrainian Baptist leader reflects open doors in new democracy

KIEV, Ukraine (BP)-For the first time in Ukrainian history, a Baptist leader has participated in the inauguration of a national leader.

Gregory Kommendant, president of Ukraine Baptist Union, delivered a message on behalf of all Christian groups at the invitation of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during his inauguration Nov. 30.

The Ukraine is a former Soviet state which became an independent democracy in 1991.

Kuchma was re-elected to a new five-year term in a runoff election Nov. 14. He defeated communist candidate Petro Symonenko, receiving 56.25 percent of the vote.

June Nolen, who along with husband, Thomas, are on-site coordinators for the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s partnership with Ukraine Baptists, said Kommendant’s message focused on “The Heart of a King.”

Kommendant wished Kuchma and his family good health and assured the president that he (Kommendant) personally had Kuchma in his heart. On behalf of Christian groups in Ukraine, Kommendant reported to Kuchma that the churches of Ukraine support his democratic government.

Kommendant also told the president that many brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States were praying for him.

At the time the invitation was issued, Kommendant cut short a visit to the United States in order to quickly return for the occasion.

In another unprecedented action, Kuchma took the oath of office with his hand not only on a copy of the nation’s constitution, but also on a 16th-century copy of the New Testament. A brief discussion took place over where to open the Bible when Kuchma placed his hand upon it; John 3:16 was

In his address, Kuchma declared the year 2000 as a year of celebration of Christianity. A large event in the Hall of the President was planned for Jan. 14 to kick off the celebration. Kuchma stated he had heard many good things about Christian work in the Ukraine, and he expressed thanks to Baptists did for their many charitable acts of kindness.

This is a critical time in the life of the Ukraine, Nolen noted.

“This country has a long history of oppression. Ukrainian Baptists have asked us [Mississippi Baptists] to meet critical needs, such as rebuilding churches that were destroyed, and starting new churches in areas that have not heard the gospel in generations,” she said.

“This is a very exciting time to be involved in Ukraine,” Nolen continued. “God has placed Mississippi Baptists, one of the strongest states in terms of a heart for missions, in a position to minister during a time when the door has never before been so wide open.”

Since independence, the economy in the Ukraine has struggled. Average income is about $36 a month, and this average has dropped every year since independence in 1991, she pointed out.

“People need a sense of hope. We can give them the hope that comes from faith in God through Jesus Christ,” Nolen said.

As on-site coordinators, the Nolens meet at the airport the groups who come as part of the Mississippi partnership effort.

“We take them to the field, make assignments, keep up with them, support them during the week and get them back on a plane,” she said.

Nolen said coming to Ukraine is a two-way experience.

“It is not just what Mississippians are doing for Ukrainian Baptists, but what the Ukrainians are doing for Mississippi Baptists. It is a life-changing experience.”

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  • Carl M. White