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Prayers & witness buffer weeks of political turmoil in Ukraine, Christians there say

KIEV, Ukraine (BP)–Amid Ukraine’s political turmoil, the people of God have been conveying His peace, according to reports by a Baptist worker and a charismatic pastor in Kiev.

In an e-mail newsletter Dec. 15, Duck-Woo Nam, a Southern Baptist missionary in Kiev, described visiting the protestors’ “tent city” in the Ukrainian capital’s Independence Square on a day when believers had gathered to pray and had “claimed the promise that ‘God will heal the nation’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).”

“Another day we went out two by two and shared the Good News there,” Nam continued.

“Since we were Asian, many people approached us with several requests: to have pictures taken together, to write some Korean on their posters and for interviews. We distributed many evangelism tracts and several New Testaments. A young man asked me to sign and give the Bible to his believing mother. On the posters, we wrote, ‘glory to Ukraine, glory to God.'”

According to Sunday Adelaja, pastor of the 26,000-member charismatic Kiev congregation named Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations, “Every day there are thousands of people uniting together — including Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox — in the streets, Independence Square and in front of the Parliament and other government buildings to make their voices heard.

“On the main stage in Independence Square, denominational officials lead the crowds in four hours of prayer — starting from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. before the politicians speak and from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. each evening to close out the day,” Adelaja said, according to a news release distributed by a prominent evangelical media relations firm, A. Larry Ross & Associates in Dallas.

Adelaja made his comments during a Global Pastors Network meeting of about 50 church leaders who met Dec. 7-8 in Orlando, Fla. The network, of which the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ was a co-founder, is working to distribute Christian training resources in multiple languages via the Internet to pastors around the world.

Adelaja’s church has been actively involved in caring for demonstrators who have been braving the cold and snow. Every night, the pastor said, they take in 1,000 people to provide food, clothing, medical attention and a warm bed. After those individuals leave the next morning to continue their vigils, another 1,000 rotate in that evening.

“One of the army generals told me his secret agents who infiltrate the crowds report back to headquarters that these demonstrations are like a revival meeting,” Adelaja said. “For several weeks, millions of people have gathered in the streets, but because of the influence of Christian leaders and the church, they just sing songs. Most significant is the fact that no shops have been vandalized and no one is drinking — not even a beer — which is unheard of among any crowd to gather in an Eastern European nation.”

A runoff election is scheduled for Dec. 26 between Russian-supported Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and the West-leaning opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko. The prime minister won a Nov. 21 vote, but the results were eventually annulled by Ukraine’s Supreme Court after pro-Yushchenko protestors amassed, clad in the movement’s signature orange, many bearing statues of the Virgin Mary, to contend that the election had been rigged in favor of the current government.

Nam, the Southern Baptist missionary, who attends a congregation named Revival Church, urged prayer that, “The Lord intervenes in the political history of Ukraine in order to open a new world. People want to have a president who is not greedy for power and money, but is honest, wise and compassionate.”

Adelaja, meanwhile, said, “I believe this is a critical moment for the future and destiny of the Ukrainian people. Twelve years ago we were freed from communism. Though we have had a different government with different uniforms since, the same corrupt people have remained in power. Now, Ukraine has its first opportunity to choose our own free way of life.”

According to Adelaja, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said on national Ukrainian television that only “over my dead body” will there be a country bordering Russia that is pro-Western. The Russian president further criticized the current government for not doing more about reducing the rights of Christians and churches, whom he referred to as “sects.”

“We need the prayers and support of Christians in America to engage the diplomatic process to influence and make clear to the Ukrainian government that the people have a right to elect whomever they want to lead our nation,” Adelaja said. “It is also important for the media to not stop talking about Ukraine. As the whole world watches this situation unfold, the pressure will only continue to build for the government to do the right thing.”

A prominent religious liberty observer, Felix Corley, editor of Forum 18 News in Oslo, told the BBC, “The opposition supporters of Yushchenko believe — and he has actually said so — that he will be a president for believers of all faiths, although he himself is Orthodox.”

Corley said Ukraine has experienced a measure of religious liberty in recent years. “We have seen a fairly free field, which has allowed Protestant groups to flourish, [along with] the Jehovah’s Witnesses, other newer groups, with connections in the outside world,” Corley told the BBC.

“They seem to be able to practice unfettered, although this election has seen a lot of government leaning on religious communities not to take part in the political arena,” Corley said.

Mission Network News, meanwhile, quoted Paul Marty, president of HOPE International and a resident of Ukraine, as predicting the future of Christianity in the former Soviet Union is at stake in the Ukrainian election.

“If the election goes toward the pro-Russian candidate,” Marty said, “then a lot of the policies of the country are going to follow.

“And, he’s [Yanukovich] publicly stated that the only church he would recognize would be the Russian Orthodox Church and would not tolerate others,” Marty said. HOPE International, with headquarters in Lancaster, Pa., sponsors children’s Bible clubs and assists small businesses, according to Mission Network News.

Nam, reflecting his intent on seizing witness opportunities amid the Ukrainian standoff, added in his e-mail newsletter, “A student who’s majoring in journalism at Shevchenko University asked me to share some opinions about democracy in order to put it in her college’s newspaper. She wanted to know what I was doing here. Recognizing who I am and introducing herself as a Bible-reading Christian, she requested my personal testimony and a famous Bible story. She completely and cheerfully wrote down every word I spoke. I pray that my stories will be a useful means to touch college students.”

Nam said his wife, Misook, also has been “actively engaged in distributing the tracks with smile. Everybody opened to her and responded with joyful conversation. Many opened the booklet, reading and nodding with an affirmative voice.”
Compiled by Art Toalston.

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