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SBC of Virginia hears updates from Ukrainian Seminary president

Daniel Palmer (top left), lead pastor of North Roanoke Baptist Church and SBCV Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Pickett (top right) joined Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary President Yarsolav “Slavik” Pyzh for an update on the seminary's relief efforts amid conflict in Ukraine.

LVIV, Ukraine (BP) – As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, the SBC of Virginia hosted a video podcast featuring Yarsolav “Slavik” Pyzh, president of the Ukraine Baptist Theological Seminary.

Pyzh gave updates on how the seminary facilities have transformed from student housing into a refugee center for those fleeing extreme violence in the country.

“The intensity of life in the last four days was such that I don’t know if there is something that’s comparable to this,” Pyzh said. “We’ve been struggling through disparity, fear and uncertainty. We are using the facilities that we have designed to house students and turned all of it into a refugee center. The work is non-stop and is 24/7 because they are arriving at all times of the day.”

Pyzh said the seminary has expanded from taking in friends and family of students to accepting anyone they can take in. The seminary has taken in more than 700 people over the past few days, according to the most recent daily video update from the school.

Seminary staff have served refugees by providing a place to sleep and meeting immediate needs, whether refugees choose to stay at the school’s facilities or move on to find a more permanent location.

He explained the school’s conviction to teach biblical principles is actually what compels them.

“There is a time to be a seminary, and a time to be a refugee center,” Pyzh said.

“We have to be flexible because our convictions and biblical values like loving your neighbor forces us to actually be flexible and react to the needs of people.”

The video podcast also featured Daniel Palmer, lead pastor of North Roanoke Baptist Church in Roanoke, Va., whose connection with Pyzh predates the current crisis.

Palmer, who formerly worked as the director of financial development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, joined the board of the Ukrainian Partnership Foundation less than a year ago.

The foundation is a U.S.-based organization that supports Christian ministry in the Ukraine by allowing people to make tax-deductible donations to support ministry in the country. The main ministry the foundation supports is the seminary.

Although the circumstances are dire, Palmer said he is grateful for the established relationship with the seminary and the chance to bring its work to light.

“I certainly wish it had not been an invasion of the Ukraine that has brought the attention to the seminary and her strategic and pivotal work throughout the Ukraine,” Palmer said, “but Slavik and the story of the seminary is an incredible story of growth, revival and church planting through the students both in Ukraine and beyond.”

Some of the ways Palmer said he has tried to raise support and awareness for the foundation have been creating a new Facebook page for the organization and speaking to his church congregation about the opportunity to offer support.

Referencing the story of Stephen in Acts 8:1-8, Palmer elaborated that even through the pain of the situation, the seminary has the opportunity to grow God’s Kingdom.

“In Acts 8:1-8, Stephen is stoned, there is persecution, the church scatters, and the Gospel goes forth in power when it had sort of been bottled up in Jerusalem,” Palmer said.

“We can’t preach a comfortable Christianity,” Palmer said. “We’ve got brothers and sisters that are in the face of adversity and on the one hand, my heart just grieves and is broken, but on the other hand as a Kingdom citizen I strangely get a little bit excited because the embers of revival are almost never found in comfort and prosperity, but in adversity and hardship.

“God has given us a strategic partner in the middle of a war to make disciples who make disciples, and if you know anything about Slavik and the seminary, that’s what they’re committed to. Even though they are a seminary that’s become a refugee center, they are still doing the work of the Gospel in an amazing way. We’re going to stand with Slavic as long as we can and as best as we can.”

When asked about positive stories to report from the seminary’s ministry to refugees, Pyzh referenced a story that reminded him that life will ultimately win over death.

The wife of a seminary staff member was pregnant and delivered the baby on the day the war started. After a difficult delivery for both mother and child, the baby boy is now breathing on his own after a few days on a ventilator.

Pyzh said the child’s birth was a reminder of the faithfulness of God and the triumph of life.

“That was very symbolic for me because God proved in the midst of war and the midst of the killing that he has given a new life,” Pyzh said. “I know that little boy will symbolize a day when evil came to destroy but at the same time good prevailed and God prevailed in this new baby’s life.”

In an interview with Baptist Press after the podcast, Palmer urged fellow Southern Baptists to continue to pray for “endurance and strength of spirit” for Pyzh and other Ukrainian brothers and sisters.

“Pray that our sovereign God will cause the nations to bow at the feet of Jesus, and pray that people would come to know Christ through the crisis,” he said.