Article by: Lisa Spencer
Two Ukrainian pastors and a Ukrainian Christian businessman came to the USA in January and February to speak about recent events in Ukraine, thank their *supporters, and to share their hope. The conference was aptly entitled “The Church in Turbulent Times.” On their return trip home, they also informed government officials in Washington, D.C. about religious persecution in Ukraine.
Persecuted for their faith:
Sergey and Anna Demidovich and Peter and Tamara Dudnik have experienced persecution in their eastern Ukraine homeland because they are Evangelical Christians. Though their church properties were occupied and their lives threatened, the Dudniks are credited with the evacuations of more than 8,000 people to safety during the last year of conflict in Ukraine – even aiding those who sided with their persecutors.
Pastor Demidovich promised, “Good changes come from unpleasant experiences.” He affirmed that many people faced with trial ask where they can flee to get away. However, he emphasized that a crisis presents a choice and opportunity for awakening; this is the time for the church to prepare and be available for people in need.
The truth about Ukraine:
He also stated that there have been many lies surrounding the events in Ukraine and that it’s good to just “tell it like it is.” He stipulated clearly: Ukraine did not provoke this conflict with Russia, Ukraine is not fascist, nothing can predict persecution. Demidovich cautioned that one cannot separate people into “all good” versus “all bad” categories, and that in a battle for justice, there must be mercy. He suggested that the church does not need to determine blame, but must help all hurting people and keep its eyes on the big picture that will someday unite the church and help it to overcome.
Peter Dudnik, who won accolades for his work assisting orphans prior to the war, waxed personal when he shared that during this new crisis he first had to question his own theology. The answer he found was to repent. He opined that Christians are called to continuous self-reflection for character growth, adding that persecution offers an opportunity to assist a neighbor. He quoted Ephesians 2:10, challenging the church to take responsibility:
10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (New Living Translation)
Dudnik also decried the insidious evil of propaganda, especially on television. He warned that if the church allows it in their lives and yields to the hate that it generates, the power of the church will be neutralized. To the next question, “So, how does the church live and sustain itself through turbulent times?” Dudnik agreed with Demidovich and encouraged the church to try not to classify everyone as bad or good (as the propaganda lies will lead one to do), but instead to listen to the Spirit.
He then addressed the martyr killings of his hometown’s friends, and the deal that was offered to the church by the rebels, to identify the murderer and take revenge. The church declined, asking only, “Why were they killed?” The answer given: The rebels said outright that they sought “to demoralize Christians.”
In spite of murders, threats, and the removal and destruction of property, Dudnik and his team are not demoralized at all. They were prepared for these turbulent times. He recalled two stories of modern-day prophecies that strengthen their belief that God is actively loving the people of Ukraine, and that “to do good is possible”:
To do good, with God is possible:
First, he heard a prophecy at the beginning of last year (2014), similar to the Joseph’s interpretation of Pharoah’s dream in the Bible, to start saving food: “A time will come when we will have to feed the people.” He thought at the time that maybe an economic recession was coming, so he instructed his church to store food. Three months later, there was a great shortage of bread in eastern Ukraine due to war. Thanking God for preparing them, they handed out thousands of loaves of bread to the starving poor in Ukraine’s occupied war zone.
Second, he said there had been a prophecy 40 years ago that Slavyansk would be “a city of refuge.” However, in the middle of last year, it was occupied and oppressed. Dudnik reported that the people of Slavyansk united and took a stand in prayer for their city, remembering the prophecy. He pointed out that the occupying forces fled even before Ukraine’s army arrived. According to Pastor Dudnik, Slavyansk was liberated in July, through God’s response to prayer, even before the ATO forces arrived to save it.
The reality of war is much scarier than on television, dudnik disclosed, adding that “We need more courage than humanly possible.” He and his wife Tamara shared about the first refugees who came to them looking for safety – how their cell phones became SOS lines for rescue operations and for volunteers offering to serve. They eventually founded a refugee camp, continually resourcing supplies to meet the increasing demand.
Triumph through crisis
Gleb Spivakov and his wife Svetlana from Kyiv have passed through various crises as well, including bankruptcy and the separate tragic losses of two children. Their testimonies inspired faith in the face of doubt, and perseverance through great obstacles and grief. All three couples shared messages of hope through trial, passionately demonstrating through living example that when turbulent times come to the church, the church grows stronger.
The testimonies at this conference revealed a church that is neither weak, nor broken, but unified and strong – very present and courageously active during global conflict, speaking the truth in a world of lies, reaching into danger to rescue orphans and widows in their distress, and laying down their own lives as servants. Dudnik exhorted, “Who will come to save these people, if not the church that knows God will help? Do good. It is possible!”
* Based in the United States, Together Ministry has delivered at least three Care Containers of warm clothes, food, and other humanitarian necessities to eastern Ukraine. These are being distributed by Pastors Demidovich and Dudnik and their teams of volunteers to: internally displaced people (refugees), orphans, the elderly, those with disabilities, single mothers and their children, and others in the war zones. Another container is on its way. The pastors thanked their supporters for giving them concrete tools of kindness to show God’s love to all the people of Ukraine, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
** The speakers presented “The Church in Turbulent Times” conference in Sacramento, California, Vancouver, Washington, and Atlanta, Georgia. The pastors also spoke at the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (USA) which was held in conjunction with the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC.