Ukrainian Baptists rebuild leadership as war closed hundreds of churches
The Baptist Theological Seminary cooperates with care centers to serve the community and “bring hope to the hopeless”. 400 Baptist churches were lost.
Baptist Press · LVIV · 17 AUGUST 2022 · 13:49 CET
According to Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary (UBTS) President and pastor of Journey church in Lviv, Yaroslav Pyzh, “since the war started, six months already, we lost about 400 Baptist churches”.
The Baptist volunteers help internally displaced people to prepare their houses for the winter by renewing roofs, windows and doors.
However, “the real challenge is similar to Nehemiah’s challenge. It’s not only rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. It’s rebuilding the nation of Israel, of worshiping God. … That’s the same thing here in Ukraine”, Pyzh told Baptist Press.
The All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists has reported that dozens of pastors of the around 2300 Baptist congregations in Ukraine were forced to leave many areas destroyd by the war.
That is why, “our main challenge in the future, when the war will be over, is to bridge the gap in leadership that we lost. Sadly, the longer the war goes, the more the gap is going to be”, pointed out Pyzh to Baptist Press.
“The real build is the rebuilding of leadership capacity, because if you rebuild buildings and you have no pastors to lead churches, I don’t think it’s going to do any good”, he added.
We Care centers
The data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees show that a third of Ukrainians have been displaced, but many pastors and around 150 UBTS graduates and students have stayed to help those in need.
Pyzh believes that “the biggest thing the community has in these moments of being bombed is fear and hopelessness” , so that “the only ones who can relieve and bring hope to the hopeless are pastors, churches and Christians”.
In order to be more effective, the UBTS is not directly dealing with humanitarian relief, as they did in the initial months of the war, but supporting the work of six We Care centers across the country.
“The basic idea of the We Care centers is to provide a platform for churches to cooperate with each other to serve the community. It’s not only responding to the needs of the war, but actually creating something that can stay within the community for a long time”, explained Pyzh.
The centers emerged from local church ministries established in concert with local governments, which have provided the buildings where they are now housed for free.
The Seminary is also using part of the Southern Baptist donations they receive to support the centers, “but overall, donations are dropping down big time, not like we had two or three months ago. People are just tired of the war”, said Pyzh.
Free education during the war
UBTS is providing education free of charge to students during the war, and expects to work with twice the number of care centres by the end of the year.
It has suspended tuition fees because of an almost 30 % Ukrainian inflation rate and is focusing on raising funds to support its educational programs and scolarships.
Furthermore, thy are training volunteers to be counselors for internally displaced residents and those who have remained.
Prayer and hope
The President of the Seminary called on Christians to “pray for a miracle of peace and victory, pray specifically for the rebuilding of church leadership, and that people continue giving to humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine”.
“The same God that was faithful in the past will be faithful in the future. So in the midst of all the struggle that we are going through right now, we are looking forward with great hope, knowing that God is with us”, concluded Pyzh.
Many times, it is not easy for Christians to help those in need in Ukraine. Recently, 10 volunters of Orphan’s Promise ministry were released after being beaten by the Russian military in the city of Berdyansk.
Despite the difficulties, Mariana Laskava, an Ukrainian missionary who works in the Word of Life Bible institute based near Kyiv, stresssed that “God is glorified even in the midst of Ukraine’s darkest hours”.