We’ve spent the past three weeks in Ukraine – it’s been fascinating to meet people and be a part of local church life here in Ukraine. I wanted to share a few points today as to how we can be praying for this nation.
In our ministry debriefing at the beginning of the month, we learned a lot about the historical background – how Ukraine was the “Bible Belt” of the Soviet sphere and that Slavic Christianity was actually born in Kyiv, Ukraine, 1,000 years ago. In 1927, Stalin started a campaign against evangelicals (there were 5% evangelicals at that time,) killing millions of them in concentration camps. When Ukraine came under the USSR in 1939, church buildings were closed down and the highly regulated Orthodox Church was the only religion allowed. In 1944, Stalin realized that he couldn’t overcome Hitler without the help of the United States and the UK. These countries aligned with Stalin but mandated religious freedom. Ukraine was fought over by Western powerhouses, and then attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Today, the effects of the Soviet oppression are widespread – Ukraine is still struggling to regain economic and political independence. One of the most striking things that we noticed was names – The Soviets only allowed children to be called certain names in effort to make everyone look and act similarly. For us, it seemed nearly everyone we met was named Anya, Sasha, or Tania. At one point we had to start numbering the Tania’s that we met because there were so many
There are a number of ways that we can be praying for the nation of Ukraine:
1. Pray for a depth of understanding of the gospel
In Ukraine, the majority of believers are Orthodox (61%), with 10% Catholic and 3% Protestant (Source: Operation World). The Orthodox Church has much to offer, with its rich historical tradition and emphasis on the mystery of the resurrection. But from my conversations with people, it seems that there is a lack of emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; many are not sure if what Christ did on the cross is sufficient for salvation. Pray that religious devotion would not be birthed from obligation or duty, but rather life-changing encounters with Christ’s love.
2. Pray for educational opportunities – especially for church leadership and English language instruction
Since Ukraine became an independent nation twenty years ago, thousands of new congregations have formed with little formal leadership training. Because of this, leadership training is the primary church need in Ukraine (Operation World). Pray for opportunities for pastors and clergy to receive discipleship and leadership education to grow in God’s call for their lives. This will provide needed stability for the many budding churches.
Another educational need is English language instruction. The Soviet Union did whatever possible so that no one learned English – people were taught written English but not how to verbalize it. Today, there is a felt need for learning English from native speakers. We saw this in the number of students (100+) who attended our 5-day English camp during our stay in Rivne. Pray for the financial and human resources for effective English language instruction programs
3. Pray for economic growth and political purity
As Ukraine transitions to a market economy, the gap between rich and poor is growing wider – many have been driven to poverty, while the wealth of the elite is increasing. The average annual salary for a Ukranian is $3,910, which is only 8% of the average salary in the United States (Source: Operation World). Pray for economic growth, wisdom for political leadership, and God’s continued provision for people in Ukraine.
4. Pray for a unity among structures and relationships among Christian bodies
Ukraine religious life is marred by strife among and inside all major Christian denominations. In our ministry debriefing, we found out that during the Soviet regime, the evangelical church was presented as segregated, anti-educational and anti-intellectual. In addition, many evangelicals have made assumptions about the Orthodox Church which may or may not be true. The reality is that these preconceived notions blunt our effectiveness in our work for Christ. Pray for peace, reconciliation, and understanding to come forth among the various denominations of the church.
5. Pray for freedom in worship
Because of Soviet oppression, many Christians don’t feel they are free to worship God as they would like. In the worship services I attended, it seemed that people felt like they had to look and act a certain way. This same “cookie cutter” mentality was present in the way people dressed on the street. Pray for spiritual freedom and a knowing that God examines us from our hearts, not the way we dress or look or worship Him.
Below is a video from Tanya, a missionary with Salvation Church (Baptist) in Rivne Ukraine. She was our main contact for our ministry work in our time there. I think you’ll enjoy her perspective as to how we can be praying for Ukraine: