Ukraine volunteer team intent on staying
ODESSA, Texas (BP) -- A Texas Baptist volunteer team in Kiev remains in Ukraine's capital despite riots that began ravaging the city Tuesday (Feb. 18) after weeks of peaceful protests.
An eight-member team from First Baptist Church in Odessa traveled to Ukraine on Feb. 13 and is scheduled to return to Texas on March 2. Pastor Byron McWilliams said the team is seeing a greater openness to the Gospel because of their presence amid the tumult.
Ukrainian students with whom the volunteers have been working "look at these Americans and are saying, 'Wow, you're staying in the midst of this,'" McWilliams told the Southern Baptist TEXAN Feb. 20. "It's building their credibility. The students have said, 'You care about us enough to stay.' I think it is opening doors for the Gospel more than anything."
The team is teaching classes, eating and sleeping at Central Baptist Church, the largest Baptist church in the area, just two miles from Independence Square where fighting between police and protestors has now led to dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries.
As of noon Thursday, the U.S. State Department's advice to Americans in Ukraine was to remain indoors. McWilliams said the U.S. embassy there knows where the team is, has each volunteer's name and is ready to help evacuate the group if the situation worsens or an order is issued for Americans to leave.
The team plans to stay because they believe "God has got them there for this time and that they are not going to come back early unless they are forced to," McWilliams told the newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
The group had their "greatest test" Tuesday night (Feb. 18) when they met together to decide whether they should stay or leave the country, McWilliams recounted, noting, "They unanimously decided that they feel they are needed more than ever."
McWilliams learned in his last email conversation with missions pastor Jesse Gore that the group is only requesting prayer for one thing: "The team would ask specifically that they would pray that doors for presenting the Gospel would be open," McWilliams said, "and that God would use this for His glory and they would be able to present the Gospel even more."
The families at home "are probably the ones who are struggling the most, so pray for them that God would give them a peace that He is in control" and they would be reminded of His omniscience," McWilliams said. "They are just as safe there in the midst of a danger zone as they would be in their own home because God is watching over them," he added.
The pastor asked that fellow believers pray for the team's safety. He encouraged Gore to remain steadfast and to remember that God is not surprised by the events of the past three days.
"'Hold the fort, man,'" McWilliams told Gore. "'Stand firm. Keep doing what God has called you there to do. Share the Gospel any chance you get.' I, of course, don't need to tell him that because he sees it the same way I do. God knew before they went over there that this was going to happen. It's no accident that they're there right now."
In a Facebook post late Wednesday (Feb. 19), Gore implored friends to pray for the people of Ukraine.
"I again plead with the people seeing this post to lift up the country of Ukraine in prayer. #prayforukraine," Gore posted.
Sharayah Colter is a writer for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.