Unity found amid conflict in Ukraine
HAUNETAL, Germany (BP) -- As Russian tanks rolled through Crimea and thousands of people staged demonstrations both for and against the governments of Russia and Ukraine, there was one group united by something other than nationalism or a common language.
More than 80 Russian-speaking Baptist church planters, pastors and Russian ministry workers from across Europe gathered in Germany this month for their annual summit of the Network of Russian Speaking Churches of the European Baptist Federation. Little did they know when the conference was planned that their theme of unity and peace would be particularly timely.
"We prayed for Ukraine numerous times together," IMB representative Russell Kyzar, who attends a Russian-speaking immigrant church in Prague, Czech Republic, said. "You genuinely sensed that regardless of where they were from, people were pained by the situation. The truth is, we all have a much higher allegiance -- and that is to the Kingdom of God. And we must use this opportunity, as people's hearts are open, to come to Him."
Millions of Russian-speaking immigrants and refugees are spread across Europe. This presents church-planting opportunities for immigrant church pastors who gather together annually during the summit.
Usually this conference is a time for these leaders and workers to share about their ministries and church-planting strategies. But this year's conference theme -- "A Spirit of Unity in the Bond of Peace" -- was particularly appropriate as the group spent much of their meeting praying for the current situation in Ukraine and Crimea.
The meeting was both unique and heartwarming, Kyzar said, as Baptist leaders from the different countries lifted each other up in prayer.
"There were leaders from Russia praying for representatives from Crimea," he said. "And there were Ukrainian leaders praying for the leaders and people of Russia.
"There was a sense of Christian brotherhood that was overriding any tension caused by nationalism or patriotism."
Those who attended the conference said the meetings were uplifting, and there was a sense that even though different nations were represented, they were there to demonstrate something bigger than a collection of people from different Russian-speaking countries.
"Right now the hearts of people are tender," Kyzar said. "And we were talking about how to maximize this as an opportunity to talk with people about spiritual things. The structures of men do not provide the security that you need ... and definitely not for eternity."
Igor Gricyk, pastor of a Russian-speaking church in Kladno, Czech Republic, and one of the organizers of the conference, said the recent unrest in Crimea and Ukraine will most likely cause many new immigrants and refugees to flee from post-Soviet countries into the rest of Europe.
Churches across Europe are willing to cooperate and support ministry among Russian-speakers in Europe, he said.
Gricyk said, "Meeting together and praying for one another gives us courage to be ready to accept those people and help them find God, church, home and family."
Marc Ira Hooks is an IMB correspondent based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).