KIEV, Ukraine (BP) -- Texas evangelist Michael Gott saw an unexpected opportunity and seized it when he yielded his preaching time on Easter morning to Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov.
Ukrainians attending the service at a large and crowded Baptist church in Kiev were unaware that Turchynov, a fellow Baptist and an occasional lay preacher, would be there when they gathered to celebrate Christ's resurrection, Gott said in a statement provided to the Southern Baptist TEXAN.
Turchynov, designated as acting president following protests and bloodshed in the former Soviet republic, spoke to the crowd for more than 20 minutes about his faith in Jesus Christ. He noted his deep appreciation for their prayers and referred to them several times as "dear brothers and sisters," Gott said.
Gott, whose Michael Gott International ministry is based in Keller, Texas, is in Ukraine on an evangelistic tour with the Arkansas Baptist Master'Singers choir. He said he urged the president to take the opportunity to encourage his fellow Ukrainians.
"Mr. President, I honor you for the courage you have to stand before this nation as a humble, born-again Christian," Gott told Turchynov from his seat near the leader. "While the world is watching, let them hear you confess Jesus Christ as the risen Lord."
Turchynov was "gracious in his words of encouragement," Gott said.
When it was announced Turchynov was in attendance, the Baptist church broke out in applause -- unusual for a Ukrainian church, he noted.
Gott said Turchynov's address to the church was "a historic moment. Never before has an acting Ukrainian president attended a Baptist worship service. Never. And I would remind all of us that this is the same Ukraine that once harshly persecuted Baptists and called them 'a despised cult.' But also this is the Ukraine in which Nikita Khrushchev once said, 'Ukraine does not need Jesus Christ -- they have me!'"
Gott said he even joked with Turchynov that he would make a good evangelist, yielding a "Thank you" and a smile from the head of state.
Later in the day, Gott spoke to an estimated 20,000 people at Maidan, in the heart of Kiev, where he reminded the open-air crowd and a live national television audience that political leadership would not solve the unrest plaguing the nation.
"A new president is not the solution to Ukraine's problems," Gott said. "This nation needs a new birth -- a spiritual awakening."
Gott commended the nation for uniting to oust a corrupt leader, but said the lasting hope for Ukraine would be found in kneeling before the risen Lord.
The pro-Western government took over after Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed president, fled the capital amid civil unrest after his refusal, under Russian pressure, to strengthen ties with the European Union.
Moscow refuses to acknowledge the acting Kiev government and reportedly has troops positioned along its border with Ukraine. In March Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in what the United States condemned as an illegal "land grab."
Ukrainians need Christians worldwide to join them in prayer, Gott said.
"The situation in Ukraine reminds all of us how we need to become world Christians and to recognize that some of these major events taking place in the world directly affect our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so we all need a new sensitivity about the work of God going on in many places in the world.
"But for Ukraine in particular, we need to imagine the anguish and the struggle in the hearts of these people," Gott said. "An invasion from Russia in Ukraine would be disastrous and it would almost force the world to go back to the Cold War mentality. Ukraine could not withstand a Russian military invasion. We need to pray for peace, and we need to ask for God to intervene, and we need to recognize that all of this indirectly affects the work of the Great Commission. Let us ask God to bless the people of Ukraine."
During his time there, Gott has also visited with the Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists president, Viacheslav Nesteruk, thanking him for his support and adding, "We have come to lift up Jesus Christ and to see people drawn to him."
The choir tour is covering seven cities in western Ukraine. The choir received an official invitation from the Ukrainian minister of culture that gives them permission to hold events in public buildings, Gott said.
Sharayah Colter is a writer for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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