As election looms, seminary students pray
KIEV, Ukraine (BP) -- As Sasha gets his cap and gown ready, he remains uncertain about his country's future.
The young Baptist student, set to graduate from Kiev Theological Seminary on May 24, will turn his tassel on the eve of a turning point for Ukraine -- a presidential election in the midst of a countrywide crisis.
Then Sasha will head back to the church he's helped plant, a fledging congregation in the unstable eastern region of Donetsk. Through a vote two weeks ago, the region declared independence from Ukraine and is now pushing to join the Russian Federation.
It's a lot for the new church planter to process.
"Many people are desiring to find hope and the real sense of life in the midst of all this hardship and the risk for their lives," Sasha said.
But at the same time, challenges abound.
"There is a panic and fear that comes to us as a new church plant, and there is a desire in some team members to cancel the Sunday services here and there, but we still continue," he said.
It's a big task to try to unite people in Jesus Christ in a land now filled with divisions, Sasha said. "Some people are complaining and blame everyone around because of the crisis situation. Others are looking for answers by coming to the Lord."
And people are squaring off politically, making serving the church tricky, said Joel Ragains, co-director of a church-planting faculty at Kiev Theological Seminary that he began eight years ago.
"Some friends and families are on opposite sides or opinions, so they (church planters) have to steer their ministry through this mine field, finding ways to be engaged in ministry without being too political," Ragains said.
It's an issue facing all 40 of Saturday's graduates, who will leave the seminary with degrees in church planting, Christian education, counseling, youth ministry and pastoral ministry.
Their biggest challenge is "to continue to minister with all the problems that are going on where they are," Ragains said.
But the opportunity is great too, he said, to share Christ and do servant evangelism.
"Pray for wisdom for them on how to continue planting their church in the middle of this crisis," Ragains said.
Sasha also asked for Christians in the West to remember him and his fellow students and ministers.
"I hope that nothing worse will happen to our country," he said. "Please pray for Ukraine."
-- For wisdom for church planters to know how to continue planting their church in the middle of this crisis.
-- For resources, encouragement, accountability and mentoring after leaving Kiev Theological Seminary's church-planting program.
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board 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).