As Russia continued a full-scale attack on Ukraine, Baptist leaders in Alabama called for prayer for Ukrainian Christians and the escalating conflict.
The Russian invasion began shortly before dawn today (Feb. 24) and dozens of soldiers and at least 10 civilians are already reported dead.
“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.
Baptists in Alabama expressed their concern for and solidarity with fellow believers in Ukraine, noting the long history of cooperation between Alabama Baptists and Ukrainian Baptists.
“Alabama Baptists are praying for the people of Ukraine and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ,” said Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“Various Alabama Baptists have made many missions trips to Ukraine. I am one of them. I grew to love the people of that land,” he said. “Because the people of Ukraine are dear to the heart of Alabama Baptists, we are appealing to the Alabama Baptist family to have a general call to prayer for the situation the Ukrainians are facing.”
Multiple prayer fronts
“I would encourage all Alabama Baptists to pray for the country and the entire region. Many people may well become refugees in surrounding nations. Those countries need our prayer support as well,” Lance said. “Our nation’s leaders certainly need wisdom from above during this time. They should be high on our prayer list too. In the days to come we may well know more as the tensions mount and the responses are made by the governments of Ukraine and other nations. In the meantime we should remember the words of George Whitefield who called prayer ‘the long artillery’ of believers.”
Reggie Quimby, who oversaw Alabama Baptists’ partnership with Ukraine, said, “The Alabama-Ukraine Partnership, which lasted for almost a decade, strengthened our Alabama Baptist churches and associations, as well as the Baptist churches throughout Ukraine.
“Ukrainian Baptists are a strong, faithful people who have historically faced difficult, challenging conditions,” he said. “I remember them to be a people of great faith and prayer. No doubt they will weather this storm with the help and strength of the Lord during these troubled times. I know they will be confident of and encouraged by the many thoughts and prayers of their Alabama Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Rob Jackson, director of the SBOM office of church health and president of Romanian-American Mission, an organization that works with churches across Europe, said churches in Romania have begun to mobilize to help those in Ukraine and to receive refugees if needed. Romania shares two borders with Ukraine.
“My heart breaks over the suffering of the people of Ukraine,” Jackson said. “Alabama Baptists’ former partnership with Ukraine has led to deep friendships with these dear brothers and sisters. Please pray for peace in Ukraine. Ask God to open the eyes of the Ukrainians to their need for the Prince of Peace.”
Russia began its assault on Ukraine on Feb. 24 around 5 a.m. local time, following an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that an attack was imminent. Reports say missiles of various types have been launched on at least 18 sites across the country. Ukrainian officials believe Putin plans to overthrow the elected Zelenskyy and install a pro-Kremlin government. Zelenskyy enacted martial law as the attack got underway.
Reports also say Ukraine has lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the worst nuclear disaster in world history. Early reports say at least 40 people died in an intense battle there. Reports as of Feb. 25 say 137 Ukrainian troops and civilians have been killed and hundreds more injured.
The U.S. and other Western nations condemned Russia’s actions, which have followed weeks of denials by Moscow that it was planning any such undertaking. More than 100,000 troops had been building near Ukraine’s border as the world watched and waited to see what Putin had in mind.
In retaliation, the U.S. and its allies have announced sanctions on Russian financial institutions and technology sectors, along with banning exports into the country. U.S. President Joe Biden said the sanctions were “purposely designed” to “maximize a long-term impact on Russia and to minimize impact on the United States and our allies.”
Biden has vowed no American troops will be sent to Ukraine, though U.S. troops are positioned in Europe to support NATO allies.
Lead-up to attack
Russia’s invasion follows weeks of warnings from the U.S. and other Western nations that an attack against Ukraine was imminent — and weeks of denials by Moscow that it planned any such action.
Russia has been amassing a significant number of troops, vehicles and tanks in Belarus near the border with Ukraine. The two countries have held joint military exercises, some of which were near the Belarus-Ukrainian border. But when the attack came, it came from every direction, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told CNN.
Podolyak said a “full-fledged large-scale war has begun in Europe. … The West must act today.”
Baptist work in Ukraine
Once called the “Bible Belt” of the Soviet Union, religion was suppressed in Ukraine under Soviet rule but has grown since the nation became independent again. The dominant religion in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodoxy. Protestants make up about 1.9% of the population, according to World Atlas.
Nearly 90% of Baptists in Ukraine are part of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, which in 2017 reported 2,272 churches, 320 missionary groups and more than 300,000 weekly attendees in member churches. The union includes three seminaries, two universities and 15 Bible colleges.
In a video posted today, Vyacheslav Nesteruk, president of the Union, said “what we prayed for God not to happen has happened today.”
“We urge everyone, above all, to continue and intensify our prayers. This is our weapon in times of war [and] military confrontation,” Nesteruk said.
He encouraged Ukrainian Baptist ministers to “give a message of hope from the word of God to all the faithful” as believers seek the peace of the Lord, so that they “do not have panic, fear, ill-considered actions [or] unforeseen decisions that could harm us personally and our ministry in Ukraine.”
Preparing for refugees
Nesteruk urged church leaders to be prepared to help those fleeing conflict zones and acknowledged that there are “many unanswered questions” about the Russian invasion.
“Only by moving step by step can we understand that we can take the next step,” he said. “Therefore, we ask you to be able to organize this at the church level. Our churches must become centers of service to our people in times of adversity.
Finally, he said, “We ask all Christians not to spread unverified information but to share the information that you have witnessed and know exactly about its authenticity, to turn it into prayer. We also pray and ask you to pray for the organization of our coordination center because in the office here near Kyiv, we continue to serve, we continue to organize all the work now. … We believe that through us, God wants His Kingdom to spread today, even in times of war. We pray for the protection of our country and firmly believe that God will bless Ukraine!”
A prayer for Ukraine
Candace McIntosh, executive director of Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union, also urged prayer for the situation in Ukraine and shared an update on former WorldSong staffer Yulia Mamedova, a Ukrainian who served on the camp’s summer staff during Alabama’s partnership with Ukraine.
“My precious friend Yulia Mamedova is currently at her home in Lviv, Ukraine,” wrote Brittany Roberts in a Facebook post. “This morning she told me that everyone in her town is in a state of shock and panic. For today she plans to stay put where she is and take things one day at a time. Please pray with me for my friend, her family and friends, and all the people of Ukraine.”
Roberts shared the following prayer for Ukraine:
We thank you that in every situation, every dark moment, you are active and working among us. Even when things seem at their bleakest, we trust in your sovereignty and strength. In John 16:33 you said, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
We embrace the fact that this world and the troubles we face in it have been overcome, and rest in the knowledge that you have the power to move in any and every situation. As we watch war unfold in Ukraine, we ask for your grace and peace to rule in the hearts and minds of all involved.
We pray continuously for the people of Ukraine. Jesus walked the earth in a similar part of the world, plagued by oppression and a ruthless empire. Your Word promises in Isaiah 26:3 that, “you keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
We ask that the people of Ukraine may be safe, secure, and that they would know not only peace of earth but your true and unwavering peace.
EDITOR’S NOTE–This story was posted Feb. 24 and updated on Feb. 25.