As we met with this missionary, Vitaliy, he shared his story over lunch.
Vitaliy had been a church planter and pastor in Kyiv for several years when he began praying about where to begin a new church. His ministry focus had always been the greater Kyiv area, and he intended to start another church there. But while he was considering locations, he heard a friend present an urgent need for missionary church planters in Greece. Vitaliy realized he could choose either to start yet another church in Kyiv or go plant the very first Baptist church in an area with the same or greater population. The choice for Vitaliy was easy, and he arrived in Athens just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
As Vitaliy related his story, he said something that I too had thought as refugees began to pour across the Ukrainian borders to seek refuge in the West. Vitaliy suggested that perhaps God had uniquely prepared the church in Ukraine for such a time as this.
In 1997, my husband and I moved with our two sons to Kharkiv, Ukraine to work alongside Ukrainian pastors to plant churches. Years later, as we prepared to hand over our church to local leadership, we contemplated our next place of service. Of course, we assumed that it would be in some other Ukrainian city, but then we heard some news that would change our direction entirely. We learned that in the few years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of Baptists in Ukraine had grown to be the largest of any country in Europe! Over 125,500 Ukrainians are members of Baptist churches. This knowledge, along with other factors, led us to another country in Eastern Europe where evangelical churches were few and far between—we moved to Bulgaria.
Since then, God has continued to work in Ukraine. Many Ukrainians have come to Christ, and some have gone on to receive solid Bible training in seminaries and Bible institutes across the country. Vitaliy is just one example of a Ukrainian believer who, in the midst of extraordinary circumstances, left one of the most evangelized populations in Europe to plant churches in one of the least evangelized. Many other Ukrainian believers have been thrust out of their homeland, only to find new and exciting doors of ministry opening in places where the gospel is not preached.
Vitaliy believes, and we concur, that God is using this Ukrainian diaspora to push many like himself into other European countries where the need for churches is greatest. If believers will look beyond the trauma of their own displacement and allow God to use them, this great refugee crisis could prove instead to be the next great missions movement in this corner of the world!
But what about you? Many of the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have an evangelical Christian population of less than one percent. Will you wait for a crisis, or are you willing to step beyond the comfortable and familiar—to leave the many—and serve where there are few?
Want to help our workers continue serving refugees and support local Ukrainian churches during this difficult time? Prayerfully consider donating to the Ukraine Crisis Fund.