JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Ukrainian Baptists have stepped up ministry as conflict continues to tear at their country, Slavik Pyzh told pastors and lay leaders in Missouri.
The president of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary spoke to a small gathering on July 1 at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, one of several stops in Missouri to continue building a partnership with Baptists in the United States.
One partnership is with the Future Leadership Foundation, which includes the Macedonia Project to partner U.S. congregations with Ukrainian church planters.
“We see how fragile our freedom is,” Pyzh said. That awareness “emphasizes everything we do.... Now we have time [to share the gospel] but we may not have time later.”
The seminary is 12 hours away from the conflict in eastern Ukraine and in Crimea between government forces and rebels who want Russian rule. Baptists are ministering to a flood of refugees, including Muslims from the Crimea, Pyzh said.
Baptist churches in the conflict zone have been destroyed, and some pastors have lost their homes.
Pyzh believes the conflict has helped the church realize the importance of cooperation and of sharing the gospel. “People are more united as difficulty comes,” he said.
Evangelicals in the Ukraine always had viewed the state as an enemy because the state had persecuted Christians in the past, Pyzh explained. Because the people, including believers, fought for the country’s freedom, they no longer consider the government an enemy. The fact that a Baptist served as the interim president also helped change attitudes toward the government.
The people became proud to be Ukrainian, and the church became more open to the world, he said.
Pyzh told listeners he had grown up under Soviet rule that persecuted the church. He did not feel the effects of that persecution personally because he did not grow up in a Christian family. However, his wife did.
At that time, families were not allowed to take their children to church. If they did so, the state could remove the children from the home.
Pyzh became a believer because his grandmother defied his father’s wishes. Pyzh’s grandmother taught him to pray, read the Bible with him and took him to church whenever he visited her. She prayed for her grandson, as well.
When he was 13, Pyzh met a U.S. missionary with the Navigators. That encounter led Pyzh to want to minister to people through the church, he said.
He encouraged listeners to share their passion for the Lord every time they go minister. “You don’t know what it will mean to others,” he said.
Pyzh earned a master of divinity degree from Moscow Seminary and a doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
The All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists and the Ukrainian Baptist Union of the USA and Canada founded the Ukrainian seminary in 2000. The main campus is in Lviv, with several extensions in the Ukraine, in Europe and in the United States.
Pyzh desires the seminary to be missional. “God didn’t call us to start a new seminary, but to share the gospel with people,” he said.
The seminary will begin a new initiative in international missions this fall. Leaders want Ukraine to become a mission-sending country to reach the countries of the former Soviet Union, he added.