Future Leadership Foundation, a non-profit headquartered in Jefferson City, Mo., that works to develop Christian leaders across the globe, hosted a June gathering for Baptist leaders across Eastern Europe. Nine Missourians trekked to the Ukraine Baptist Seminary in Lviv, Ukraine, to meet Baptists from Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia and Ukraine. FLF’s European Summit on June 6-7 featured discussions between FLF and Eastern European Baptists as they plan future partnership efforts.
Stephen Mathis, an FLF board member and interim president of the Missouri Baptist Foundation, called the trip “a great reminder of Christians’ ‘oneness in Christ.’” He recounted the joy and thankfulness he saw from Ukrainians, noting that “in the face of poverty and loss that would normally lead to hopelessness, they had hope and gave hope to me.”
“Worshipping together in Lviv, where we were singing praises to God in multiple languages at the same time, was awesome,” he said. “The people we met, especially the Ukrainian refugees, were living examples of I Thessalonians 5:16-18: ‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you.’”
“I am excited about opportunities to partner with Ukrainian brothers and sisters because I know they will not be ‘takers’ only,” Mathis added. “Their commitment to sharing Christ through starting new churches, sending missionaries to other countries and performing social ministries to care for others lets me know that FLF partnership investments will be multiplied.”
Baptists in Eastern Europe agreed. Roman Matviyiv, director of New Hope Ministry in L’viv, said, “I think [the European Summit] was a historic moment and I pray God would lead his way and implement his plans through unity and partnership among these respected leaders from different countries. It was an honor for me to be among such great brothers.”
The Baptists at the Summit came from different nations, including some at conflict with each other. Russian-backed separatists have waged war in eastern Ukraine since 2014, decimating several communities and even destroying Baptist and other churches. Yet, FLF Board Member Steve Hemphill noted that “nevertheless, Christians feel brotherhood.”
“Borders mean little to these Christians,” he said. “As a retired diplomat with the U.S. State Department, I marvel at how little borders mean at this Summit. I lived five years in Eastern Europe and daily lived the ancient enmities between neighbors but, today in L’viv, it is difficult to believe I’m still in Eastern Europe.”
“There are exciting things happening in churches all across Eastern Europe,” Hemphill added. “It’s inspiring to see their growth and we are honored to help.”
After the Summit, FLF leaders also visited Baptist leaders in Ukraine, Lithuania and Estonia.
Igor Bandura, deputy chairman of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, reflected on the visits for his Union’s website: “Our wealth is the many talented, capable and optimistic people in our country. Despite the difficult situation in Ukraine, they want to serve and make something good for the kingdom of God. Our duty is to invest in people. This is what we want to do most. And we have found common ground with foreign guests.”
FLF leaders attending the European Summit included Greg Morrow, executive director; Gary Collins, treasurer; Melissa Hatfield, director of operations; Chris Cook, field service director; John Jackson, field service director; and Steve Easterwood, board member. Tricia Alberts, executive director of Sports Crusaders, also joined the trip.