Despite the realities of war and displacement, Ukrainian Baptists remain committed to mission work wherever they find themselves. As hundreds of Ukrainian pastors and church leaders find themselves scattered across Europe, the Ukrainian Baptist Union is committed to encouraging and empowering leaders for mission even as they are outside of Ukraine.
Over the course of two conferences, one in Poland on 27-28 January and one in Germany on 3-4 February, over 300 Ukrainian pastors, deacons, and leaders came together with Union leadership to inspire each other toward continued commitment to Kingdom work across Europe. The themes were “Don’t Forget Your Calling” and “Mission in Europe” at the conferences in Poland and Germany respectively, both acting as a call toward action and ministry for those who have been displaced. While most of the participants were those now living in Poland and Germany, others came from Austria, Czechia, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
Those displaced “missionaries” join an already established network of Ukrainian Baptist missionaries across the world. Volodymir Shymchyshyn, the director of the Ukrainian Baptist Foreign Mission shared about the 22 Ukrainian Baptist missionaries working across 15 countries, including some in Europe. For those 22 missionaries who were already working outside Ukraine before the war, the situation has become increasingly difficult, not only as resources have shifted to support more work inside Ukraine, but also as they have to wrestle with the pain and challenges of being separated from family and loved ones facing the war in Ukraine.
Eduard Petrov, the chair of the committee on foreign mission later reflected on the realities of those who are now displaced and whether they should fully be called missionaries or not. They have gone out and crossed boundaries to proclaim the Gospel like traditional missionaries, however, their call was not specifically toward foreign missions. The circumstances of those who have left are diverse– some have large families they are caring for and some have health conditions that prevent them from returning to Ukraine. Unlike most typical missionaries, many of those who are displaced now have faced traumatic situations. Still, they now find themselves in a new place with a commitment to the Gospel.
Some leaders likened the presence of Ukrainian pastors across Europe to the spread of believers in Acts after they faced persecution in Jerusalem. Like Stephen’s martyrdom led to the dispersion of people across the Middle East and Asia minor, so the war has led to the spread of Ukrainians Baptists all over Europe. They may not have gone of their own calling or free will, but still choose to preach despite dispersion.
Union leaders gave updates from the realities of churches inside Ukraine in order to galvanise leaders outside of Ukraine. With 39 church buildings destroyed and so many living in fear, Union leaders asked their brothers and sisters to keep praying and supporting those left in Ukraine, while also spurring them on to take on the work of the Church across Europe. They also encouraged leaders to return to Ukraine when the war was over to re-enliven God’s work in Ukraine and to reunite families.
Despite being outside Ukraine, the Baptist Union is committed to networking and supporting these displaced pastors and leaders, connecting them to local Baptist unions and other networks within Europe. At both conferences EBF representatives were present. Daniel Trusiewicz, the Mission Coordinator for EBF attended in Poland and Ingeborg te Loo, the chair of the EBF Commission on Mission and Evangelism attended in Germany. Both were able to add perspective and input on the landscape of missions in Europe and how Baptists in each country are approaching missions.
Though many Ukrainians have already connected with existing Ukrainian speaking churches or plugged into networks of Russian speaking Christians, there are still significant challenges to connect with local Baptist work. Language barrier stands as one challenge, but many cultural barriers exist as well as Baptist churches and unions across Europe have a myriad of expressions. Often churches will look very different to the traditional Ukrainian Baptist ways of doing church.
For now, most displaced leaders are looking at planting Ukrainian speaking churches and focusing on Ukrainian populations in Europe. Thousands of church members from Ukrainian Baptist churches are spread across Europe and already meeting in groups or attending other Baptist churches. Union leaders are looking to collaborate with local unions on issues such as church membership in local unions and government recognition. The presence of so many Ukrainians across Europe will change the landscape of Baptist mission and church expression for years to come.
For those that attended the conferences, the atmosphere was warm and family-like. Even though sobering updates were shared, there was much laughter and encouragement. The resilience of those present was evident. Despite being separated from their homes and spread out across so many countries, the community of Ukrainian Baptists remains strong, as does their commitment to sharing Christ with those around them.
Photo 1: Ukrainian Baptist Union leaders giving a blessing at the conference in Poland. Photo courtesy of Daniel Trusiewicz.
Photo 2: Over 200 Ukrainians gathering in Germany. Photo courtesy of the Ukrainian Baptist Union.