"Our historical friendship remains in place, even if our political authorities tend to dislike each other." That was the conclusion of Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists' Department Director for External Relations, following a private visit to the extreme west of Ukraine from 2 to 11 January.
Russian Baptist visits Western Ukraine
M o s c o w -- "Our historical friendship remains in place, even if our political authorities tend to dislike each other." That was the conclusion of Rev. Vitaly Vlasenko, the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists' (RUECB) Department Director for External Relations, following a private visit to the extreme west of Ukraine from 2 to 11 January. After preaching at a large Seventh-Day Pentecostal congregation in Polyana and a Baptist one in Mukachevo very near the borders to Slovakia and Hungary, Vlasenko reported: " My Russian friends had warned us that it would be dangerous to visit Western Ukraine. But we were received very heartily in both of these congregations. Perhaps things are more nationalistic in a region such as Lvov, but in this area people were very cordial wherever we went. I preached there that politics cannot divide us believers, and that message was received warmly. Our political assessments may differ, but they dare not destroy our love and respect for each other."
One point of contention between Russians and Ukrainians has been the "Golodomor" ("Holodomor" in Ukrainian). It stems from the assertion that the Soviet, Stalinist government requisitioned food supplies in 1932-33 for the express purpose of eliminating large segments of the Ukrainian population. This is difficult for Russians to accept, for millions of Russians also died during those years of man-made starvation. Vlasenko commented: "I cannot prove that the Soviet government did not intend to harm the Ukrainians in a special way."
Vlasenko reported that the recent gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine caused puzzlement among Western Ukrainans. "The church people to whom I spoke felt innocent of any wrongdoing. They have been paying for every cent of the gas they use and any who did not pay their bills promptly have had their gas cut off within only a few days. Our governments must learn to find solutions to problems before they escalate into standoffs."
For the Baptist Director of External Relations, disenchantment regarding Ukraine's Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 is one indication more that Christians should not place their trust in fellow humans: "The Bible is true - we must place our trust in God." The matter of trusting humans also involves Sunday Adelaja, the embattled Nigerian charismatic and pastor of Kiev's 20.000-member "Embassy of God" congregation. He is regarded as co-responsible for the failure of the "King's Capital" investment company. In a letter of 29 December, Ukrainian Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders officially distanced themselves from him, accusing him in part of the love of money. Vitaly Vlasenko added: "Sunday Adelaja has mixed material gain with the Christian faith. I am deeply grieved when such developments damage the good name of the Christian church. I hope very much that the men and women in his congregation will remain strong in their devotion to Jesus Christ. I pray that Sunday will repent and that soon conditions in his congregation might return to normal."
The two Ukrainian Baptist unions belonging to the European Baptist Federation have a combined membership of 145.000; RUECB membership totals nearly 80.000. Ukraine is one of the few countries on earth which both Russians and most Westerners can visit without needing to obtain a visa.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Photo: Mukachevo Castle - it stems from the 14th century.