What do the Golden Arches of McDonald’s and the golden dome of an Orthodox Church have in common? For Ukraine they serve as the basic symbol of the present day way of life in this relatively new nation, seeking to find its way toward the future.
A popular McDonald’s is positioned right beside one of the most prominent Ukrainian Orthodox churches in downtown Kiev. In many ways, McDonald’s symbolizes the attempt Ukraine has made to achieve a system of free enterprise and freedom in general for its citizens.
The Orthodox Church reflects a thousand-year history of ritualized church services and survival during Communism.
A Global Partnership
As many of you know, we have a global partnership with the Baptists of Ukraine. We are working with the missionary personnel of the International Mission Board in the former Soviet Block nation. It is a major challenge for Alabama Baptists.
A Large Nation With A Declining Population
If you can imagine the state of Texas with twice the population — but then reduce the believing Christian community to 2 percent of the population — then you have an idea of the challenge before us.
Let’s consider this relationship in several ways as I provide you with a preliminary but not exhaustive report.
First, consider with me the people of Ukraine. The population is approximately 46,000,000. This is a decline from the disintegration of the Soviet Union when the population was around 55 million.
In the mid-1990s, the count was 52 million. Two years ago when we were in the country for our initial visit, the population was 48 million. Unofficially, that total is nearer to the already stated 46 million mark.
Why the population decline? That question leads me to the second point of consideration for us. There are several serious problems facing the nation which impact population decline. No doubt there is an immigration flight to the U.S. and Canada, as well as Western Europe. That is a given, and it is reported extensively in the news.
Reasons for the Decline
However, there is a more sinister reason for the decline in the population of Ukraine. Unofficially, Ukraine is number one in the per capita number of people infected with the AIDS virus. Some have estimated that more than 1,600,000 people have now tested positive for the virus.
If these figures are accurate, as well as the prediction for the number to double in just a few short years, then Ukraine has unseated Africa as the number one place with the highest per capita rate of infection. By the way, these same reports place Russia at number two and Africa at the third spot.
Another problem Ukrainians must face is the political instability which accompanies a nation which has been under atheistic dictatorship for decades. The government is undergoing the stresses of dealing with how to govern a people in such a way which develops not an entitlement mentality but an empowerment mindset.
After the rule of such historical despots as Lenin and Stalin and some lesser figures in Russia to the north, the Ukrainian people are facing economic and political struggles which are understandable. However, corruption in government seems to be commonplace. Sadly, the greed found in our capitalistic system seems to have taken root in Ukraine.
A Strategic Geographic Location
Third, I would like to touch on Ukraine as a place in terms of geography and location. Ukraine is the crossroads of Europe. It touches Russia by land and sea. It also is close to several other Eastern European former Soviet satellites. Additionally, Ukraine is a gateway to Russian-speaking Muslim countries. Therefore, Ukraine is strategically located to touch a great portion of Eastern Europe and Russia, as well to impact the Muslim world with little encumbrance. I foresee the day when Ukraine will send missionaries to these areas.
Elements of the Partnership
Fourth, let me outline some basic elements of our partnership as we see them fleshed out before us. Naturally evangelism and discipleship are most important. Remember only 2 percent of the people know the Lord. This means that reaching people is a must.
Also, church planting is a vital part of our partnership. We hope to assist the people in establishing new churches and mission points. This will not be easy, because land is expensive and credit is just now coming to the nation.
We have been talking to the leadership of the Baptist Union about the development of a Cooperative Program-type system of unified giving. This is alien to their thinking, because under the Soviet system cooperation meant coercion. They had a coercive program where they were compelled to turn things over to the government. However, some baby steps toward a CP approach have already been made.
The Element of Prayer
The fifth element for us to consider in relation to Ukraine is prayer. The Ukrainians are a prayer people. They pray before their meals and then after them. They spend time in prayer and worship. Their worship services are usually about two and one-half hours long.
Doing Something Significant for Jesus in Ukraine
My sixth observation relates to planning. We cannot do everything they need or ask of us, but we can do something. We can do something significant for Jesus in Ukraine. People there need the Lord. The window of opportunity is open for now but we must be prudent and patient in our planning. It is not easy for Americans to exercise such prudent patience, but we must!
Specific Needs: Leadership Development & Medical/Dental
Seventh, let me mention some specific needs evident to those who have dialoged with Ukrainian Baptist leaders in recent days. There is a need to provide leadership training opportunities at Bible colleges and seminaries.
Leadership development is certainly crucial for Alabama Baptists, but it is absolutely essential for Ukrainian Baptist leaders who are seeking to become even more effective in Great Commission Ministries in this strategic part of the globe.
Some of your state missionaries have already provided leadership development opportunities for Ukrainian Baptist leaders in Kingdom areas such as evangelism, discipleship and stewardship. Other Alabama Baptists will likewise be needed to provide leadership for these equipping events during the course of the partnership.
Another specific need relates to medical and dental work. As Ukraine struggles to develop the an authentic and effective system of capitalism and free enterprise, the nation does not yet have any meaningful or effective health care system.
Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and volunteers will be welcome participants in many mission trips over the months and years of the Ukraine-Alabama partnership.
I already feel like Paul when he told the Philippian Christians, “I have you in my mind, I have you in my prayers and I have you in my heart”. That is my testimony relating to the three visits I have made to Ukraine. I look forward to the partnership with them in the Gospel. They are dear brothers and sisters, and we can learn much from them as a people of faith.
Hopefully, we can place the cross of Christ above and between the Golden Arches and the Golden Dome. That would make an eternal difference for the cause of Christ and for us as we serve Him.
For more information on how you can participate in the partnership between Baptists in Alabama and Ukraine as a missions volunteer, please contact State Missionary Reggie Quimby in the Office of Global Partnerships & Volunteers in Missions. Reggie may be reached at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 239, [email protected]