9:07pm Tuesday, May 20th Kiev, Ukraine.
I am currently writing this article in my 10 step by 8 step apartment in Kiev, Ukraine and my body is aching with jet lag. It is mid May and by the time this goes to print it will be the middle of summer so I wanted to capture the emotion of what I am seeing and feeling.
I’m struck with this question of where is our hope?
Kiev is a tough place.
What in the world is local pastor doing in Kiev, Ukraine? Great question. My calling is that of pastor but the second half of the calling is that of a professor.
Part of working out that calling is serving as a visiting professor at Evangel Theological Seminary here in Kiev. Here I teach a core class called, “Design for Critical Thinking”. Practicing pastors from all over Eastern Europe travel to Kiev to study with me where we race through a master’s level class in five days. It’s a whirlwind of activity!
I have been doing this for a few years now and it’s very different this time around. As you might know, Russia has annexed the Crimea Peninsula of Ukraine, eastern Ukraine continues to be a war zone, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was thrown out of office last month.
The country is on edge of a revolution and here I am. Joy.
Frankly, it’s not a great time to be traveling. Though this was my week to teach and students are flying infrom all over Eastern Europe — so it’s go time.
Yesterday, my students were all settled and ready to learn so we went through the syllabus and the first question that went up was, “If Russian evades us will America come to help?”
My answer when something like this, “Everyone knows the history of my country and Russia. Also in my country I live in a Republic where we elect others to govern on our behalf. So I am not privy to that kind of information. I know that’s not what you want to hear but that’s what I have”. The reason thequestion was asked is because it’s Tuesday and elections are on Sunday.
I can tell that my students, all whopastor churches through out Eastern Europe, are on edge.
Yet they are pastors and know that whether this or that government falls. They will continue. They care deeply about their churches and face many of the same cultural shifts we do. Europe continues to pull them in a socially liberal direction but the Ukrainian people are very conservative and traditional. Russia continues to call them culturally one of their own but they as a people wish to leave the “Iron Curtain” in the past. It’s crossroads between Eastern Russian empire and the liberal attitudes of Western Europe.
These pastors struggle. They all work jobs and pastor their churches on the side. And yet they are effective. Peopleare coming to Jesus. One of my students is a Syrian national, who is a Ph.D. (music) student at The Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine and he pastors a church in Kiev that reaches Arabic speaking peoples. What an amazing ministry. One of my other students is a Ph.D. (history) student at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and has a heart to teach pastors as a seminary professor. They are effective but nervous of course.
I was speaking with a staff member at the seminary and they stated, “A month ago our seminary president was called back to the United States because he is an American, his government deemed Ukraine unstable. American government protects its people. But who comes for us? Who makes sure we’re safe? Who watches my children?”
Speechless. I. Had. Nothing. To. Say.
It raised this question of hope for me. Where do I put my hope?
I think as an American we put our hope in our military, our hope in our money, our hope in our government but if history is any guide to the future, the truth is that governments rise and fall.We are fortunate that for 238 years our Republic lives as the longest lasting government the world has ever seen. We are blessed. But we shouldn’t put our hope in earthly things but it heavenly things. Matt 6:19-21.
I was continually amazed in my students hope in the Gospel.
On Thursday I was asked if I would address the seminary staff during their morning devotion. Being a good visiting professor, I gladly accepted.
I tired to encourage them and spoke out of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, where Paul encourages them to not grieve like people who have no hope (v. 13). But rather believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died(v. 14).This is a classic passage where early Christians are concerned about those who have died and are missed — some that even died under governmental persecution.
I then transitioned to Augustine who reflected in his book, “City of God, City of Man” that even though Rome burns God’s Kingdom continues. I tired to encourage them that no matter what happens on Sunday’s election the Kingdom of God will continue. Whether a solid western democratic president is elected or a Russian puppet candidate is elected, the Kingdom of God will continue.
And our hope is not in these earthly things but in the things that are eternal. That’s what matters. The Ukrainians gladly accepted that message and deeply understood it. I thought it was the perfect word for them but what I realized was it’s the perfect word for me. True hope is in the resurrection of the Christ not the resurrection of a government. That’s what these Ukrainian pastors taught this American professor. They live it and believe it. What a challenge for us.
Continue to pray for the people of Ukraine.
Photo: 2014 Independence Square, Kiev, Ukraine. Where in April Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.