Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Passionate Faith Tug-of-War for Souls

"This is not only a political war, but a spiritual war. This is a crusade. The West is helping them."
Reverend Sergi Geiko, Orthodox priest, Maryinka, Ukraine

"Deliver us from evil."
"Hate divides, love unites. Use this chance, call his name, bring him into  your life. When he comes like bread, there will be no hunger."
Pastor Yevgeny M. Medvedev, evangelical missionary, Ukraine

"When Jesus was on Earth, he fed people and people followed him for that reason, too."
"When fear comes, people are open to God."
Protestant Missionary Lyubov V. Shpikhernyuk, Ukraine

Yes, when people are hungry they are grateful for donations of food to keep body and soul together. Food is the element required to ensure that the soul does not depart the body. The spiritual and corporeal essence of humankind are meant during a lifetime to share a soul. And evangelical missionaries feel they are following in the traditions of Christ through their distribution of free bread, groceries and firewood in Maryinka, Ukraine.

Ukraine is a country whose east has been riven by civil war. Life is uncertain and privation and desperation visit towns and villages in the Donetsk region where ethnic Russian Ukrainians feel it is their right to separate the land called Ukraine, to hand what they believe to be theirs to dispense of to Greater Russia. Russia certainly agrees and took the opportunity to bring Crimea under its sovereign wing.

And while the separatists and the government forces battle it out in a ceasefire that no one seems to take too seriously, the traditional Orthodox church is also facing opposition, from evangelical groups spurning Catholicism and lauding Protestantism. And so, the elderly and the indigent gather at roadsides to be  handed loaves of bread and Bibles while the missionaries comfort them: "Jesus wants peace!"
Volunteers affiliated with the Christian Aid Center of the Transfiguration Church in Maryinka distributed bread to the town’s residents. Credit Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Certainly that much is true, doesn't anyone want peace in a troubled world? So it makes uncommonly good sense that the Son of God sends his divine message of peace. And bread. The miracle of the loaves revisited in war-torn Ukraine. Maryinka is held by the Ukrainian regime where, close to the rebel capital of Donetsk, fighting is sporadic and deadly. While the conflict of physical violence destroys the quality of life, in the half-deserted town evangelicals offer succour.

Two years of war have brought suffering to the people of east Ukraine. But in the grey zone between the government troops and the Russian-backed rebels, life has been a crumbling zone of savagery and suffering-in-progress. Half of the region's prewar population remain in Maryinka and for the 350 children remaining two schools remain open. In the human heart, despite fear and drudgery, hope springs eternal. And hope springs a little more emphatically when promises of a kinder hereafter arrive.

Houses have a bombed-out look, mostly because they have been, and to linger on the street is to be exposed to high-powered sniper rifles of separatists. Maryinka has no natural gas or hot water, since municipal workers cannot perform their vital work of maintaining such infrastructure due to the danger, so pipes remain torn up by shelling. People have reverted to earlier rituals of endurance; hauling firewood, queueing for handouts of bread and groceries; sleeping in root cellars.

 Monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe roam about in armoured vehicles during the daylight hours, monitoring the cease-fire; once they leave at dusk mortar fire resumes. "Maybe their leadership objects to them working at night", grimly quips Mikhailo M. Prokopiv, Ukrainian commander. "Anyway, at 6:30, the shooting starts", bypassing the agreed-upon truce.
Sergei N. Kosyak led a service at the Christian Aid Center of the Transfiguration Church in Maryinka, Ukraine, last month. Credit Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

The Russian wing of the Orthodox Church now has competition; filtered in in the wake of the Soviet  Union's collapse. They have adapted a truly winning formula; humanitarian work aligned with     proselytizing; as an introduction to the brand, a true public relations coup. Aid distribution points combined with churches have been established in ten towns on the Ukrainian side of the border, explains Sergei N. Kosyak, leader of the Christian Aid Center of the Transfiguration Church in Maryinka.

Hundreds of residents are drawn to regular religious services, and a few have been baptized. Some of the funding for the missionary work has been underwritten by Evangelical churches in the United States. The Good News Church located in the city of Slovyansk, north of Maryinka, has established a training school for missionaries in the conflict zone. To the present, 75 people completed the course and have deployed along the front. It can only do good for people to know they are not forgotten.

When the pro-Russian rebels held Slovyansk, they dispatched the evangelicals to exile. Once the city was back in the hands of the government, the missionaries returned to do their work. Sergei Kosyak, for example has a congregation of 70 people. There is a church choir, a bakery, and services on offer, like the delivery of firewood. The turnout for his church is similar in numbers to those who appear for Sunday services at the Orthodox Church of the Kazan Virgin in Maryinka.

And no surprise, the Orthodox priest, the Reverend Sergi Geiko is not too fond of 'luring doubters to God' with material rewards, such as bread. What they are doing, those missionaries, is trespassing in Orthodox land.
CBN News

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