Tuesday
Dec092014

The Suburbs of Donetsk

The entrance to the village of Marinka was closed due to the ongoing shelling in the morning, but literally 10 minutes before our arrival the shelling stopped and we were allowed in. The village is completely empty – not a soul on the streets. The doors to the police station are barricaded, and the windows – shattered. The shops, banks and other public institutions have all been abandoned.

We're going somewhere into the depths, in the direction of Donetsk. None of us sitting in the van packed with freshly baked bread really knows in whose territory we are now – Ukrainian or that of the DPR (Donetsk People's Republic). Our escort lost his way. We turn around and head back somewhere or the other. . . . . . Inside the van, the tension increases. Ah, here we are – a village house, remodeled near the local church. We open the rear door of the minivan and begin to unload the bread. As if emerging from the ground, some local residents appear. They take the bread and help us with the unloading. We work as quickly as possible – we do not know where we are and when the attacks will resume.

"Five hundred," Gennady finishes his count. That's it. Off we go again.

We make our way back to the entry to the village and turn the other way, toward the next drop-off point – Krasnogorovka. "Do you see those piles?" asks Galina. "That's where the DNR snipers station themselves, and we're in full view of them for the next kilometer and a half, so this is where we pray especially hard and move forward at full speed."

We pass a Ukrainian checkpoint and drive to Krasnogorovka. The streets are empty. In some high-rise buildings you can see the holes created by falling shells. Broken windows are almost everywhere. We travel to the other edge of the city, and turning off somewhere into a courtyard, we notice a crowd of people. "They are here all day," says Galina. "They are afraid they might miss us. After all, we don't have enough for everybody."

The ground beneath our feet shakes from exploding shells about a mile from us. The locals don't respond to these sounds –they're used to them. They say that during meetings, sometimes the building shakes, and recently a large piece of debris landed on the roof and broke through, but thank God, no one was in the building at the time.

We begin handing out bread. After 10 minutes, everything's been passed out, but people keep coming. To the especially weak and elderly we give some of what we had allotted for the church. Then we unload warm clothes from a truck – these were donated by Christians from Springfield, Massachusetts. "On Saturday we will distribute them to the needy," says Pastor Sergey. One of our cars takes off to the local school to get some tape for the broken windows. Glass is useless – it will again end up shattered, and even though tape isn't very warm, it's more reliable.

There's no heat in the buildings and homes, and we don't expect there will be any this winter. There is water in some places, but more often than not this is only until the first frosts. Electricity has recently been restored, but you can count on ongoing interruptions in power.

The car returns from the school with an old woman and three small children. Their father drowned last year, the mother drank herself to death and was gone, and now the grandmother takes care of her grandchildren. They’re destitute. They lived in the ruins. The school principal and teacher were helping them survive. We take them in and if they agree, we will transport them to a safe place. In spite of everything that is going on around here, many people don't want to leave.

The pastor mentioned the situation in the city.

We must leave before dark so that we don't attract the snipers with our headlights. We're too late. We leave as darkness is descending. 100 meters from the checkpoint, Gennady cuts off the headlights. In the same way, we drove away from the checkpoint in the dark. Up ahead the road is raked by sniper fire. We turn on the headlights and speed through the dangerous stretch.

Two more checkpoints. The sounds from the explosions retreat, then men move closer. We drive on for two hours. Kramatorsk. Slavyansk. We make it back.

Thursday
Dec042014

Russian and Ukrainian Church Leaders Meet for Dialogue

On November 27-28, 2014, evangelical leaders from Russia and Ukraine attended a seminar entitled, “The Unity and Mission of the Church in Times of Conflict” in Kiev, Ukraine to discuss the new challenges facing the Church during this time of conflict between the two nations.

Mission Eurasia, along with the Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians of Russia and Ukraine, and the Union of Independent Evangelical Churches of Ukraine, co-hosted this two-day seminar at the offices of Mission Eurasia’s national affiliate in Ukraine, the Association for Spiritual Renewal. Representatives from the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists and the Brotherhood of Independent Evangelical Baptist Christian Churches of Russia also participated in the seminar discussions.

The objectives of the seminar were: 1) to build bridges of understanding between evangelical leaders from Russia and Ukraine, and 2) to discuss how these leaders can work toward reconciliation in the midst of the conflict between the two nations.

Norway's Nansen Dialogue Network's (NDN) process for creating effective dialogue was used as a tool during the discussions.

Expectations for the seminar, expressed by participants at the beginning, included:

         -Gain a better understanding of how to serve God during this conflict

         -Discuss what the role of the Church should be during this conflict

         -Hear the prophetic Word of God

         -Discuss how to work toward peace between Russia and Ukraine

         -Develop a way to address the ethnic tensions within families and churches related to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine

         -Discuss how to resolve the internal struggle of being a lover of God and a lover of one’s homeland

         -Develop practical steps for reconciliation and missions work during this conflict

Day 1, November 27

During day one of the seminar, the evangelical leaders from Russia and Ukraine began the ‘Awareness’ stage of the NDN effective dialogue process, as they shared their individual perspectives regarding the conflict. They then progressed into the ‘Self Concern’ stage by expressing their concerns with the conflict. Some of the discussion was heated, and one participant from Russia shared that he came to this meeting with little hope of it being productive, however, he did express that it was necessary for evangelical leaders to be able to freely express their ideas of how to rectify the conflict in order to create effective dialogue.

At the end of day one, Wade Kusack, Director of Religious Freedom Issues with Mission Eurasia, presented a report entitled, “A New Atmosphere of Relationship and the Way of its Change,” which was based on the scholarly article, “From Paradox to Possibility,” written by Chris Seiple, President of the Institute for Global Engagement. Wade then challenged the audience to think about how they could practically work toward reconciliation in the midst of an age where identity, resiliency, and partnership define our interactions. The report was well received, and several questions were asked regarding its content. Participants were also asked to share this report with their other contacts.

Day 2, November 28

During day two of the seminar, participants entered the ‘Mental Tryout’ stage of the NDN effective dialogue process by engaging in discussion about various topics, including whether or not Christians should serve in the army, and what evangelical churches can learn from the Russia-Ukraine crisis. These discussions were much calmer than the first day’s discussions, and there was mutual respect among participants, mostly because they had a greater understanding of the conflict due to the objective facts that were presented during the first day’s discussions. By the end of the seminar, participants had entered the ‘Hands-On/doing together’ stage, as they began discussing future partnerships in ministry, and they laid out a potential timeframe for their first joint ministry project.

Outcomes

The seminar resulted in a greater willingness for cooperation among the evangelical leaders from Russia and Ukraine, and it allowed them to express their Christian love for one another by sharing in Communion together. The collaborative nature of the discussions that took place will allow for more effective work toward reconciliation between these two nations.

Next Steps

It is essential to build on the success of this seminar to continue the momentum of effective dialogue between evangelical leaders from Russia and Ukraine regarding reconciliation, so Mission Eurasia will be holding another seminar in the near future, this time in a neutral location, which will bring together a more diverse group of participants, and focus on concrete examples of how evangelical leaders from around the world have led reconciliation efforts in their communities.

Friday
Nov072014

Vlad Sekan: Nothing is taboo for the NSC, Uzbekistan

Vlad Sekan is a well-known figure in Protestant circles. The head of Shelter, a rehabilitation center and the manager of social services for the Full Gospel Christian Center in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he is also the presbyter of the church and the father of 9 children with a 10th on the way. He is an active user of social networks. His writing is interesting, and what he writes about is also interesting. Because Vlad writes about life. About how to change it. How to seize the opportunity to become a different person. The kind of person he transformed into one fine day. 

The kind of person that God made of him on one fine day. 

And I think it’s safe to say that the process is not complete. After all, just try not to become someone else after you have to leave forever for another country, while for two months your beloved wife and children are left behind. You leave to escape from the Uzbek National Security Council (NSC), which had found a way to shut down Vlad and his work – so bothersome to them – rescuing alcoholics and drug addicts. 

I.Ch.: How is Vlad Sekan, a man with whom God continues to work?

V.S (smiling):  Getting used to a new life. And it feels good. God took care of my family, everyone is already close by, in Ukraine. We have a house and even a car that a brother from the  church gave me to use.

I.Ch.:  Vlad, you've been working in administering rehabilitation services in Uzbekistan for a long time, haven't you?

V.S.:  Yes, since 2002

I.Ch.:  So what went wrong? How did you, a person involved in social welfar activities, displease the NSC?

V.S.:  In general it's easy to displease the NSC. You've probably heard about how this agency put the daughter of the president of Uzbekistan under house arrest. They incarcerated her husband and financial director, and sentenced them each to 10 years. Their property was confiscated. Nothing is taboo for the NSC. Everyone is afraid of them because they do whatever they want. Gulnara, the daughter of the president, at one time helped us, but in recent years the situation has changed for the worse. Including for Christians.

I.Ch.:  What was it like in the beginning, when you were just starting your ministry? Let us know, if you would.

V.S.:  I began my ministry while I was still in prison, in the late 1990s. This was not my first time behind bars, but all of a sudden I wanted more of life, I wanted this to be the last time. And at that moment I repented, completely forgetting that I was a drug addict. All my dependency – all this was left in the past. I became, as they say, a new person.

Christians would come to the colony to minister to the prisoners, among them – me. In time, I began to minister alongside my brothers. And when I was released in 2000, I founded the Center for the Re-Socialization of Drug Addicts. In fact, it was only much later that it came to be called that. In the beginning, we met in an abandoned dormitory. By "we", I mean the ministers, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, and people who were released from prison and had nowhere to go. We didn't know how this was supposed to work, we had no experience, but we didn't let this stop us. We came to have our own building only in 2002. And then, in addition to the building, we opened a workshop for metalworking. After all, people couldn't live permanently at the Center. They had to adapt to life, get back on their feet, start families.

I.Ch.:  How many people passed through your Center?

V.S. (thoughtfully):  Approximately 3,000-5,000 over 10 years. Maybe more. It's hard to say for sure. We began, as I recall, with 30.

I.Ch.:  You mentioned the incident with the daughter of the president. Tell us about what happened, and how Gulnara Karimova helped you.

V.S.:  In 2008, we experienced a "bust" at the Center and the workshop. By "bust," I mean a situation when in broad daylight almost all the city services show up, and this is around 50 people, and each has a bone to pick with you. The tax authorities have their report, then there's the Sanitary & Epidemiological Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Department for Combating Extremism, and so on. The agents from National Security Council of Uzbekistan were in charge of everything – a powerful organization that monitors each resident, literally climbing inside every home and in every family, regardless of who – you could be a regular person, or the mayor of the city. It is a modern-day national NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs).  In particular, the NSC ensures that people are not getting together to form what to the NSC are some kind of obscure and suspicious organizations. In Uzbekistan, everything is in clear view.

So, back then, in 2008, we had some partners who were directly connected to the UN. And Gulnara Karimova at the time was the ambassador to that organization, representing Uzbekistan in the world arena. The partners made direct contact with her. In the end, all charges we faced regarding illegal religious activities were dropped and everything about the situation was forgotten. Of course, in 2014, no one could help us anymore.

I.Ch.:  The Uzbek NKVD anyway found its way to you and your ministry. And currently the Center, as far as I know, isn't operating. What did the NSC charge you with?

V.S.:  You won't believe it: exploiting people. It was the same scenario as in 2008. And the same agents from the NSC - Timur and Jabar.

On May 31, a group of 50-60 people stormed into the building housing the rehab center and the workshop. The contents of the safe, documents, office equipment – everything was confiscated, and the premises – sealed. The workshop employees were forced to write statements alleging that the management of the center and the workshop forced them to work against their will, even though we ran a completely legitimate operation.

I.Ch.:  That is, since 2008 there weren't any busts, right?

V.S.:  Yes, that's right. And this wouldn't have happened, I don't think. But the NSC did not like my activities outside of the rehab center. Over the last six months I worked in tandem with our Pentecostal Union coordinating the ministry to join with other denominations in the formation of one union. The ultimate goal was to create the Inter-Evangelical Alliance of Uzbekistan. I also communicated with the leaders of other denominations. The work that was underway was global and was to all appearances dangerous in the eyes of the NSC. After all, any union is a force. And in a country with a totalitarian regime, it's a threat. The authorities find it easier to work with disparate organizations rather than a single one that is large and influential.

I.Ch.:  How did you manage to save yourself?

V.S.:  When the authorities closed the rehab center, we hired a lawyer. And even though in our country, there isn't much a lawyer can do – in the situation with the NSC there was nothing to be done – we needed him in order to more fully understand what was going on.

I very quickly understood that they were "out to get me".

And then on June 12, one of my friends was summoned to yet another interrogation at the prosecutor's. There, the investigator came right out and said that he is initiating a criminal case because he was ordered to do so "from above". And he was told to initiate a case against me, specifically, even though legally I had no connection with the workshop or the rehabilitation center. The investigator also told the lawyer that our business is nonsense and that the Regional Office of Internal Affairs (ROIA) has a statement in their possession alleging that I engaged in human trafficking.

When the lawyer told me all that was said, I called a policeman I know to find out the situation inside the police department. He called me back from an unknown number, and spoke in a rapid, frightened voice. He confirmed that my case is being handled personally by the NSC, and that tomorrow they were going to call me in to an interrogation, after which I, in all probability, would not be allowed to leave. I knew that there were statements, because the day before I received a call from one of the guys who used to live in the rehab center, but  who was expelled for a disciplinary violation. The guy admitted that they took a statement from him, and forced him to write an indictment specifically against me, saying that I exploited their labor. We have Article 135, "Human Trafficking." And this is the Article that they were "priming" me for. As I soon found out, there had been 7 cases like this made against rehabilitation centers. The NSC had their sights on me, personally.

On that very day I bought a plane ticket and flew to Kiev. My family remained at home...

My conversation partner recalled the difficulties of that separation from his family, which ended up lasting 2 months. But Marina, Vlad's wife, has even more difficulty talking about it:

“You see how we live. We haven't properly settled in yet. We had to sell everything on the cheap. But thank God that we live in our own home here. Vlad took care of us,” says Marina, holding on tight to her husband.

I.Ch.:  Marina, tell us about how you lived after Vlad left?

Marina Sekan (M.S.):  You have to know that to understand it, to imagine how I and the children lived, you have to know Vlad himself. For us, he is the master of the house. Attentive to detail, caring, responsible. He was the one who took care of the financial side, making purchases, addressing issues with the utilities and so on. I am a creative person, a choreographer. My world in the family has always been the family itself, first of all – the children. It was important to me that they open up as individuals, and also that they are well fed, and clothed.

And just at this critical moment, I am left without him...

V.S.: We spent a ton of money on phone calls talking about all manner of domestic issues. By phone I usually would negotiate and sell things. At first, of course, we communicated through the computer, but it was confiscated almost immediately after my departure, during a search. Imagine Marina at home with the children, with two elderly people, and then the NSC knocks on the door. She had to open it, or else they would have broken down everything. They were pushy and made threats, but once I explained to them by telephone how this would look in the mass media when I exposed all they were doing, then they changed their tune. In Uzbekistan they fear publicity, because it is important for the country to preserve their public reputation as a democratic state in the eyes of the world, but here's this raid on the home of a believer who was forced to drop everything and leave. Well, just imagine it.

M.S.:  After the search, they would call me in for questioning. There wasn't a day that I didn't cry. My oldest daughter, Lyuba, was a real support to me. She is just 12 years old, but she didn't let me, as they say, "break down."  She's become so grown up.

Lyuba Stekan (L.S.):  Mama was really upset – Papa was gone. That's why I knew I had to help her out.

M.S.:  I came in for questioning with a little baby of one year. They called me in despite my pregnancy and how evidently busy I am with the children. The representatives of authority weren't bothered by this. Even when I cried in the office of the inspector, he would go on with the interrogation. No one, of course, threatened me, but they didn't give me any breaks, either.

And at the same time as this, I have to get passports for the departure of nine children, and sell the house and our belongings. Right now it's like I am remembering it all in a fog. There was too much fear, tears, despair. And it was like this right up until the flight to Kiev. The airport officials in Uzbekistan spent a long time checking us, searching us. This was humiliating and it seemed like we weren't going to make it onto the plane.

But we lifted off on time. I exhaled when were in Ukraine, when we landed and I saw Vlad.

I, you know, understood... That we need to appreciate our men. There is no way now that I'll ever complain that I'm sick of cooking or looking after the children. I stood in the place of my husband, and I realized how much strength, courage, firmness, it takes to protect us, to think about security, planning for the future in all the little details.

I felt that it was important to end the interview precisely at this very moment. A moment of appreciation and love that has grown stronger, deeper. There are still a number of tasks facing Sekan and his family. The house must be put in order, the children placed in schools and kindergartens, children's clubs. They have to adjust to the difficult conditions of life in Ukraine. They understand how fragile happiness can be, but in their eyes you will see no fear. Vlad and Marina do not know what awaits them in the future, where and how their 10th baby will be born.But what can be clearly read in their look is their certainty that no matter what, God is alive and He is near. And there is nothing that the NSC can do about it.

Inga Che,  Mission Eurasia.

 

Thursday
Nov062014

Children Of War

 

The Children of War – these are not only the children you see in this photograph. They are all whose destinies have been forever altered by war. All who have been deprived of their homes, jobs, their life savings, their daily routines, their plans for the future. All who, out of fear of being killed by the shelling are living in the basement. All who are fleeing from abduction, torture, and being locked away by the separatists because theirs is not the Orthodox faith. All who have no hope of changing the situation around them – not even a little.

 

The Children of War. . . . . . .

They are legion – hundreds of thousands. Maybe even millions. One was lucky and he was able to go to relatives in Western Ukraine or find shelter from a church in the more or less secure areas of the country. Another was able to travel abroad. But many still remain in the combat zone. They have nowhere to run, no one awaits them, and the international organizations pretend they don’t even exist. They huddle in summer children’s camps not equipped for winter, in the abandoned buildings of the former Soviet administrations and schools with no heating or indoor sanitation, or you can find them in the basements of destroyed buildings

How many of them will survive the winter?

I saw all this with my own eyes a few weeks ago, and since then, I am consumed by one thought only – as soon as possible to secure as much help as I can and go back so that as many as possible of the Children of War make it through this winter. Help establish heating centers for refugees, help repairing the war-damaged buildings, help providing regular hot meals, help with warm clothing. . . . . . . . .

I met a lot of dedicated Christian ministers who are practically the only ones in the region  caring for the Children of War. Every day, risking their lives, they are representatives of Christ in this land. They deliver medicines, food, warm clothing and a Word of Hope to refugee camps and basements, and they evacuate people from the shelling.

We will fly to Ukraine on November 17. Join us. If you cannot go with us this time, help us to bring as much help as we can to the Children of War. Matthew 25: 35-36

Slavic Pentecostal Church, Rochester NYGrace Full Gospel Church, Emmanuel Church, Golgotha – all of them are from Minneapolis MN, donated generously to help provide for the refugees and filled an entire container with warm clothing. 

Aleksey Negru, Alexander Tsvor and other brothers are personally joining the cause.

For many of you who have asked how to help those refugees in EASTERN UKRAINE not to freeze this winter, please DONATE, by clicking the button below! All donations are tax deductible. 

P.S. Your donation will be used to provide food, shelter and other emergency needs for the refugees in Ukraine. God bless you!

 If you have questions contact me, Wade Kusack, at wade@russian-ministries.org or Aleksey Negru al.negru@gmail.com

Tuesday
Oct282014

November 2 - The International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

Christians in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are facing severe religious persecution at the hands of pro-Russian separatists. From April - September 2014, hundreds of believers were abducted and tortured in territories under separatist control, solely because of their faith. Some of them were released (very often in return for a ransom), but all suffered various degrees of injury, such as beatings, stabbings, broken bones, dislocated joints, and burns from electric shocks.

We also learned that more than 50 church buildings of various Christian denominations have been taken over or destroyed by the separatists. In response to this violence, about 100 other churches, Christian missions, orphanages, rehabilitation centers, educational institutions, research centers, and charities have been closed. Today, tens of thousands of believers in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are facing threats of abduction, torture, and death.

As you participate in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on November 2, please pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Ukraine:

- That God would strengthen their faith

- That the Holy Spirit would give them the right words, and that they would fearlessly share the gospel

- That God would provide housing and winter clothes for persecuted Christians and refugees in eastern Ukraine

- That God would protect the Christian leaders and missionaries who are patiently and fearlessly serving Him in the midst of the ongoing conflict