LVIV, Ukraine (BP) – About 400 Ukrainian Baptist congregations have been lost in Russia’s war on Ukraine, said Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary President Yaroslav Pyzh, who is working to restore pastoral leadership to impacted cities.
While volunteers at six humanitarian relief We Care Centers across Ukraine are helping internally displaced people winterize their homes, replacing roofs, windows and doors, Pyzh said the real challenge for UBTS is to rebuild pastoral leadership in places pastors have been displaced.
“Since the war started, six months already, we lost about 400 Baptist churches. And so the real build is the rebuilding of leadership capacity, because if you rebuild buildings and you have no pastors to lead churches, I don’t think it’s going to do any good,” Pyzh, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, told Baptist Press Aug. 12. “So the real challenge is not so much rebuilding walls and windows and doors.
“The real challenge is similar to Nehemiah’s challenge,” he said, referencing the biblical story of Nehemiah. “It’s not only rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. It’s rebuilding the nation of Israel, of worshiping God. … That’s the same thing here in Ukraine.”
Many pastors were displaced from war-torn areas, Pyzh said, leaving no one to bring godly hope in the midst of fear and hopelessness. About 2300 Baptist congregations existed across Ukraine before the war began in February, according to the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists.
“Our main challenge in the future, when the war will be over, is to bridge the gap in leadership that we lost,” Pyzh said. “And sadly, the longer the war goes, the more the gap’s going to be. The church is not buildings. It’s people leaving that place and relocating to the United States, and with people relocating to Germany, or people relocating to other places. And with those people, pastors left too.”
While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates a third of Ukrainians have been displaced from their homes, many pastors have remained and churches have responded greatly to war-time needs, Pyzh said.
“The biggest thing the community has in these moments of being destroyed and bombed is fear; it’s hopelessness,” Pyzh said. “And the only one who can relieve and bring hope to the hopeless are pastors, churches, Christians.”
Pyzh estimates that as many as 150 UBTS graduates and students are working at the We Care Centers that he said will need to bring spiritual light and salt to the war-ravaged communities while also helping structurally rebuild communities and provide needed supplies. UBTS is training volunteers to serve as counselors to internally displaced residents and those who have remained.
Southern Baptist donations are helping fund the support of We Care Centers, but Pyzh said donations have greatly diminished as the war has continued. Care Centers grew from local church ministry outreaches established in concert with local governments, and are housed in buildings governments are providing at no cost.