Email from Kiev today between our church deacons: "Can you print the bulletins for Sunday?' 'Sure. But the main thing is to be able to get there. Yesterday, all the roads here were blockaded - sheer terror. But I'll get through the barricade, and the main thing is to run and not die on the way."
Last year I had the privilege of preaching in Kiev and Odessa for a few small churches there. Last Sunday I received the above message from one of the pastors there. It made me thankful that we can print bulletins without bullets! But what are we to make of the rapidly developing situation in the Ukraine?
Although the President, Viktor Yanukovych, is on the run and it seems as though the protesters have won, the situation is fraught with danger. The Russian speaking east of this massive country - it is bigger than France - want to look towards Russia, the Ukrainian speaking west towards the EU. It is difficult to see how there can be unity.
And what of the church? One pastor I know has enrolled with many of the men in his congregation in one of the self-defence patrols, designed to protect their area from looters or from riot police and thugs from outside Kiev coming in. Others have set up prayer tents and still others are seeking to provide food.
Another friend reported: "We could hear them chanting from our windows, singing the national anthem, and shouting not only 'Glory to Ukraine!' and 'Liberty or Death!' but also, 'Glory to Jesus Christ'!!! This is something new, during the past week, as "the reality is setting in that this is a life or death struggle with forces of evil: misuse of power, blatant corruption, diversion of public funds, religious hypocrisy, and more. People on the square realised their lives could end in this struggle, and they said the Lord's Prayer on the hour, committing their lives to God's care. What? You didn't hear this part on your newscast?"
The problem in the Ukraine was not just the President reneging on the proposed deal with the EU - it is the rampant corruption, broken economy and the resultant collapse of moral order and hope. The people are understandably fed up. But we in the West need to be careful before we get on our high horses. The President was only able to stay in power thanks to the backing of some mega wealthy oligarchs. One of them being Ukraine's wealthiest man, Rinat Akmetov, who in 2011 paid £136 million for a three storey, Hyde Park Penthouse in London. He controls half of Ukraine's coal, steel and thermoelectricity sectors and has considerable political clout. The West may look on and disapprove but we support and encourage a system of international capital that allows these oligarchs to abuse their countries, store their wealth in our banks, and spend it in our cities.
People in Ukraine have already gone through the 'Orange' revolution. No matter what colour this one is called, it will only be a change of colour unless there is a fundamental change of system and ethos. I think of the Who's wonderful song, Won't Get Fooled Again, which angrily speaks of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss". What can bring about real change? I know of nothing better than Christianity.
Another friend writing from Kiev beautifully summed it up:
This is where the church comes in. The church now has a big role to fill as the country slowly (hopefully) begins to calm down and clean up. Just as people are most receptive to grace when broken, so goes for the country as well. Ukraine is broken now. We have hundreds dead, we have maybe a thousand wounded, we have a burned out centre in place of our downtown, we have daily inflation and we have lots fewer cobblestones than we started with. Ukraine is broken and needs renewal that comes as they seek the mercy and grace provided by Christ. Pray that the church will (continue) to fill this need, and now in a more specific way, through its service to the community, through cleaning up the city, through writing and thinking with others about the concept of true justice - something that Ukrainians have been seeking, and through preaching the Word.
Pray for Ukraine and its people. Pray that out of this mess there would arise a true renewal. And remember the heartfelt plea of the young lady in this video.
Christianity is on the side of the people, not the powerful.