The war in Ukraine is of deep concern to the people at First Redeemer Church. They’re following developments moment by moment because their extended Christian family is right in the middle of the hostilities.
First Redeemer in Cumming, Georgia, has built three churches in Ukraine, all in the first two provinces that Russian troops invaded. They also have planted 11 churches in Russia.
“It feels very personal to us,” said First Redeemer Pastor Jeff Jackson. “These are not strangers who live on the other side of the world. They are very much a part of our church family. While we may not know all their names or all their faces, these are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Talks between Russian and Ukrainian leaders haven’t resolved the conflict, but they have yielded a tentative agreement to set up safe corridors to evacuate citizens and to deliver humanitarian aid. The war has sent more than 1 million people fleeing across the Ukrainian borders into neighboring countries.
Widespread hostilities continued on Friday. In Kyiv, frequent shelling could be heard, the Associated Press reported. Battles involving airstrikes and artillery continued northwest of Kyiv. And the northeastern cities of Kharkiv and Okhtyrka were under heavy strikes. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said Ukrainian defense forces were still holding the northern city of Chernihiv and had prevented Russian efforts to take the important southern city of Mykolaiv.
‘Deeper than political loyalty’
Jackson said members of the Redeemer churches in Ukraine are helping refugees make their way to safety.
“Obviously, regardless of which side of the border you live on, Christians are bound together in a way that goes far deeper than political loyalty,” he said. “We have heard from our churches in Russia, how they are praying for Ukraine, especially for their brothers and sisters in Christ there. It is a picture of how a common faith in Christ transcends patriotism.”
This is not the first time that Christians in churches started by First Redeemer have had to minister in the face of hostilities. Having dedicated 45 churches in nine countries over the past 25 years, it’s often a matter of prayer. In addition to churches planted in Ukraine and Russia, First Redeemer has started eight churches in India, nine in Moldova, two in Myanmar, one in Nepal, two in Pakistan, seven in South Africa and two in Uruguay.
“There are very few American Christians who know what it’s like to be Christians in other parts of the world,” Jackson said. “These people are very much in a position to live out their faith in ways that very few people have. It’s hard to fully understand what someone is going through when you’ve never experienced the trauma that they’re experiencing.”
Unrest around the world only bolsters First Redeemer’s push to plant new churches, to get the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world. The congregation has completed construction of churches in Egypt and Algeria. Another is under construction in Hungary.
“We’re doing our best to continue the church planting work that we think God has called us to,” Jackson said. “We’re a church-planting church. That’s what we do. God has really blessed that. To be honest, I am amazed by what God has done.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Roger Alford and published by The Christian Index, news service of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.