My dear friends, my prayer partners, I thank you for the fact that sometimes through such letters I can turn to you to maintain this friendly and prayerful connection of ours.
Thank you for this and thank you to our God. I am writing to you this update of my news, news of the church and “Olive Branch” in Ukraine, and I wish you a great day!
Today is the 260th day of the war on the land of Ukraine. The Russian enemy is trying to destroy critical infrastructure facilities of Ukraine by launching its missiles and Iranian drones. Our people are heroically eliminating the consequences of destruction, and our anti-aircraft forces are trying to shoot down as many of these flying enemy objects as possible. Other troops of ours repel the influx of mobilized Russians near Donetsk and Luhansk, other troops of our troops push the enemy out of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. I believe that by the grace of God and with your support, we will overcome this Russian demonic enemy together. The chaplains we train and support have a huge and important part to play and serve the military in this process.
Yesterday I went to the seminary. I arrived at nine o’clock in the morning, and five minutes after that the electricity went out until 1 p.m. I didn’t know what to do next, because all my work was concentrated on the computer. I have to check students’ homework, give grades and report to the seminary. But how to do it without electricity? It was cold in the seminary, but there were offline classes for students in two classes. Lighting for them was provided by a small generator, which also helped in preparing dinner. There are almost no generators in Ukraine now. KTS ordered a large generator in Europe, but they said that it can be in Kyiv only after December. I went around the offices saying hello and I talked a little with those who were in the seminary. The offline classes were conducted by two of our teachers Richard Perhai and Mark McDonell. I met Mark’s wife named Donna and had a nice chat with her. I also spoke with the rector of the seminary about the fact that the state of Ukraine does not recognize diplomas of religious educational institutions with some rare exceptions. Therefore, our Protestant chaplain graduates in the Ukrainian army are now mainly appointed to the positions of assistant chaplains, and the Orthodox are appointed to the positions of chaplains, because the Orthodox and Catholics have three licensed educational religious institutions, and the Protestants have only one, but it is in the Russian-occupied Kherson.
There are currently 43 church members in the Way of Truth Church, but some have gone away from the war and have not yet returned, and some of them have already fallen away from the church and possibly from God as well. I think they will not return to Ukraine. It is very sad as a pastor that when the trials came because of the suffering of the war, people fall away from the faith. But we as a church are trying to support the members of the church and for this we conduct offline service, we do several different small groups, and today at 07.30 we opened the preacher’s weekly morning school. Now there are seven preachers in it. Thank God.
I am preparing the eleventh couple for marriage in the church.
I have a dream to make an Olive Branch Ukraine camp for teenagers from military families this summer, even in wartime conditions. You will pray for God’s will and His support in this.
By the grace of God and with your support, “Olive Branch” in Ukraine continues to support the “Pastoral Chaplaincy Leadership” program at the KТS, and for the fall of 2022 we had the following course plan and it has been completed:
1) On September 9, an offline School of Chaplains was held in the city of Cherkasy. The graduation of the school with the presentation of certificates for 19 students took place on October 29, 2022;
2) On September 19-23, online teaching of the “Administration of Chaplain Service” course took place, the teacher was Chaplain US Army David Williams. About 40 students, free listeners and volunteer chaplains were present. I have received positive feedback from students about David’s teaching;
3) October 3-7 online teaching of the course “Preparation and conduct of spiritual training programs”, teacher Stacey Conard, was attended by about 30 students, free listeners and volunteer chaplains. Stacey’s teaching was very positively received by the audience;
4) On October 17-21, I had to teach an offline course “Introduction to Chaplaincy” for the first year of study for 5 students. We were preparing a holiday at the seminary for first-year students on Monday, but the enemy hit Ukraine with 55 missiles and 30 drones, so the seminary decided to teach all students online again. So I taught online again. Thanking God, I had 22 students and free listeners attend the course. That’s more than five!
I hold meetings like this every Tuesday for Olive Branch leaders and members.
Every second Tuesday of the week I have online training from Jeff and Nancy Jernigan on the Civilian Security Program.
I was invited 10/12/2022 as a teacher to a regional conference in the city of Odesa for pastors of this region, because many local churches have a disagreement with their members who are military chaplains.
“Post” or “Present and not finished time”
Today, after 260 days of war, I can say that I have real personal experience of living in a country at war.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a popular topic of training, conferences and seminars in Ukraine today. But now the use of this concept in Ukraine differs from the generally accepted one. The difference is that the word “Post” is not appropriate to use now, because the action of the suffering of war or stress in our country is not yet finished, this action continues. I catch myself because I have traumatic stress, my wife has stress, the believers in the church have a lot of stress. I can’t imagine what feelings people who have no hope in God feel, I can’t imagine what Ukrainian soldiers feel when 75 to 100 of their friends die on the front every day. I know for sure that I have a lot of stress that affects me like a wave. After every alarm signal, turning off the lights and water, bad news from the combat zone, after the shelling of the city where I live, this wave of stress rises uphill, and my motivation and desire to do something goes down rapidly. My human relations in the family, in the church, in society also suffer from these waves. It becomes difficult to communicate, to refrain from irritation and resentment, every little thing can be like a pebble that starts a rockfall, that is, a conflict. I have today, now, not an easy test of God through suffering, this is not the past time, it is the present time. Who will teach me and other people how to live in such stress that lasts a month, a year, or more?
After the rapist leaves, Ukrainians will recover for some time and then decide to forgive the Russian aggressor, but not now. And the topic of love for enemies according to the Bible does not belong here at all, because this topic concerns persecution for faith in Christ, and not a state of hostilities. The enemy must be destroyed, but we have not to enjoy the killing and not to incite rage, as Clive Lewis wrote in the book “Just Christianity”.
Therefore, conversations and sermons about the fact that it is necessary to forgive right now in the conditions of war are not true and even harmful and offensive for Ukrainians, because I emphasize once again that the phase of war or violence in Ukraine is not over, it continues its effect in time.
How, when and who should be forgiven?
In the message to the Ephesian church it is written: 4:32 forgive one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. In the Gospel of Luke 6:37: forgive and you will be forgiven.
Very often I began to hear this phrase during brutal hostilities and violence against the civilian population. As someone insists in his teaching that I or we Ukrainians must forgive the Russians, here is an example for you to understand. If you heard the screams of a child or a woman being raped by a sadist, what would your actions be? Are you going to stand by and say: if you are a Christian, then forgive him?
First, I think the first thing you should do is stop the rapist and tie him up.
Secondly, to calm down the victim and ensure her safety and peace.
And thirdly, tell the girl or woman exactly what Christ said, about forgiveness.
So, people who say that Ukrainians should forgive Russians right now are like a cynical preacher who repeats the words of Jesus without considering the tragedy and pain of the victim. Such a person does not truly love, he does not think that the first thing that should happen is that the act of violence or the war should end first and the victim needs time to gain a sense of security.
Those of you who understand this do not talk about forgiveness, but pray and help Ukraine in every possible way. Thank you very much. There is a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
I liked Jeff Jernigan’s words in his letter to me. Here’s what he wrote to me about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is not something people are contemplating very much at the moment. Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 declares there is a right time for many things including a time to embrace or refrain from embracing, a time to tear and a time to sew, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Forgiveness is a process, not simply an event. Many of the scriptures about forgiveness assume this reality. In time, there will come opportunities to forgive. Over time, if we do not forgive, the result will be bitterness that eats at our very soul. One pastor said it is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. We cannot be demanding about forgiveness, but let the Holy Spirit lead us each to place of wholeness in this matter. The theological section on forgiveness is quite long. Perhaps you can shorten it by acknowledging the challenge and providing some guidance.
Psalm 27 provides considerable comfort for those suffering under the tyranny of disaster and violence”.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;Whom shall I fear?The Lord is the cdefense of my life;Whom shall I dread?2 When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh,My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.3 Though a host encamp against me,My heart will not fear;Though war arise against me,In spite of this I shall be confident.
4 One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,To behold the beauty of the LordAnd to dmeditate in His temple.5 For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;He will lift me up on a rock.6 And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,And be gracious to me and answer me.8 When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”9 Do not hide Your face from me,Do not turn Your servant away in anger;You have been my help;Do not abandon me nor forsake me,O God of my salvation!10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,But the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me Your way, O Lord,And lead me in a level pathBecause of my foes.12 Do not deliver me over to the adesire of my adversaries,For false witnesses have risen against me,And such as breathe out violence.13 I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LordIn the land of the living.14 Wait for the Lord;Be strong and let your heart take courage;Yes, wait for the Lord.
New American Standard Bible, 1995 Edition: Paragraph Version (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ps 27:1–14.
I also hear the following statements: we must love everyone, because it is written in the Bible.
This is indeed in the Bible. But for us to correctly interpret these words, we need to learn to distinguish God’s command to an individual person or God’s command to society, or to the church, as a gathering of people.
So, according to the Bible, we can love other people with brotherly love (Greek phileo), but we cannot and should not love everyone with the highest form of God’s love (Greek agape).
If we love God (Greek agape), then we are able to love (Greek phileo): our wife, children, truth, neighbor, goodness, people of our local church, as well as all those who love God.
Therefore, only those people who believe in Him and are obedient to Him can truly love God.
Psalm 30:24: Love the Lord, all you righteous ones
Deuteronomy 10:19: loves the stranger
Prophet Zechariah 8:19: Love truth and peace
Colossians 3:19: Husbands, love your wives
1 Peter 1:22: Always love one another
1 Peter 2:2: Love the pure milk of the word,
Gospel of John 13:34, 15:17: Love one another (the listeners – Judaic stood around Jesus).
Therefore, all other people who do not believe in God and are not obedient to Him, we should not so much love them as much as we should respect them, but the evil that is present in these people, we should hate, like our Father.
1 Peter’s letter to the church 2:17: Respect everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, respect the king.
Prophet Amos 5:15: Hate evil and love good.
Therefore, God can only be loved by people who believe in Him and are obedient to Him. First of all, we are obliged to love people who believe in God. And we should respect people who do not believe in God, but hate evil in them. Love has different degrees: agape, phileo, eros. Because of our sinful nature, we cannot and should not love everyone equally.
One must love one’s enemies
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus said: Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.
To understand these words, and any others in the Bible, one must understand to whom and under what circumstances they were spoken, that is, the historical and cultural context. Then your theology will be Christ’s. These words apply to me or you personally, the words of Jesus are 100% true. But if the sphere of application of these words is different, for example, the sphere of my family, city or country, then these words cannot be applied in the same way here.
Remember Jesus’ command to the disciples to sell their clothes and buy themselves weapons for self-defense. Remember the words of Jesus? Luke 22:36: … sell your clothes and buy a sword;
I will remind you that I am not talking about my personal enemy and not about those enemies who want to destroy my church for faith.
I’m talking about a different case, that is, about an enemy who climbs into my house. I can kill such an enemy legally (the book Exodus).
I am talking about such an enemy who destroys my home, my family, my country, who wants to destroy my nation. Such an enemy must be destroyed, and then talk about forgiveness.
I forgive such an enemy in two cases.
1. When he is defeated and I see his surrender.
2. When he will apologize to me and the country, or will no longer be able to threaten others, as happened with the empires, which today are no longer on the world map.
If they hit you on one cheek, turn the other
Whoever slaps you on the cheek, give him a friend too, and whoever wants to take your cloak, don’t forbid your shirt either. (Luke 6:29)
Who often repeats these words today?
I think that a person who has no experience of waging war in the city of his residence and does not understand the fear of artillery shelling, aerial and rocket bombardment. It is difficult for many people outside of Ukraine to understand the effects of fear. They are afraid that they may be killed, maimed, raped right in their own homes. And our Russians do it en masse.
Almost all of the churches of Ukraine and ours switched to the Gregorian calendar, so we do not plan to celebrate two Christmases and two Easters. On November 20, we have Thanksgiving, December 25 is Christmas. Every year, our church collects from 30 to 50 gifts for children with its own funds and sends them to children who live near the war zone.
Thank you all again for your support and prayers. Thank you to all of you who receive my update letters and remember us and pray. This means that you also help Ukraine and serve the needy people of the country in Ukraine, who have endured Russian aggression for 260 days, many of them do not have housing, food, water, medical care, work, security.
A short addendum to my letter from Jeanа Szegedа.
The women’s service consisted primarily of establishing a connection with the sisters who, due to military actions, were displaced by the war throughout Ukraine and abroad. Then we managed to organize weekly women’s meetings in ZOOM – every Monday for prayer and support. Caroline Grub and Linda were invited to the meeting. The American sisters suggested holding thematic international meetings every first Monday of the month. So we held meetings on the topic of “Compassion”, “Hope”, “Loyalty” and others. Such meetings were attended by women from Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Bulgaria, as well as from areas where hostilities are taking place. They went out without lights, explosions could be heard, our prayers were a great support for all of us. Help was provided to a sister in Kropyvnytskyi (medicines were sent for the military unit, where Sister Valya Syzenko is serving). A women’s service was held in Irpen for women who lost their homes as a result of Russian shelling, involving children from large families of believers. The victims were presented with bedding and a set of household chemicals sewn by Halyna Danyuk’s sister. A visit was also held for the purpose of spiritual communication with the transfer of a set of farm products, a set of fruits, books “Prayer Book of the Ukrainian”, dry food for the animals they saved from their farm – dogs and cats.
The service of the women’s Christian club “Anna” in Ivano-Frankivsk is actively developing – a Christmas service for military families is being prepared. Women’s Christian club “Esther” (Alexandria, Kirovohrad region) held a service for elderly single women. Ukrainian women of the “Olive Branch” raised funds for the intelligence group, where Cheremisyna’s nephew Tetyana, a resident of Kherson, is fighting. In Dnipro, the online prayer group is led by Anna Yermalayeva, who is in Poland as a refugee. We ask for prayers for our sisters in the diaspora and in Ukraine. Thank you for the prayers and support of the American sisters! May God bless you all, brothers and sisters!
Information from senior hospital chaplain Mykola Dudko from CherkasyOur soldiers Aare very brave and courageous. These are heroes. They are being treated in our hospital. And after recovery, they rush to their brothers again, to protect our earth … We, as chaplains, constantly support them, for Wwhich. Soldiers do not want to be photographed (for security reasons).
Knowing that members of the olive brand have worked in the hospital for a long time as medical chaplains and have a lot of expertise, he was invited to participate. It is needed for the introduction of medical chaplaincy in health Care Institutions.
I add to the letter a file with advertising for the introduction of hospital chaplaincy in Ukraine with the Participation of Olive BranchThank you for letting me know you on this earth and for being with God.May God bless you abundantly.
I wish that we have in the soul a peace from God.
President of the Public organization “Olive Branch” Ukrainewww.olivebranch.org.ua
Program director of “Pastors-Chaplains Leadership” of the Kiev Theological Seminary
+38 097 9638406
This letter was translated by an electronic translator, so I apologize in advance for any errors that you may have noticed.