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Ukraine: Adventists tell stories of hope, part 4

Ukraine: Adventists tell stories of hope, part 4

A view of the city of Sloviansk (credit: D. Mishenin)

Donetsk, Ukraine, July 30, 2014 [Adventist Review; CD EUDNews]. Everyone in eastern Ukraine has been affected by the three months of unrest, and pastors have found it especially difficult to meet with their congregations.

July 31, 2014 | Adventist Review; CD EUDNews

Donetsk, Ukraine [Adventist Review; CD EUDNews]. Everyone in eastern Ukraine has been affected by the three months of unrest, and pastors have found it especially difficult to meet with their congregations.

Lev P. Vertylo, president of the Eastern Ukrainian Mission, had to drive through a total of 16 manned checkpoints during a recent trip to check on local churches. Armed men at 10 of the checkpoints pointed guns at his chest — and once at his head — and demanded money and weapons.

Ruslan M. Demchun, pastor of two churches in the towns of Kreminna and Rubizhne, came under gunfire as he walked through a forest to reach a worship service in Rubizhne. Demchun, who decided to walk after learning he couldn’t travel by car, escaped the attack unharmed.

“Arriving in Rubizhne, he stayed with the members for three days, encouraging, exhorting and praying with the church,” the Mission statement said.

Over the past three months, three other pastors have been briefly detained and questioned by armed men before being released, local leaders said.

Adventist car owners have faced especially serious restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Armed men attempted to seize the car belonging to a pastor in the city of Donetsk and were in the process of removing the car’s license plates when several passersby intervened and demanded that the assailants back off, the local leaders said. The men reluctantly left.

Another group of armed men tried to confiscate a minivan belonging to a Luhansk pastor but then inexplicably changed their minds.

However, an Adventist member in Kramatorsk lost her 32-year-old nephew when armed men attempted to take his car one night, said the pastor of the local church. The nephew resisted and was shot in the chest and both legs. With no working ambulances in the city, the man bled to death, leaving a wife and a child.

Since the conflict began, all church services in eastern Ukraine begin and end with prayers for a return to peace, for the families of those killed and injured, and for the salvation of loved ones, the Eastern Ukrainian Mission said.

Some church members have remarkable stories to tell.

A retired pastor, Ivan Gaina, was sleeping in the basement of his apartment building in downtown Kramatorsk one night when an explosion blew out all the windows in his fifth-floor apartment. About the same time, three artillery shells landed in the nearby apartment belonging to his Adventist daughter and her husband, breaking the windows and damaging the walls. Three days later, Gaina and his family left the city.

Also in Kramatorsk, a retired couple living in a private house emerged from their cellar hideout one morning to find five large craters caused by BM-21 rockets in what was once their vegetable garden. The house’s windows also were broken, and the roof was damaged. But the damage was relatively minor. Several of their neighbors’ houses had burned to the ground.

While Adventist church members said they were thanking God for His mercy, they underscored that they also were actively assisting those who were suffering and were praying more than ever, including for the armed men who still control parts of eastern Ukraine.

“As Adventist leaders, pastors and church members,” Biaggi said, “we want to follow Christ's advice and the wonderful appeal found in His famous speech from the side of the mountain: ‘You have heard that it was said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’"

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