A few weeks ago, three SBS staff members attended a United Bible Societies Induction in Ukraine. Our Head of Bible Engagement, Adrian Armstrong, talks about what he, Rachael and Caroline got up to and the lessons they learned.
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” ~ 2 Cor 10:4-5, NIVUK
A few weeks ago, we sat in Bible House in Kiev and listened spellbound to stories of how the Bible is changing lives in Ukraine. During the week of our visit there was great anxiety about a Russian military exercise taking place on the border of the country, a reminder of the ongoing conflict that still rages between Ukraine and Russia.
Outside of the grandeur of the city centre, the economic challenges of the nation were clear to see.
Yet in the midst of these challenging times, the Ukrainian Bible Society can tell a story of new lives in Christ, made possible through the Scriptures.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, within a culture where distrust and suspicion were the norm, the Ukrainian Bible Society sought to bring the church together around the Bible. The results of this hard-won unity were visibly present around the table during our meeting in Kiev, as leaders from Russian Orthodox, Seventh Day Adventist, Pentecostal, Baptist and other denominations greeted each other and shared a platform, their every interaction evidence of the strong and warm relationships that exist between them. With all their differences, they spoke as one, proclaiming the vital importance of scripture for Christian faith, and of the need to distribute the Scriptures in Ukraine, that more and more people might come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps most memorable was the contribution from the leader of the 800 military chaplains who are active at the front with Russia, a chaplaincy function that was only recently formed after the independence struggle of 2014. This leader of chaplains had been a highly accomplished officer within the Soviet army. While Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union, he began writing a PhD on the influence and superiority of the writings of Lenin, the Russian revolutionary. As part of his research, this officer read the Bible. Through reading the Bible, he encountered Jesus Christ, and became a Christian. Now, many decades later he takes the Scriptures that changed his life to soldiers in the Ukrainian army. Fresh from the front, this leader told stories of how soldiers were receiving the Word of God in their own language, reading the Bible, and turning to Christ.
The current conflict in Ukraine is being used by God to bring many people to faith through the distribution of the Scriptures. But the context to this incredible growth in Christianity is 25 years of Bible distribution. Since the Berlin wall came down in 1991, the Ukrainian Bible Society has distributed over 10 million Bibles, to a population of around 44 million. We witnessed first-hand the distribution of the Scriptures in a children’s cancer ward and a special needs school, part of a programme run by the Ukrainian Bible Society to reach the many vulnerable and needy children of the nation.
Also present that afternoon in Kiev were colleagues from Bible Societies in Kazakhstan (70% Muslim), Kyrgyzstan (80% Muslim), and Azerbaijan (98% Muslim). The testimony of the Ukrainian Bible Society, and in particular the officer’s story about his conversion while under Soviet rule to Christianity, gave us great hope for our colleagues in these nations. In their context, the open distribution of scriptures that takes place in Ukraine is not possible. Yet despite the risks and the opposition, they continue to distribute the Scriptures, and lives are being changed.
Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, ESVUK). Empires, walls and opposition come and go, but the church of Jesus Christ flourishes and grows. And around the world, in times of opposition and in times of openness, the great seed of that growth remains the living Word of God.