Dearest friends in Christ,
Greetings and peace to you! I pray that you and your loved ones are well, and that your Lenten journey has been blessed. Although Orthodox believers follow a different calendar than that of Protestant and Catholic churches, this year all three Christians traditions will celebrate Easter Sunday on April 20. Thus, in the coming days, Christians worldwide will remember and commemorate the most holy days in the life of Jesus Christ--his last supper and betrayal on Maundy Thursday, his crucifixion and burial on Good Friday, and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Throughout this Holy Week, let us be united in giving thanks to God for the life and ministry of the Son Jesus, and for the gifts of forgiveness and redemption we receive through our faith in the resurrection.
As I have shared with you in recent letters, the past few months have been extraordinarily difficult for the people of Ukraine. Peaceful protests in the center of Kyiv against the government's policies turned violent at the end of November, with riot police beating and detaining dozens of unarmed civilians. In response, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians demonstrated against the use of state violence, and turned the center of Kyiv into a massive protest camp.
These demonstrations remained generally peaceful until February, when scuffles between protesters and riot police led to the storming of the protest camp; the days-long street battle between protesters and the police left about 100 dead and many hundreds injured. The upheaval led the (former) President Victor Yanukovich to flee Ukraine, and resulted in a new government being elected to serve the country.
Since those tumultuous events, the streets in Kyiv have remained calm, but the conflict has spread to other parts of Ukraine. In March, Russian forces invaded Crimea, a move that resulted in this southern Ukrainian peninsula being annexed by Russia. Tens of thousands of Russian forces are now positioned along Russia's western border with Ukraine, and pro-Russian demonstrators armed with automatic weapons have occupied many government buildings in eastern Ukraine. There is a great fear that even a small provocation in this volatile region could spark an invasion by Russian troops across the border into eastern Ukraine.
Throughout these difficult months, congregations of the United Methodist Church in Ukraine have been fervently praying for a peaceful end to the violence. The conflict is not over, and so we remain in prayer, awaiting the next developments and striving to proclaim the gospel message of peace. In these dark moments, we have found strength and comfort in the support of our many friends around the world who have been joining us in prayer.
Thanks to God's grace, in the midst of these challenges the ministry of the UMC in Kyiv continues. Our Kyiv Church Center remains in operation, hosting numerous educational, artistic, and spiritual programs for children and women through the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, the congregations of Spring of Life UMC and St. Luke's UMC gather for worship and fellowship; special worship services are now being prepared for Easter weekend. This month the Church Center initiated an new outreach ministry to families who have fled the violence in Crimea and have relocated to a temporary shelter in Kyiv. In the coming weeks, we will be providing these families with limited humanitarian assistance, and working with community leaders to organize volunteers who will offer supplemental educational and developmental support for families in need.
Recently our Bishop, Eduard Khegay, traveled from Moscow to western Ukraine to visit with our pastors and offer his support and prayers during this difficult time. You may read his personal reflection on the current situation below.
In closing, I join with Bishop Eduard in asking you to continue to pray for peace for the people of Ukraine. Pray that the current political crisis may be resolved without further violence, and with a commitment to justice and the rule of law. And please pray for the people and leaders of the United Methodist Church in Ukraine, as we seek to show mercy to those affected by this crisis, and proclaim Christ's gospel of love and peace to hearts that may have become hardened by this conflict.
In these most holy days, may we all find the courage to follow Christ, who forgave those who betrayed him, gave hope to the hopeless, and stood with the suffering. And may we also find the courage to claim the gifts that Christ offers all those who follow him: forgiveness, salvation, resurrection to new life.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. John Calhoun
GBGM missionary in service with the UMC of Ukraine
Bishop Khegay Offers a Prayer for Ukraine
My prayer is for Ukraine, for peace and unity. My prayer is for Ukraine – this is a song of our brothers and sisters from The United Methodist Church in Kiev.
During our meeting of pastors and leaders of United Methodist Church in Ukraine last week, we lifted up our prayers for the people and the country, for peace and unity. Brothers and sisters shared their worries and concerns for the country’s future.
Many could not come from the east to Zakarpatie where we have had our meeting. As I was preaching in our churches in Zakarpatie, my heart was filled with grace and faith, when brothers and sisters with tears in their eyes lifted up their prayers to God for their country.
In this politically conflicting time, the church continues to share the gospel way – the way of active ministry to people, preaching of hope and faith, proclamation of God’s power and providence in the history of humankind. According to testimonies of brothers and sisters from different cities, Christian churches never prayed so fervently for their country and for their people as in this difficult time. Also, people were never so open for the gospel and for prayer as in this time.
I thank God for United Methodist churches in Ukraine, who bring hope and reconciliation to people in this difficult time, encourage people and serve those in need. Let us all stand in prayer for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, for all people and country. My prayer is for Ukraine.
Bishop Eduard Khegay
The United Methodist Church in Eurasia