Save a pastor: How to prevent turning heroes into martyrs



2014/08/15 • Analysis & Opinion

by Yaroslav Malko, President of Global Christian Support (Kiev and Atlanta, Georgia)

It’s not a secret to anyone that the LNR and DNR militarized groups don’t honor evangelical pastors at all. Recent arrests and killings are proof of that. A few weeks ago I started seeing messages from some church workers about how they are impressed by the bravery of the pastors who didn’t leave occupied cities and are continuing to conduct services there… It sounds good, seems nice… Here is one such message: (Names of the church and workers are deleted)

“It was a big inspiration for me to hear from Pastor XX that none of the churches of ‘XXX’ were closed and that services are continuing to be held in all regions of Ukraine, including Donetsk, Kramatorsk, and other cities located in the danger zone.

And I, frankly, am impressed with the courageousness of our pastors. They are brave people, who do not leave the church. They risk their well-being and their lives to continue to serve God.”

To be honest, I am just as impressed with them, but I have a few questions:

1. Could pastors, by setting the example of not moving out of the war zone, unintentionally place themselves and other people under gun fire (which is no longer a death for Christ)?

2. Keeping in mind the intolerance of many “rebels” toward Evangelical Christianity, aren’t we turning large gatherings into great targets for arrests and roundups  –  and pastors and leaders into ideal subjects for kidnappings?

3. Wouldn’t it be better if church workers organized a temporary move for themselves and their people and, instead of heroic words, found churches, homes, finances, and help for the temporary relief of refugees?

4. Is it possible for those who, for one reason or another, can’t move to gather in small groups at nearby houses for prayers and to receive their spiritual teaching via internet or phone?

5. Is it possible to leave only dedicated leaders in the cities– without their other family members?

6. We are not North Korea, where people don’t have a choice… maybe instead of uplifting words, people just need a helping hand?

I would love to hear your point of view on these questions.


Translated by Larisa Tustin, edited by Lisa Spencer and Elizabeth Martin



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  • Jon Hill

    As a pastor in the UK, who has been working with evangelical churches in Donbass, Sumy and Poltava for several years, I think I may be able to provide some insight.

    First, understand that the Christian church was born under persecution in Israel, and nurtured under persecution in Rome. Throughout the USSR, despite being illegal, the church survived underground, as it did in China, and still does in much of the world, including North Korea and much of the Islamic world. My entire life, I’ve been supporting persecuted Christians around the world.

    The Bible provides much instruction on two things – help the needy, and expect persecution for the faith. These two themes run throughout the Word, front to back. Without criticising Orthodox Christians (who I count as friends), Evangelicals read the Bible much more, and so have this knowledge at least in the back of their minds. When situations like this arise, the challenge before them is clear – risk persecution if it’s required to help the needy. The greater the need, the greater the requirement to help. See Matt 25 for details…

    Onto specific answers

    1: A Pastor wishing to set an example for his flock is one thing, but any responsible Pastor would have to make it abundantly clear that there is no obligation on his followers to stay in danger. Otherwise, he’s putting others in danger, which isn’t his choice to make. In this instance, he’s being an unfit shepherd. This doesn’t preclude him from creating a mission to help those suffering in the area, inviting those who CHOOSE to stay and help to do so. Also, given that many who want to leave the area are unable to, the continuation of church services for them isn’t a bad thing (although common sense suggests doing so as safely as possible).

    2: I agree that there’s no sense in making a target of oneself. Church meetings are as valid in ones home as in a ‘temple’ building. Jesus said “I will build my church”, but he didn’t use bricks to do it. The church is the people, not the building. However, it’s important to note that, along with the terrorists knowing exactly where the church building is, those who are in need do, too. At my church, I often get people turning up at the door because they’re in a desperate situation, and don’t know where to turn. In such a situation as this, I’d be tempted to leave the church open in case desperate people need help, and wouldn’t otherwise know where do find it. I wouldn’t necessarily insist on holding services there, though.

    3: As above, Evangelical churches are typically heavily involved in helping those in need, as you suggest. The churches I work with in Sumy and Mariupol run orphanages, rehab centres and more, and this is the work I partner with them in doing. Once again, see Matt 25. Our modern interpretation of the word Charity comes from translations of the Biblical use of the word Love. Charitable institutions are a Christian invention.

    4: While I’ve agreed in (2) that it’s possible to meet in different ways, Acts 2 records church life as including fellowship, or meeting together. Many of your ideas would work, except for over-the-phone lessons. Church is about learning and worshiping together, with the ‘together’ bit being an essential part of the process. Small group meetings would work, though.

    5: As stated, the practice of Christianity is the practice of helping others. Dedicated leaders should lead people in doing this as much as any other part of Christian life (as long as there remains no pressure, as in (1))

    6: I think you’ll find that, in the poorest areas of the world, it’s the church who are giving the only helping hands people are getting – including North Korea. I knew western missionaries who went into the USSR and Maoist China, risking death. Today, I work with those who help in Ukraine (I know several missionaries there right now, who are there to help people with both uplifting words and helping hands), and who combat human trafficking around the world. My colleagues also help the homeless in several nations, run food-banks in the UK, rehab centres, clinics and more, in any country they exist. The church was the first into Haiti, post-Katrina New Orleans, and pretty much every major disaster you can imagine. I’ll assume you know who it was who gave the Slavic race their first written language? It aint called Cyrillic for nothing!