Baptist lay preacher Turchynov elected as interim presidentcomment (0)
March 6, 2014
A Baptist lay preacher has been elected as Ukraine’s interim president, prompting calls for Christians to pray for the beleaguered nation and its new leader.
New interim president Oleksandr Turchynov was the right-hand man of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister imprisoned by Viktor Yanukovych when Yanukovych became president in 2010. The former prime minister was released immediately following Yanukovych’s removal from office Feb. 23, an ousting that came on the heels of a three-month-long protest movement in Kiev, the nation’s capital.
Parliament voted Turchynov interim president until early elections take place in May. Turchynov serves at an Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine church called Slovo Zhizni, or Word of Life.
Nik Ripken, an expert on the persecuted church and 25-year veteran with the International Mission Board (IMB), said Baptists in Ukraine have a reputation, a moral base, that dates back to their witness to the government during the days of the Soviet Union. Ripken visited with many of Ukraine’s Baptist leaders in 1998 to hear and record the stories of their faith and persecution in that era.
“Now they are reaping the rewards of that witness and moral fiber,” he said. “We must pray that they do not lose in power what they held so dear in opposition.”
Support from public, Baptists
Tim Johnson, an IMB worker in Kiev, said Turchynov is generally well liked by the public and has a reputation for being honest and trustworthy.
“My Ukrainian friends have expressed pride that a Baptist can hold such a role in a majority Orthodox country,” Johnson said.
In a Christianity Today article, Valery Antonyuk, vice president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, said, “But on behalf of the Church we must ... speak the whole truth; we must say that which is still hard to accept and fulfill; that, which is a precondition for a better future. Therefore the Church calls the Ukrainian nation to more than just feelings of human justice — to Christian forgiveness, grace and reconciliation. We pray to God for repentance for the guilty.
“In order to unite the nation, in order to reconcile its various parts, its various social, cultural and political groups, laws and justice are not enough. Without repentance, grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, the country will remain divided and in conflict,” he said.
The All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christians-Baptists is a member organization of the Baptist World Alliance and has more than 121,000 members in more than 2,300 churches.
In the midst of changes on the political front, Ukrainian believers continue to share Christ faithfully in Independence Square. Since Feb. 23, Ukrainians have flooded the city center to honor the protesters who died in the conflict and to mourn corporately the loss of life and the destruction. News sources vary on the number of deaths, but most agree that more than 80 people died and thousands were wounded.
Pavel Unguryan, director of the International Mission Department for Ukrainian Baptists, said, “During all these days of protests and confrontations the Christian community in Ukraine has been the light and the salt for both parties.”
Unguryan, who was a member of Parliament in Ukraine from 2008 to 2012, said Christian doctors, nurses, cooks, students and other Christian groups “have been helping whenever there was a need.” Unguryan said that the national crisis led “churches and even denominations to get united in prayer and fasting for peace and God’s intervention.”
Unguryan suggested there is much work left to be done. “Many people have much anger and hatred for opponents. People are disappointed in all politicians and do not want to forgive anyone.”
He believes the Church can bring healing. “We need to face this challenge with Christ. What Ukraine needs is not just a change of people in authority but a change of the system. ... Ukraine needs Christ.”