Baptisms, marriages, births in Ukraine during the war
LVIV, Ukraine (BP) – Nearly a month into Russia’s war on Ukraine, Yarsolav “Slavik” Pyzh, a Southern Baptist-trained church planter and educator, has had a normal day.
“This Sunday was probably one of my normal days in the last 29 days,” Pyzh, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary (UBTS) and founding pastor of Journey Church in Lviv, told Baptist Press. On March 20, with 10 million displaced Ukrainian war refugees, Vlad and Khrystyna Kryshchuk were married at Journey Church.
“The first thing is that it’s not the time for weddings, so it’s a bit difficult to do all these things. But they come from very, very small families. So we decided to help them, “said Pyzh said.He, his wife Nadya and another pastor prepared food for a whole day, he said, in preparation for the wedding and the reception.
“I really enjoyed that day. It was such a beautiful day. It was like a day from that previous normal life.
Weddings, baptisms and births continue in Ukraine as many flee the country and others stay. UBTS has suspended classes and is conducting humanitarian aid on its campus about an hour from the Polish border, and plans to open a humanitarian and evangelism site in Poland in April.
“In areas that are not directly threatened or fired upon, they have everything as usual,” Pyzh said. “This Sunday we are going to have another wedding in our church, so people are getting baptized, they are getting married, children are being born. Life goes on, despite all the evil in the world.
Churches and other religious centers in the most immediate war zone were damaged, with churches in Mariupol heavily damaged, as well as the Irpin Bible Seminary in Kyiv.
“The churches in the areas where the fighting is taking place,” Pyzh said, “they are permanently damaged, because nothing survives the Russian artillery.”
Journey Church baptized a new believer on March 14.
“Last Monday we had a christening on the top floor of our roof, it wasn’t really a logistical christening because we didn’t have like…a thing to overwhelm a person,” Pyzh said. “So we just poured water on top of this lady, because she was leaving.”
Zhenya, a new believer and mother of four young children, had completed the months-long discipleship program that Journey Church conducts with avowed believers before baptism.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to leave Ukraine without being baptized. Could you help me ? said Pyzh. “Usually we have baptisms on Sundays when you have a service, but we had this one on Monday, and it was quite difficult to find a place where you could…a place with water, like the do all Baptists.”
Instead, one of the Journey Church pastors performed the baptism by pouring a bucket full of water over Zhenya’s head.
“She left Ukraine with her four children and she left as a baptized person, so she was happy. The church was happy,” he said. “It was really improvisation.”
Pyzh, who earned a doctorate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, led UBTS to respond to war with compassion and courage and to pray for a multi-faceted miracle.
Russia bombed Lviv airport a week ago, with missiles exploding just 30 miles from the UBTS campus.
“It was the first time in my life that I saw cruise missiles explode,” Pyzh said. “I have to admit it was weird and scary.”
After the explosion, the seminary evacuated a group of women and children who were housed there and has plans in place should further evacuations be required. With the financial support and prayers of Southern Baptists and others, UBTS has helped thousands of refugees flee Ukraine and sent supplies to points in central and eastern Ukraine, including the capital of Kviv.
Lviv will be in more immediate danger if Belarus, a Russian ally on Ukraine’s northwest border, joins Russia in the fight, as many have speculated.
“It’s going to bring more escalation,” Pyzh said, “and the fact is that Lviv is not that far from Belarus. It’s going to be a direct threat to us. So we’ve evacuated our wives and children, but if the escalation goes well, we’ll start evacuating our female staff, and that’s going to be the direct implication of this escalation, to get the women out of here.
“Unfortunately, soldiers, women and war (are) not a good combination.”
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered all Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 to stay in the country to fight, Pyzh is likely to be left out of the fighting because he is carrying out humanitarian aid.
“There is probably an exemption for pastors. If I don’t want to fight with a weapon, then I can do another job,” he said. “But everyone will have to do something. … Yes, I’m under (Zelenskyy’s edict) so it could possibly happen.
As the world watches and reacts, Ukraine for a month held back a military presence far larger than its own, preventing Russia from taking kyiv and much of Ukraine.
“Here in Ukraine, we have been independent (from the former USSR) for 30 years, so we have a pretty good idea of what freedom is, and we really appreciate freedom,” Pyzh said. “It is better to be, I suppose, dead than to live in Russia.
“Even with Russian propaganda, we haven’t seen many Ukrainian soldiers giving up. … People are fighting to the last breath.