Early in my military career, Ukraine was one of the Soviet Union’s Republics, and the Soviet Union was a place we could not freely travel to. It was a place of many unknowns to those of the so-called western world. When I was in the seventh grade, I checked out a book from the school library that told of the Soviet equivalent of the Boy Scouts, the Young Pioneers. Reading that book, I became fascinated by the Soviet Union. I even took a course in Russian history when I was in college as an engineering major in the early 1980s.
During my military career in the late 1980s, I was stationed in Germany where we spent our time training and preparing for war against the Soviet Union. While we were still in Germany, the Berlin Wall came down, and later, the Soviet Union collapsed as each Soviet Socialist Republic declared its own independence, including Ukraine. Toward the end of my military career, when I had the opportunity to choose a country from several choices for duty as a military attaché, I chose Ukraine because to me, it was still a mystery country and a country that had aspirations for EU and NATO membership, and I wanted to be a part of that, that is bringing a former enemy into the fold so to speak. My wife, Kelly, and I had no idea how much we would become endeared to the nation and people of Ukraine.
Ukraine is a country of people of great skill, intellect, and talent and who, deep down, possess hearts of selfless service. Ukraine to me is a clear demonstration that no man or woman can do anything lasting and significant on their own. Despite the great strengths and talents of the people, the country has a long history of being on the receiving end of repression and oppression, and it seems they can never get a break. The reality and root of the situation hit me one day while sitting in a Sunday worship service at the Kyiv International Fellowship. As we sat in the warmth of the church service, a realization came to me that we were living in a land oppressed by spiritual darkness. If spiritual armies of angels waged spiritual battles in the spiritual realm (they most certainly do), then Ukraine and the larger area of the former Soviet Union were in enemy held territory. I could physically feel the evil and the darkness, but at the same time even back in the mid-2000s, I could sense a weakness in the enemy’s battle lines in that country. A new light was dawning, and it was beginning to drive the darkness away. A recent IMB article summarized the state of affairs in Ukraine after independence saying, “After years of praying and paying dearly for their faith, God brought religious freedom to the country. Since that time Ukraine has become the Bible Belt of Eastern Europe. It is the hub of evangelical life throughout the former Soviet Union, leading the way in new churches and sending missionaries” (https://www.imb.org/2019/09/25/standing-on-our-knees-2/).
One clear result of the light coming to Ukraine is in the form of a faithful couple, Andriy and Tania Bodrov. This amazing couple faithfully direct OBI/OBU English Camp in Ukraine every summer. A few years ago, I learned that Andriy and I were born two days apart. Each of us were born into two very different world situations, and each of us took paths as soldiers of our respective militaries preparing and training to do battle to death. Tony Evans, in Victory in Spiritual Warfare says, “everything physical is either influenced or caused by something spiritual…whatever has gone on, or will go on in your visible, physical world is rooted in the invisible, spiritual realm.” The physical threat of a Soviet Union – NATO war has gone away, but spiritual warfare still rages, and it manifests in a very physical way, still threatening and holding captive souls of Ukraine. One of those souls who came to English Camp last summer is Anya, a 16-year typical teenager, very intelligent, aspires to be a lawyer. As with many in Ukraine, she is disillusioned with her government leaders, and she probably has fears rooted in the physical war with Russia. On the last day of camp, during the evening service when the campers are invited to the front of the room for prayer and blessing, she was one of three youth who chose to not go forward. Each year, there are a few campers who do not go forward. She said she was not yet ready to believe, and she was crying as she said it. Throughout the week, she asked us Americans why would we spend our money and time to be at a summer camp in Ukraine. She probably imagined many other more luxurious and “fun” things that we rich Americans could have been doing. The next day, as the campers were departing, she thanked us for being so nice and for the wonderful camp, and she promised that she would consider everything she had been told at camp. Some weeks later, Pastor David received an email from her thanking him for his teaching and for everything she learned and experienced, and she told him that she now believes. I could go on with stories about nearly every camper, including our three “tough guys” who melted like butter as the warm rays of the Gospel and the smiles and laughter of camp penetrated them like the summer sun.
Ukraine matters because we believe God has a divine and special purpose for Ukraine and its people. Ukraine is front and center in the news these days and it is in the center of our own national politics. You cannot make this stuff up. The battle for that land and its people continues to rage fiercely, and I am talking about the spiritual battle. Referencing Paul’s message to the Ephesians (6:10-12) Tony Evans says, “People are simply conduits of the spiritual battle taking place in another realm.” We are blessed to be used by God in the land called Ukraine, working closely with the people of Ukraine. We no longer face each other across physical battle lines as we did 30 years ago. We are now joined together in Christ fighting to free the captured souls, who then themselves suit up with the full armor of God and stand against the forces of darkness that covered that land for so long.
Thank you for joining us in this battle.
Board of Directors
Jim and Kelly Molloy serve on the OBI Board. Jim retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2011, and he was the U.S. Defense Attaché to Ukraine from 2005 to 2008.