Stirrings in the Ukraine
One New Man is alive and well in the unlikeliest of places …
An insightful report into the Messianic Congregations, Jewish life and history in Ukraine today and how the concept of One New Man is being worked out there.
The Ukraine is not a country that many would consider visiting for a holiday, but, when one has a heart for ministry, God can take a person, or group of people, anywhere. This was the case when I received a flyer in the post from David House, a ministry headed by Piers Arthur-Crow in Hove, near Brighton, advertising a prayer and study tour of the Ukraine. It was billed to cover the unique and very sad Holocaust history there, to meet and fellowship with local Messianic believers in Kiev and Dnipro and to learn about the troubled history of this former Soviet country and also of the Jews, past and present.
I mentioned this to two good friends and they too wanted to come, and so we formed a Northern Irish contingent of a 12-man group from the UK, set to travel in late June 2019. Piers' assistant translator and guide met us at the airport in Kiev, where we soon got acquainted with the rest of the group. The Hotel Bratislava in Kiev (Kyiv) was very grand with marble floors and dark polished wood furnishings, over-manned with black-suited security men with very severe expressions who spoke no English at all. We were introduced to many kinds of foods new to our palates and the original world-famous Chicken Kiev.
The story so far …
Piers explained the history of the Messianic movement in the country, which included some political history of the nation as the borders changed and the various overlords came and went over the centuries, the last being Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. I remember this time from living in Israel, when many Russian speaking Jews, including Ukrainians were free to make Aliyah to Israel for the first time. I remember giving a Bible to a Ukrainian lady who worked with me in the Tel-Aviv Hilton then, who started crying because it was in her own language, not Russian. This was when I first discovered how fiercely nationalistic the Ukrainian people are in asserting their own culture as an independent nation free from Russian and Communist control.
The Messianic congregations are thriving in Ukraine today due to the new freedoms afforded to Jewish people and the Ukraine is the only country in the world, apart from Israel, that has both a Jewish president and prime minister. Nevertheless, there is much anti-Semitic feeling in the country that stems historically from the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which teaches vitriol against the Jews and view themselves only as the people of God in His plans.
Jewish missionary Leon Rosenberg served in Odessa in the early 1900s with the British Mildmay Mission, founding day schools and other institutions among the Jews there, followed up by work also in Kiev and Dnipro, so there was a growing Messianic community before WWI. Modern missionaries and organisations took advantage of the new opportunities after the Soviet demise which led to a rebirth and building up of the former efforts from the previous century. In 1994, a festival of Jewish music and dance was held in the country, lasting three days, during which hundreds were saved, one Jew to another, with crowds of 20,000 - 30,000 at a time!
From that early sowing of seed came the Messianic Body of today. In Ukraine, due to the religious suppression under Communism, it is common for people to get saved and afterwards realise that they are actually Jewish!
We were privileged to visit two Messianic congregations during our stay, one in Kiev and another in Dnipro, another important and beautiful city in Ukraine. In Kiev, we met with two pastors in the hotel and learned much about their needs and daily life experiences. They do have congregational links in Israel, and some are considering Aliyah, but Messianic life is healthy in Ukraine. We drove to an outlying district of Kiev where we filed through a heavy door with a Menorah on it, into a beautiful orchard garden reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, where a group of believers along with the pastor made us most welcome in the balmy summer evening. We sang songs led by guitar in broken English, Hebrew and Ukrainian. "This is the day that the LORD had made..." and then a moving rendition of How Great Thou Art in Russian, a very popular hymn in those parts.
Perhaps the most moving part of the trip was our visit to Baba-Yar, a ravine where so many Jews were led and shot, in some cases by their own neighbours during the Holocaust. We left the site in silence. The Holocaust in Ukraine is called 'the Holocaust of Bullets,' and is unique in the cruelty meted out by their own countrymen, killing even women and children without mercy, allowing one bullet per person. It is said that the bodies in the grave would writhe and take up to three days to die. It left a chill in our spines.
However, in Dnipro our hearts were lifted when we went to the Messianic congregation there. We had visited a military museum which seemed to still hold uncomfortable remembrances from the former Soviet era and we also enjoyed learning about the rich Cossack connection in the Ukraine on Khortisiya island. But meeting the Messianic believers in person was definitely the spiritual highlight of the tour. The congregation were dancing in two groups when we entered the sanctuary, men and women separately, but they all smiled and waved as we filed in, beckoning us to join them, which most of us did. On the walls were murals each one representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel with their names in Ukrainian script.
The atmosphere was like a foretaste of heaven, reminding me of the verse in Revelation where the saints are made up of every tribe and tongue and nation. Despite the language difficulties, we managed to pray with each other at the front and to share our testimonies through an interpreter. Six people came up to me as I sat in a chair with my walking stick, each praying individually, including two elderly ladies in headscarves who pointed to my stick and then up to heaven and began to intercede on my behalf. One man said I would "lose the stick" and "go to America!" I pondered afterwards on such an impromptu time of genuine and heartfelt fellowship between believers in Yeshua. For me this was definitely experiencing One New Man in Ukraine.
Glory to Yeshua
One song they kept singing that night resonated in my head: 'Yeshua Slava, Yeshua Slava'. We asked what we were singing and they said, 'Glory to Yeshua.' The same word Slava carries the meaning of the word ‘Slavic’, the peoples that make up Ukraine and other countries in the region with Slava in their names like Bratislava. It has the same link to 'glorious' as a people and nation, but it was most fitting to give glory to the One most worthy of it.
A Light to the Gentiles …
One thing that stood out during the trip was just to learn from the Messianic Jews and their vision for One New Man in the universal Church. The pastors and leaders we met were actively engaging with the Gentile churches from the various denominations with some degree of success. Recently this has been taking the form of special teaching conferences and outdoor outreaches, but also with the youth. The topic has been 'God's Holy Days' with Israeli pastors coming over to enlighten the Gentile believers on the significance of the Biblical feasts and Sabbath days. One Gentile pastor shared with us in the lobby of the hotel how he was beginning to apply these teachings to his own congregation.
Without spot or wrinkle...
Perhaps the most inspiring example of a life dedicated to the vision of One New Man was from Pastor Andrei's son, Samuel, who at age 18 displayed an infectious enthusiasm for the way forward. With a good command of English, he was able to share at length about his work with the youth on the streets and the ongoing teaching conferences.
He said, "When Jews and Gentiles meet to worship the LORD together on Shabbat, then Yeshua will return." I remember getting goose-bumps as he said it. Here were Jews taking up a role of teaching and leadership in the Church again that has been missing for nearly two millennia. It reminded me that salvation is of the Jews, and that God ordained them to be a light to the Gentiles. I certainly felt a touch of that in the Ukraine. I think the Church will ultimately be blessed by this new Jewish intervention globally in seeking to present herself without spot or wrinkle before the Lord returns. The signs are all around us.
Please note, this article has largely been made possible through the teaching and information give during the tour by Piers Arthur-Crow of David House who led the group