By David Wright
With full-scale war exploding all around him, this man moves ahead with his ministry.
Zhenia is a minister and church planter. He is married and has a teenage daughter. He earned an MA in practical theology from TCM International Institute in 2012. He now serves as senior minister for five Ukrainian churches near the Crimean Peninsula.
As a young Bible student at Tavriski Christian Institute, his desire was to “preach to millions.”
“But,” he says, “God told me, ‘If you’re so sharp to preach to millions, you really need to start with something small.’ God blessed us to start one church from ‘zero.’”
Seven other churches that were near closing came under Zhenia’s leadership. Today Zhenia leads five of these churches, and a partnering minister leads the other three.
Shortly after the eight churches were established, Zhenia became concerned for the thousands of Muslims living in his region. Since 2003, Zhenia and others from his churches have shared the love of Jesus with more than 3,500 Muslim neighbors annually through VBS programs and other outreach efforts.
In the Middle of the Conflict
In 2014, when war between Ukraine and Russia began, Ukraine was not prepared.
“We found ourselves in the middle of this conflict,” Zhenia says. “My village is just eight miles from Crimea, which was annexed by Russia. Thousands of soldiers were sent to our area to protect the border. We began to serve the soldiers.
“God extended our ministry, and now we serve the troops all along the south and east borders, where full-scale war is under way. When we began this ministry, it was relatively safe. But then shooting and bombings came. We were determined to press on with preaching the gospel to the troops.
“The soldiers were ready to hear about Jesus because they were balancing between life and death. They needed to know the way to be reconciled with God. They saw we were endangering ourselves to share Jesus Christ with them. They realized preachers and other disciples of Jesus were willing to risk death to share the good news with them.
“This ministry has brought much kingdom fruit. The soldiers listen eagerly. Sometimes we preach to thousands all at once.”
Zhenia and his crew have distributed more than 10,000 New Testaments and other Christian literature to the soldiers. They have witnessed countless men and women repenting and giving their lives to Christ.
“There are many accounts of God’s powerful action,” Zhenia says. “The soldiers that have become believers now spread the good news.”
For example, Zhenia has a new friend who is a young Christian, leads a brigade, and also serves as the brigade’s press officer. He has influence over more than 5,000 soldiers and their families. This officer’s articles often refer to God and the importance of relationship with him.
Zhenia’s favorite passage of Scripture during this war has been Matthew 25:31-46.
“We are engaged in all the activities listed beginning with verse 35. We feed the soldiers and provide drinking water. The soldiers were wandering about, and we took them into our homes so they could sleep and take showers. We do their laundry and provide other necessities.
“We believe that we do this for Jesus. These soldiers have protected us. We compare them to the shepherds watching the sheep during the night Jesus was born. These soldiers protect an entire nation from enemies. It is our honor to serve them.
“We pray for their bodies and souls, and we urge them to trust in Jesus, the One who cares about them, the One who can protect their souls from sin and their bodies from the ravages of war. This is the only One they need to trust. We teach them to pray. We urge them to build a personal relationship with Jesus. We pray they do not fight out of arrogance, aggression, or vengeance, but to do their job protecting the lives of their families and fellow citizens. We urge them to wage a noble and honorable war.”
Zhenia and his godly associates visit the homes of the soldiers and have gotten to know many of their families. They visit the newly widowed and orphaned, with whom they pray and minister.
Prayers with a Trembling Voice
Zhenia was asked about his own safety during these times.
“I go to these places trying my best to be spiritually prepared,” he says. “This can happen only when I spend time with God in his Word. How can the soldiers benefit from our time if those of us ministering to them are empty?
“However, there have been times when I am truly frightened. Shooting is taking place. Cars are being blown apart, and terrorists are all around. I pray for all to be safe. During these explosive moments when danger is extremely high, I shout prayers with a trembling voice. My prayers are pleas for protection and deliverance.
“Years ago, before I became a Christian, my experience with fear was different. I felt hopeless, empty, and full of despair. Many of our soldiers who do not know Jesus feel this today.
“Now, even if fear comes over me, I know I am not alone. There is a calm deep inside that is hard to explain. I believe God’s supernatural power calms and brings hope. I believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit. I also realize I am more successful in combating fear when I am surrounded by God’s people.
“I know that Jesus is with us during each battle,” Zhenia says. “I believe he is with us in the calm and in the storm. My hope and prayer is to share him with as many of these soldiers as I can. I pray that he calms the hearts of those who serve him no matter what is happening.
“Frightened? Yes, at times the fear is extreme. But our Lord is greater than any fear this world may bring us. I will fear no evil (Psalm 23:4), because I know God is with us.”
David Wright serves as vice president of ministry services at TCM International Institute, Indianapolis, Indiana.