Each week, I do a Zoom call with other pastors. One of the pastors this week invited a pastor from Ukraine to join us. For obvious reasons, I won't share his name or where he is located.
We asked him to tell us about what was really happening and about how God was at work. This pastor told us before the war, his church was growing and had a regular attendance of about 800. Now, he said, members of his church have fled the country. His congregation is dispersed around the world, but some have remained. They continue to care for each other and reach out to their city.
He told us that six months prior to the Russian invasion, his church debated about buying a generator for emergencies. Being a typical church, there was much discussion about whether this was needed or not. Finally, a vote was taken, and by a narrow margin, the motion to approve the purchase of the generator was approved.
When the Russians invaded his city, they targeted the power grid and knocked out power. Cellphone batteries quickly ran out. The church cranked up the generator, set out power strips and offered people a place to recharge their phones. People were able to stay connected, check up on loved ones and stay informed. God had prepared this church to serve through the gift of electricity.
The most powerful story he told, however, occurred when Russian troops and tanks were moving through the city. Three hundred-fifty people had taken refuge in the church. Churches are supposed to be sanctuaries in times of war. Not this time. Russian troops smashed the windows of the church and threw in a grenade. There was no need for this. The people in the church were not combatants. They simply wanted to be in a safe place.
When the grenade came through the window, people screamed, ran and ducked under the pews. Nothing happened. The grenade was a dud. When the Russian troops saw that the first grenade had not exploded, they threw in another grenade. It, too, was a dud. What are the chances that two grenades would be duds? Or could it be that God was protecting the people in that church building?
The pastor shared with us that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now declared the churches may no longer evangelize outside of their buildings. This step was necessary, according to Putin, to eliminate the church as a terror threat. I doubt that is the real reason.
The pastor concluded his sharing not by asking us for money but by asking us to pray for him and for his church. His request was humbling. It was a reminder to trust the power of God over the power of any earthly force. This pastor was changing his world, little by little, by being light in the darkness of war.
In our little corner of the world, it is easy to forget the daily evil people deal with around the world. I confess I think more about ranch decisions than about the war in Ukraine. Or the war between Israel and Hamas.
Evil is real. According to the Global Slavery Index, more than 50 million people are slaves in the world. That's evil. Between 15,000 and 50,000 people are sex trafficked in the United States each year. That's evil. In 2023, 170,000 people died in wars and conflicts around the world. That's evil. According to Forbes, $100 billion each year is lost in Medicare and Medicaid fraud in the United States. That's evil. Approximately 10% of the American population abuses drugs. That's evil. I spoke this week with three women. Each had been in a toxic, abusive marriage. Evil is not always accompanied by a statistic.
Jesus' brother James wrote, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." The antidote to evil is simple: Transform the human heart so good flows outward instead of evil. Laws may restrict evil deeds, but laws do not change human hearts. That requires the power of God.
My brother pastor in Ukraine reminded me that God can work when his people are willing to do good. Doing good means sharing what we have. It means praying with fervor and trusting God to do what we cannot. Doing good means letting God continue to transform our hearts and minds through our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you want to change the world, change your heart.
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter. Email him at email@example.com.
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