Missiles had been striking the city of Zaporizhzhia for some time (10-20 missiles per day) when we spoke to Evgenii Lvov the other day. On 30th September an aid convoy taking relief into areas occupied by Russian forces was hit. Thirty people died. We watched the footage on our screens, with bodies lying beside a minibus, and could not but think of the vans we have purchased for various churches, among them Evgenii's church in Zaporizhzhia. On 6th October, we heard of a missile attack on the city centre, with a number of fatalities. We always ask ourselves if any of our friends in the city have been among the victims.
Since we had the Zoom call in which our friend gave us an update on the situation, the attacks on this eastern Ukrainian population, with its nuclear power plant only some 45 kilometres away from where Lvov lives, have increased in the Russian revenge onslaught that has followed the explosion of the bridge linking Crimea to Russia. This deacon of the Baburka Baptist church and lecturer at the Zaporizhzhia Bible Seminary seemed as calm as he was the last time we interviewed him. But when you dig a little deeper, you realise that he and his fellow-labourers at the church are staying in the city, and are working and serving with a serenity that is based only on their trust in a God who is sovereign. They are no fools. The dangers are near, and they are real. The city has been under constant missile attack from nearby Russian forces. Typically, (this was before that latest revenge attacks) 10-20 missiles were landing on the city every day; Evgenii believes them to be C300 or Iskander missiles. As anyone who understands will know, just mentioning these weapons brings a shiver of terror down the spine of potential victims. We have seen what Russia did in Syria, and Evgenii reminds us of how much damage kamikazi drones can do. Jet fighters come in from the Caspian Sea. Since the Crimean bridge explosions, the city of Zaporizhzhia has been receiving a punishing series of strikes, with deaths and injuries resulting from hits on apartment blocks and other civilian targets.
But this church is continuing its work with refugees, described in a previous article, where aid packages are given out to the many refugee families that have fled to the city from war-torn areas not far from the eastern front line. As the individuals wait for the centre to open, the church opens and a short evangelistic service takes place. This began as a prayer meeting for the congregation, but when refugees began attending, the format changed, and many of them come inside to listen to a short talk explaining the Gospel, and a few songs and prayers.
The literature table is there, and folk have been taking this as they leave. Evgenii is very clear in his focus. He believes that the fact that hundreds of desperate people flow into the city each week (up to 1800 at the moment, though numbers depend on how many people the Russian troops allow to leave the danger areas)is a God-given opportunity to reach more people for Christ. On a Sunday, although they have lost many of the congregation who sought refuge abroad or in Western Ukraine, the church services are full of incoming refugees.
Some of them are already believers. Some are not. None of them, Evgenii asserts, are atheists. At least not any more. Lvov affirms that they are all open to hearing the Gospel as never before, and that he and the church leaders are there to speak to them about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The truth is that the reason this church deacon does not take his family out of Zaporizhzhia right now is that he and his church are convinced that they have a clear mission. There is little doubt that with all that is happening in the east at the moment (for example, Russian declaring annexations in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, evacuating Ukrainian citizens to Russia, and incessantly shelling cities in those areas), they will see more people than ever arriving at the church's centre for displaced people, and others who will need aid packages of food and hygien products. Greater opportunities for the gospel, though the possibility of all of them (the family, the congregation and all the refugees sheltering with them) having to move out quickly is always there. If the nuclear power station threatens to break apart in the shelling, everyone will be on the road at the same time. How would they ever manage to get so many people out to safety in time? Evgenii tells us all this with complete serenity.
'We are under his wings',
he states, and as we listened to him, we could not but believe that he had authentic confidence in that truth.
In the meantime, as they carry on experiencing nearby shelling, sheltering in the inner corridor of their home, away from windows,the Lviv family carry on trying to study and teach and minister and comfort others. Maryna, Evgenii's wife, helps with the church's aid project.
Evgenii, apart from distributing aid, teaches online, his Prison Epistles with students from all over Ukraine, as well as from Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and other countries. The couple's son Ruslan was baptised not long ago,and he and his sister Angelina study at their computer when energy supplies permit.
Winter is coming. Evgenii and his fellow-workers are doing all they can to prepare for the icy temperatures that will inevitably arrive. The New Year will no doubt bring nights when night-time temperatures drop to -15 to -20 °C. How will they help so many people not to languish or perish? Plans are already being made to buy in as many wood-burning stoves as possible, and to stock up on all kinds of fuel before fuel supplies run out. The church building may become a 'warm place' to which citizens may come to simple stay alive in a kind of communal dormitory that has some heating when other places may have none.
Evgenii seems not to sound in any way dramatic when describing this. However, when we ask about the spiritual state of affairs in Zaporizhzhia, his voice changes and takes on a tone that is militant.
The real battle, he says, is against evil. The real need is for prayer. The real foe is Satan, in his desire to stop the lost from hearing the Gospel. Their real objective as Christians is to glorify God and
'help people find saving faith'...
...even people from the 'enemy' nations of Belarus and Russia; Evgenii includes them in his prayer requests. Surely this is a mark of the grace of God on this man's life.
He urges us to pray on (see video), asking us to thank all of our supporters for helping them over the past months.
Humanly speaking, things can only deteriorate in this part of Ukraine in the near future. As we thank the Lord for a faithful church carrying out its mission in the midst of extreme danger and hardship, may we be encouraged to stand with them in heartfelt prayer and practical concern.