European Baptist leaders met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko last week.
The delegation included European Baptist Federation (EBF) President Asatur Nahapetyan, Vice President Jenni Entrican and General Secretary Tony Peck, together with Baptist World Alliance (BWA) President Paul Msiza and Ukrainian Baptist leaders.
During the Aug. 26 meeting, Poroshenko signed a decree, “On the Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in Ukraine.”
The decree recognizes the contribution of the Protestant Reformation to the religious life of the nation, today through the existence of Protestant denominations, among which the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists is the largest single grouping.
The decree also allows for the use of public buildings to be used for individual celebrations of the Reformation in the coming months and years.
It has been supported by the Ukrainian Religious Council, which contains leaders of all the major churches in Ukraine, as well as representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Its current chair is the president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists, Valeriy Antonuk.
In his speech to the Baptist leaders, Poroshenko stressed the importance of the decree, which demonstrates the government’s support of the Protestant religious organizations.
Poroshenko noted that Ukraine is a multi-confessional country. He described as “one of the huge achievements of Ukrainians the creation of the Ukrainian Council of Churches,” with which the government cooperates to seek to ensure peace and harmony between different faiths.
The president stressed his full support of the council, including their international links and partnerships.
Poroshenko went on, “It is important for me that foreign partners witness what is happening in Ukraine, what extremely important processes we, as government, are now managing … Ukrainians demonstrate unity, bringing together people of different beliefs, different religions, different nationalities, united around the ideas of freedom and democracy.”
Poroshenko also stressed the importance of introducing chaplaincy in the Armed Forces of Ukraine for all faiths. He urged those present to actively participate in this process, including the exchange of international experiences of pastoral care in the army.
“It is important to ensure a high moral and psychological climate for those who stay immediately on the front line,” he said.
Poroshenko also suggested that the Protestant religious organizations could become an important component of both spiritual and social support not only for the military on the front, but also providing care for the wounded and families of the victims.
“This is a very important function, which Ukraine needs today,” he said.
Poroshenko thanked Protestant organizations for their strong support for Ukraine. “I clearly understand the role played by Protestant churches and religious organizations in the development of religious, cultural and social development of Ukraine and appreciate it very much.”
In response, Msiza, the BWA’s president, thanked Poroshenko for his support and wished the people of Ukraine peace, stability and prosperity.
Msiza also noted that the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists is one of the largest member bodies in the European Baptist Federation.
“We are here today to show solidarity with the Ukrainians. Our hearts are broken by human tragedies and conflicts, especially that which Ukraine is experiencing at the present time. We pray for you, for peace and prosperity in Ukraine,” Msiza said.
Peck, the EBF’s general secretary, also responded, thanking Poroshenko and welcoming the decree on the celebration of the Reformation.
He said that chief among the legacy of the Reformation is the concept of freedom – freedom to respond directly to the call of God, freedom to believe and to worship, and from those freedoms other freedoms in society have been derived.
Peck called the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches a “unique phenomenon” existing in Ukraine, which brings together different religious groups.
He stressed that “Ukraine is constantly in our prayers,” especially for peace in the conflict with Russia.
EBF and BWA leaders were in Kiev for the second missionary forum of the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists, held at the International Center of Culture and Arts with around 1,600 delegates attending.
Speakers and seminars explored the theme of “Your Kingdom Come!” – recognizing the ways in which the violent conflict in Ukraine and more than a million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Donbass has changed the way in which many churches view their mission and witness.
Earlier in the week, Peck and Entrican, the EBF’s vice president, participated in the day of celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the independent Ukraine, participating in a prayer service with religious leaders with Poroshenko and his family, a military parade to mark the anniversary, and a reception given by Poroshenko.
A longer version of this news article first appeared on the EBF News page and is used with permission.