It’s been more than two decades since Ukraine gained independence with the fall of the Soviet Union. But freedom can only deliver joy; it can’t sustain it. The country has struggled, plagued by political, economic and social issues. Its pervasive spiritual problem is less obvious.
Urbanization has reshaped Ukraine’s culture. The country’s traditional identity has slowly disappeared along with once-healthy rural communities—now characterized by alcoholism and unemployment.
The changes contribute to a growing divide between the generations. Young adults place a higher value on education and literacy. They’re also more open to conversation, which brings an opportunity for the Gospel.
The Church in Ukraine
Jake Knotts serves as pastor of Christian Bible Church, in Chernigov, a city of around 300,000 people about an hour from Kiev. His commitment to help church-plant in north central Ukraine brought him to the region 13 years ago—at the age of 19.
The young pastor says most Ukrainians consider themselves Russian Orthodox, which experienced resurgence with the end of communism. But commitment to the very traditional Orthodox Church tends to be nominal—in name only, with mostly holiday church attendance. Knotts describes Ukraine’s religious environment as a mix of Orthodoxy, Atheism and post-modernism—a skepticism of things once accepted.
Protestant believers are viewed as a threat to Slavic culture and to national identity. Knotts says that believers who align themselves with a non-Orthodox church have counted the cost of following Christ.
The spiritual separation that evangelicals face presents a challenge. Knotts says “congregations tend to be more isolated and distant, and fail to engage their communities with the Gospel.” In addition, “the prosperity gospel has brought much scandal and disillusionment toward the evangelical church as a whole.”
Shining some light on the matter
Early in his church-plant days, Knotts discovered Christ-exalting theology in books by John Piper. The resources transformed his spiritual perspective and that of his four-person mission team. “We came to understand why we were church-planting. Everything begins and ends with God,” he says.
The theological shift inspired Knotts to take up publishing. In Lumine (“in the light”) was begun as a ministry “to spread Christ-exalting, God-centered, Gospel-based resources in the Russian and Ukrainian languages.”
Other available gospel resources in Russian tend to come in only two flavors: “either very pragmatic and methodology-driven, or influenced by prosperity teaching,” Knotts says. “There’s a great need for robust biblical resources that lead to evangelistic and winsome engagement with the culture.”
In 2006 Knotts attended a Desiring God Conference for Pastors. He met Bill Walsh of International Outreach (IO) at that time and received encouragement and funds to provide for future publishing projects.
Walsh says, “Russian is a strategic language with an amazing reach.” It continues to be the unifying language of the countries that once comprised the Soviet Union. It’s prevalent in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and is also the language of many people groups in the Northern Caucuses.
In the last few years, In Lumine received funds in a partnership with TGC International Outreach to publish Russian-language versions of two John Pipers books. Knotts says the influence of these resources has spread organically as one reader recommends a book to friends or a pastor to a congregation. One Ukrainian pastor received and read just one of the books before leading his church from a prosperity-gospel focus to Christ-centered theology. Sister churches followed.
In the spring of 2013, In Lumine will produce another resource with help from International Outreach. The Gospel as Center, published by The Gospel Coalition (TGC), is the shared work of influential leaders including D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, and Kevin DeYoung and others, written “to defend the traditional gospel and to strengthen the church.”
Funds from TGC-IO enabled In Lumine Media to translate The Gospel as Center into Russian. They will also cover the cost of printing 2,000 copies of the new book.
The In Lumine staff is also expanding the ministry by developing a two-year church-based theological training program as a tool for church-planting and discipleship. This and other solid resources will help pastors in Ukraine and other Russian-speaking regions to reshape their approach to ministry.
Jake Knotts would appreciate prayers for: more materials to be produced; more networking among pastors, churches and those with a shared conviction of the importance of the Gospel; and more church-plants.