A church leader for the Luhansk region and his small house church composed mainly of his wife and 19 children are bringing protection, food, and hope to a village in one of Ukraine’s most war-torn regions. According to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, they are also changing the way the villagers think about evangelical Christians.
Daniil Anatolyevich Kiriluk, a Baptist church leader in the village of Novoaidar, 60 kilometers from Lugansk, consecrated what he calls his “house of prayer” on the day fighting began in the region in 2014, even performing a baptism that day. Representative Foley says that at that time due to the fighting, many of Brother Kiriluk’s friends urged him to leave the area, but as he prayed, the Lord brought Numbers 16:46-48 to his mind and led him to undertake a long fast.
“[Numbers 16:46-48] is when Israel walked in the wilderness and caused the wrath of God by their actions and the defeat began,” Brother Kiriluk recently told the information portal Vernost. “And Moses said to Aaron: ‘Take a censer, pour fire from the altar into it, go and intercede for the people’. Aaron went, stood between the living and the dead, and the defeat stopped. And in 2014, this story – I don’t remember whether I read it or just remembered it – prompted me to stay. I thought who would pray for people, who would intercede for them?”
Brother Kiriluk said the Lord brought the same scripture to his mind again on February 24, when he and his family awoke to the sounds of a heavy gunfire volley in what they would later learn was Schastie city, 30 kilometers away.
Just as in 2014, the church leader began to fast and pray according to the scripture in Numbers.
“It so happened that the hostilities did not reach our village,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “Just as it was written in the word, the defeat ended where Aaron stood. The soldiers did not make it. Strong shells or rockets flew, but it was far from our village – maybe 12 kilometers away.”
Though the conflict did not reach Novoaidar, it did disrupt the village’s food supply. There is no bakery in Novoaidar, so it is reliant on bread delivered from other cities. But the conflict cut off the supply. Representative Foley says that Brother Kiriluk’s house church is so small that no one in the village would have thought of turning to them to solve the food shortage.
“Brother Kiriluk and his family live in the house and hold worship services there,” says Representative Foley. “It’s a small church. There are 22 members. Half of the members are from the church leader’s family. Brother Kiriluk and his wife have 10 sons, the youngest of whom is 9 years old. He has 9 daughters, the oldest of whom is 31. 4 of his children are married, and they have 9 grandchildren. Just as the conflict started in February, the family also began hosting a Ukrainian Christian couple in their home, who had left the area for Greece in 2014 when the first fighting began. There were a lot of mouths to feed.”
According to Representative Foley, another church in the area brought them flour—more than was needed to feed their whole family. “That was when Brother Kiriluk’s wife suggested the idea of using the flour to bake bread to share with the other villagers. “There was some disagreement at first, but that night they started baking bread using the oven in the house church where they live”, says Representative Foley.
They baked 30 loaves of bread and posted a message to their neighbors on Viber, a social media app, that the bread was available. People began to come right away.
“Not only did people come to receive the bread,” says Representative Foley. “Others came to bring flour to enable the group to bake more bread. A stranger dropped off 9 bags of flour one day. A farmer brought milk on three occasions. A third oven was contributed. Another Christian brother and two sisters helped by baking additional bread in their own home. Brother Kiriluk says that at one point when yeast was no longer available in the stores, God miraculously provided so that the baking could continue.”
The church leader’s married children and grandchildren all helped, bringing the total number of people in the home to 33. Even the youngest son helped. “He knew how much yeast should be poured, how much flour, how much salt,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “We had scales, everything was measured on the scales, and he was already making the leaven. Then the dough was kneaded, cut into portions and the smallest one, he already knew how to do it, rolled out loaves – he did all this.”
According to Brother Kiriluk, production eventually increased to more than 160 loaves per day. He says the group probably received in total more than one ton of donated flour during their ten days of baking.
But more than bread was distributed.
“The Christian couple who were visiting from Greece had brought gospel newspapers with them, so they handed these out to everyone who came for bread,” says Representative Foley. “The Christian brother had a particular gift for evangelism, so he shared the gospel along with the newspapers. One neighbor who came told him, ‘We were talking among ourselves how bad Baptists are, and now we are coming here for bread.’”
But perhaps the greatest miracle may have been the government asking the house of prayer for help.
“We were called from the Ministry of Emergency Situations,” Brother Kiriluk told Vernost. “They said there was one village where people did not have bread since February 22nd. They asked if we could bake some bread. We baked as much as we could. They came and took away the bread and distributed the bread in the village. Then they called again, saying they were going to another village. We also baked bread, they came and took it to the village.”
Brother Kiriluk and his family recently had to leave their home for what they thought would be only one or two days. The time away was extended, but now Brother Kiriluk says they have returned home and to more baking.
“Now the situation is such that you think and understand only about each next step,” says Brother Kiriluk. “We did not think that we would stay here. We don’t know what the next step will be. We planned one thing, but everything happened differently.”
Representative Foley says that among the settings of Christian persecution in which Voice of the Martyrs Korea works, it is common for Christians to be both front-line workers and displaced people at the same time. “We see this happening today in Tigray, in Northern Ethiopia,” says Representative Foley. “We partner with a local pastor there, and for years his congregation has been the main helper for Eritrean Christian refugees fleeing their country for Ethiopia due to persecution. Now our Tigray pastor and his church members themselves have been displaced by the violence. But they continue to help others.”
Representative Foley says that it is a pattern that is as old as the Bible. “In Acts 11, Christians were scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was martyred. But God used that scattering to plant the Christians like seed across the Roman Empire. And in Jeremiah, when the people of Judah went into exile, they were commanded by God, ‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile’. So even though we thank God that he has permitted Brother Kiriluk and his family to return home, we know that God is going to continue to use them powerfully wherever he places them and whatever their circumstances are in the future.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is currently raising money for an ongoing emergency relief project to support local Ukrainian churches, as well as Polish and Moldovan churches along the border with Ukraine, as the local churches respond to both the humanitarian and spiritual needs that are arising during the war.
Individuals interested in donating to local churches through the Ukraine Christian Emergency Relief project can give at . . .
www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the word “Ukraine” with the donation.