UKRAINE: THE PASTOR WHO STAYED WHEN HIS CHURCH LEFT

Prior to February 24, Viktor Polunin was the pastor of the Gospel of the Grace of God church in Kyiv.

Now, Pastor Polunin and his wife are the Gospel of the Grace of God church in Kyiv.

Pastor Viktor Polunin and his wife Polina travel around Kyiv delivering food, medicine, and gospel encouragement to those who remain in the area.

“Before the outbreak of hostilities, Pastor Polunin’s church had about 70 people, and it was dynamic and growing,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “They had a worship team, home groups, discipleship training, and social service ministries like feeding the homeless and the poor near the central railway station.”

But when fighting broke out on February 24, that changed.

“Pastor Polunin’s church members began to evacuate from Kyiv, first to the Vinnitsa region and Transcarpathia, then leaving Ukraine,” says Representative Foley.

After three weeks, only six people from the church remained in Kyiv, all involved in volunteer work, ministry, or civil defense.

With their congregation now gone, Pastor Polunin and his wife had to decide what to do next.

“We considered all options, realizing all the danger” Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “We decided to stay in order to show that the church does not leave people in difficult times and in order to use the current situation to preach the Gospel.”

According to Representative Foley, people in their area began to come to Pastor Polunin and his wife seeking food and medicine, often referred by social service agencies. They also began to deliver food, hygiene items, children’s supplies, and medicines.

“We have several elderly people who are left without help and cannot take care of themselves,” says Pastor Polunin. “A blind elderly woman who had no one to take care of because everyone left, another woman is hunched over, unable to go to the store herself. An elderly woman whose son and grandson serve in the Ukrainian army, we helped her buy medicines – they all prayed with my wife.”

Caption: Pastor Polunin and his wife help the elderly, the disabled and families in Ukraine who are not able to care for themselves during the war. 

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea have designated Pastor Polunin and his wife as “green martyrs”.

“Early in church history Christians recognized that there were different kinds of martyrdom,” says Representative Foley. “‘Red martyrs’ were those who died for their faith in a bloody instant. ‘White marytrs’ were those who died to the world, living their lives in the desert or in monasteries. And ‘green martyrs’ were those who died to themselves, laying down their own lives daily as faithful witnesses to Christ.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that their decision to stay and serve has been an encouragement to those who remain in Kyiv. “Many worried about us and asked us to leave,” says Pastor Polunin, “But for them our desire to stay was a confirmation that this is how the ministers of the church should act.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that he and his wife previously discussed the possibility that they might be killed if they stayed and continued their church’s ministry. “We agreed that sudden death does not frighten us,” says Pastor Polunin. “Rather we would not like to face the experience of suffering and cruelty, and we pray that the Lord will protect us from this.”

According to Representative Foley, Pastor Polunin and his wife also continue to pray and worship with the church members who evacuated Kyiv. “Several times a week they do online gatherings with those members,” says Representative Foley. “They pray for the country and also try to serve as a point of connection between the ones who left and the ones who were left behind.”

Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that most church members express a desire to return, but he believes many may not. “I have been a church pastor since 1998,” Pastor Polunin said. “I think that the church will not just change, but most likely we will have to start from the very beginning. Now a new church is being formed. I am sad and happy at the same time about that. Our church was dynamic and growing. Now everything is at the start again, we will use all the experience for a new undertaking if we have enough strength.”

According to Representative Foley, the couple is already moving forward with this new undertaking. “They currently have a house that they use as a warehouse and are working on identifying more places for storage so they can expand their capacity to serve people.”

Caption: Pastor Viktor Polunin and team carry bags of food and supplies to the van in order to deliver to those in need in Kyiv. 

“We are preparing for the worst times,” Pastor Polunin told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “Following the example of Joseph in the Old Testament, we want to stockpile food and clothing for the ministry of the moment, and especially for the ministry in need that will come in the near future.”

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is committed to helping Ukrainian Christians who have become red martyrs and green martyrs as a result of the current conflict. “We have so far been able to provide aid to the families of six Ukrainian ‘red martyrs’ who have laid down their lives in faithful witness to Christ since February 24,” says Representative Foley. “But it is also important for us to support Ukrainian ‘green martyrs’ like Pastor Polunin and his wife, who have died to themselves but remain alive to Christ, risking their lives daily to serve as his faithful witnesses in these war zones. Our Ukraine Emergency Fund is our ‘green martyr’ support fund for Ukrainian Christians.”

This video shows Pastor Polunin delivering food and supplies to those in need. 

Donations can be made to the Ukraine Emergency Fund 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 phrase “Ukraine” with the donation.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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