Mariupol: Churches “cut off from the outside world, but not cut off from God”

Images of death and destruction continue to pour out of Mariupol, where the city council announced that they are bracing for the death by year’s end of 10,000 of the city’s remaining 170,000 residents, due to disease and unsafe living conditions.

Yet today other images are also emerging from that besieged city: photos and video from Voice of the Martyrs Korea show small groups of believers continuing to meet for worship, partake of the Lord’s Supper, bury their dead, and carry out the work of the church.

The Lord’s Supper served in the Gonda Street Baptist church in Mariupol church on May 1 (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

“It is wrong to think of churches as the first to evacuate and the last to return in the event of wars and natural disasters,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Foley Dr Hyun Sook Foley. “Typically, Christians are the ones who stay. First and foremost, they worship God from those places of devastation. Then they serve their neighbors there, through intercessory prayer and by sharing whatever they have, even at the cost of their lives.”

Voice of the Martyrs Korea operates “Голос Мучеников – Корея”, a Russian language edition of its popular Facebook page on Christian persecution. The page has 12,000 followers from across the Russian-speaking world. The majority, approximately 7,000, live in Ukraine and interact with the ministry and with each other through the site. Representative Foley says the organization also maintains private channels of communication with Christians and churches in all parts of Ukraine, including Mariupol.

Representative Foley says that when Mariupol Christians write, it is not primarily to ask for help. “They clearly have almost nothing, but mainly they just want to praise God for his faithfulness to them and let their Christian brothers and sisters in the ‘outside world’ know that they are still ‘at their post’ serving God,” says Representative Foley. “Media reports keep emphasizing only that the people in Mariupol are ‘cut off’ from the outside world. And that is true. But Christians in Mariupol also want people to know that even though they are ‘cut off’ from the world, they are not cut off from God, and that God is faithfully caring for them.”

Representative Foley says that truth was powerfully illustrated by photos sent by an unregistered Baptist church partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday in May and then distributing food to congregation members after the service. “The report from the ‘house of prayer’ on Gonda Street in Mariupol also said that ‘visitors from the world’—meaning, non-Christians—had attended worship on Easter, and that several people had turned to the Lord through prayers of repentance.”

Members of the Baptist church on Gonda Street in Mariupol in a recent photo (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

Representative Foley says that the Gonda Street congregation has not been spared from the suffering happening around them in the city. “The church’s deacon, Vladimir Redkokashin, died as a result of his faithful witness,” says Representative Foley. “Church members tell us that when the armed conflict began, many people left the area, and Deacon Vladimir was the one minister in the church who remained. The members say he set up a basement not only for them but also for the neighbors, and that he accepted everyone who came, treating them with care and love.”

Church members told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that they last saw Redkokashin alive on March 19. Representative Foley shared their report: “We brought people to [the Gonda Street Church], and after that we were planning to evacuate them from the city. He prayed on the road, blessed the way.  In the evening he went to visit his own family.  When he was closing the garage, a shell flew not far away and wounded him in the stomach.  He spent the night at home, and the next day he was taken to the hospital.  According to the testimony of the medical staff, he prayed all the time.  On the operating table, after praying, he passed away.”

Representative Foley says church members told Voice of the Martyrs Korea that it took authorities a month to retrieve his body and bring it to the morgue. “Church members buried the deacon on April 26,” says Representative Foley. “Photos from the funeral show a plain wooden casket and a simple cross and handwritten name placard marking his grave. But the photos also show the congregation faithfully gathered together to worship God at the funeral. They wrote us, ‘Thanks be to God for the fact that we have such faithful servants who, not only in word but also in deed, are a light and an example both for us believers and for those non- Chrisians around us.’ They did not ask for anything other than prayers for the deacon’s adult sons, Sergei and Maxim, who are not yet believers.”

Members of the Gonda Street Baptist church in Mariupol gather to bury their deacon, Vladimir Redkokashin, on April 26 (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

Representative Foley says it is wrong to think of Christians in Mariupol primarily as people in need of help. “Their situation from a human standpoint is dire, but in other ways they have more than we do,” says Representative Foley. “One report we received from Mariupol noted simply that a church distributed much-needed food, and that the church members were deeply grateful. Another report from the church in Myrnyi block talked about how the church had three repentances that Sunday. Another report included photos of the church’s blown-up building in Livoberezhnyi District, but the report was an expression of thankfulness for all those who have been praying for the church. Another report included a video of a female congregation member offering beautiful special music at a worship service in which their small church sanctuary was completely full. Gratitude, repentance, praise, thanksgiving, faithful attendance at worship despite extreme difficulties—these are offerings that please the Lord more than money.”

One of three repentances at the Baptist Church in Mirniy block in Mariupol at a worship service in May (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is providing emergency assistance to local Ukrainian church congregations and individual Christians who are continuing to engage in faithful witness during the present Russia/Ukraine conflict. “Other Christian groups and churches around the world are sending truckloads of bread and medicine and funding evacuations and refugee housing of Ukrainian Christians, and that is certainly needed,” says Representative Foley. “But Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s calling is to help support the tiny Ukrainian churches that are just trying to faithfully be the church day-to-day where they are, despite the likelihood that it may cost them their lives.”

Representative Foley says it is a kind of aid that is not able to be mass-delivered on a truck or airplane. “Each day we are in contact with local Ukrainian churches and Christians. There are certainly financial needs, but sometimes what is needed is just talking or texting or praying with them, or listening to their stories. Sometimes they want us to provide them with resources on persecution and martyrdom. They are hungry to understand their experience biblically and in the light of Christian history. More than anything, Ukrainian Christians want their brothers and sisters around the world to know that God is remaining faithful to Ukrainian Christians, and Ukrainian Christians are remaining faithful to God.”  

A member of the Baptist church in Mirniy (district in Mariupol) sings a beautiful song of repentance at a worship service (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

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.

The building of the Baptist church in Livoberezhnyi District in Mariupol that was recently destroyed (used with permission by the International Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists).

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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