Odessa pastor remains at his post in southern Ukraine
Wim Hulsman, RD
The war caused the small missionary church of the Scottish Free Presbyterian Church in Odessa to shrink considerably. Rev Dmytro Levytskyi, however, remained at his post. He wants to help neighbours in need and continue the spread of God's Word in Ukraine. Demand for Bibles and Reformed reading materials continues despite the war.
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPC) has over 50 congregations. Most of these are in Scotland. But there are also congregations in Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. Odessa in Ukraine is one place where you would not easily expect to find a FP church. There is a small congregation in the Black Sea port city, affiliated to the Scottish denomination.
The pastor of the mission congregation in Odessa is Dmytro Levytskyi. Despite the violence of war, the congregation still meets. It is not easy; he reports: "There are power cuts. These, in turn, lead to a shortage of water supply and heating. Prices are high," he sums up the concerns.
The pastor explains that the little church on Pestelya Street has a wood-burning stove. "We installed that a few years ago, and it now helps us keep the church warm."
The congregation was once larger. Currently, nine people attend. "Some do not come, partly due to Covid-19. Another part of the congregation moved as refugees to other countries" after the war started in February.
Things have been a bit quieter in Odessa (a city of over a million people) in recent weeks, Mr Levytskyi thinks. "The past few months were more difficult than the present time. Shelling and air strikes were almost daily then. Our anti-missile system shot down missiles and drones over our heads. Though it was frightening, our expectation was from the Lord. We prayed to Him for deliverance and whether the Russians would not take Odessa. We saw in the media the barbaric atrocities committed by the Russians in the north and east of the country. Therefore, many migrated to the west of the country or abroad."
A few moments stand out in Rev Levytskyi's memory. Like that morning when "two missiles from the Ukrainian anti-missile system woke me up. It was at 5.30 in the morning. They took to the air in front of my window. I will probably never forget the explosions I heard that morning. "The Lord gave protection”, Mr Levytskyi says. "Yes, the Lord is gracious and good to us. There was a moment when we saw above our heads two explosions from the drones that could have our building, but they were intercepted."
Pastor Levytskyi remained in Odessa despite the violence of war. "We felt we should stay and continue our missionary work, such as Bible distribution by mail. As much as possible. We do that with help from the Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS, in the United Kingdom, ed.), which provides the Bibles. Our job is to keep proclaiming the Gospel even when few people want to listen. People are more concerned with where to get petrol or how to charge their gadgets, and how to heat their house or flat since winter has set in. People are busy chopping wood."
And despite all the threats, the work is allowed to continue. "It is amazing to see that despite Russian attacks, we got requests for Bibles and Reformed reading material. People are still interested in that."
Grateful is the pastor for the support he receives from abroad. "When we had spent all our savings, help came. Prices in supermarkets and at petrol stations shot up. Still, several people from countries like Australia, Scotland and the United States give big donations to our congregation and others. May the Most High bless them a hundredfold."
And what can the congregation do? "We have to use our main weapon, which is prayer. We must bring present circumstances before the throne of God's grace and plead with the Lord that this war will stop and not spread all over the continent," Mr Levytskyi told FPC magazine earlier this year. And "we must ask the Highest to bless us in helping those who remain alive but have suffered and lost everything. It is our Christian duty to love our neighbour: 'But the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; their Strength in time of distress', as Psalm 37:39 says."
This article was previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on December 27th, 2022.
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