BERDICHEV, Ukraine – Arkansas Baptists ministering in Ukraine as a part of the Arkansas Master’Singers choir are experiencing “phenomenal” crowds as they perform in the country that has undergone political upheaval and a change in presidential leadership in recent months.
The 80-voice choir has plans to visit four different regions of western Ukraine to perform in 11 evangelistic concerts, where the choir will sing and international evangelist Michael Gott will preach. Organizers of the trip are expecting more than 15,000 people will attend the special ministry events.
“Tonight was just incredible,” Larry Grayson, Arkansas Baptist State Convention (ABSC) evangelism and church health team member, reported via email to ABSC staff April 23. “We sang in Berdichev on the very stage where (Joseph) Stalin stood to promote Communism. It was a 900-seat room. Every seat was filled, and every space in the aisles, stairs, etc., was filled with overflow people and they turned people away. It was an unbelievable night. I will know in the morning how many decisions were made.”
Vyacheslav Nesteruk, president of the Baptist Union of Ukraine, and several other Baptist leaders, invited Gott to preach after he was already scheduled to tour western Ukraine with the Arkansas Master'Singers April 21–May 2.
Gott arrived in Kiev ahead of the Master’Singers choir to meet with Baptist leaders and celebrate Easter with his membership church there, Dom Evangeliya (House of the Gospel) Baptist Church, pastored by Vitaly Kozubovsky.
"This invitation came to us from the Ukrainian Baptists themselves," Gott said. "We've (Michael Gott International) been going there for many, many years and they asked us to come."
“Even in this time of rising tensions in Ukraine over all of these problems with Russia, there is an evident spiritual longing and hunger. In the evangelistic concerts, the goal is for one out of two people who attend to know Christ personally. These Ukrainians have an amazingly evangelistic heart and I, along with the Master’Singers, am honored to be here now,” Gott said in a report.
A Ukrainian Baptist pastor in his mid-80s, who spent nine years in a KGB (former Russian secret police and intelligence agency) prison during Communism for his evangelistic boldness, spoke openly on the choir’s arrival, reported Darla Hull, of Michael Gott International.
“Our arms are open to indicate that our hearts are open too. We welcome all of you; thank God you have come,” the man said.
The Master’Singers choir was warned ahead of its arrival about the possibility of having overflow attendance and even having to do back-to-back concerts, the report states, adding, “In the city of Zhitomir a decision was made to secure the largest concert hall in the city. The unanimous feeling from the Baptist pastors was that no church was large enough to hold the concert.”
The report said that on Easter Sunday, April 20, Gott was able to share a brief “lighthearted moment” as he sat near Alexander Turchinov, who was a Baptist Christian and a lay preacher before he was chosen to be an interim president for Ukraine after former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fled the country during protests.
“Michael Gott personally thanked Alexander Turchinov and Viacheslav Nesteruk for helping to make the visit of the Master’Singers a reality. Led by their director Larry Grayson, they have arrived in Ukraine to a magnanimous welcome,” reads the report by Hull April 22.
The report added that after Turchinov had given a bold public confession of his faith in Jesus Christ to a standing-room-only Baptist congregation in Kiev, Gott told Turchinov, “You would make a good evangelist!” to which the country’s president smiled and said, “Thank you!”
During the service, Turchinov gave an unapologetic declaration of his Christian faith, the report said, telling the Baptist congregation that he deeply appreciated their prayers and called them “dear brothers and sisters” several times.
“In an amazing reaction to his presence in the service, when it was announced that the president of Ukraine was present, the Baptist church broke out into applause, something very uncharacteristic for a Ukrainian church,” the report said.
Gott said later that the service was a “historic moment.”
“Never before has an acting Ukrainian president attended a Baptist worship service. Never! And I would remind all of us that this is the same Ukraine that once harshly persecuted Baptists and called them ‘a despised cult.’ But also this is the Ukraine in which Nikita Khrushchev once said, ‘Ukraine does not need Jesus Christ – they have me,’” Gott said in the report.
Gott reports that churches throughout Ukraine are now full to capacity, with the crisis in the country bringing believers of all denominations together to pray.
“Baptist pastors and their congregations are especially grateful to have mission teams coming for special evangelism events. It is particularly meaningful for believers to come from outside Ukraine and join them in their effort to share Christ with their nation,” said the report.
Gott added, “If ever I have been with people who deserve our heartfelt support and prayer, it is the people of Ukraine today. May God use this crisis to precipitate spiritual awakening. That’s what we need to pray for, and I would ask people to put the needs of this nation at the forefront of their prayer list. I encourage pastors to call their congregations to intercede for this nation.”
– Compiled from reports by Michael Gott International and the Arkansas Baptist News.