An answer to questions about the war against Ukraine

This week, a friend asked me to speak to things he has heard recently about the war…asked for background he could share with others. Here’s my response. I think you may find it helpful.

Thanks for your questions based on what you are hearing friends and other sources say about the invasion of Ukraine.

I first worked in Ukraine in 1992 (right after independence), and have taught in Ukraine more intensely since 2012. At the same time, I was working on both a Masters and Doctorate in Worship Studies–an “action-research” approach that involved careful study of my ministry context–that nation. Ukrainian history, church history, current affairs, and their relationship to Russia since the disintegration of the USSR have been primary topics for reading and writing in preparing my projects for classroom and conference work there. As you know, we also started ServeUkraine to come alongside those friends, colleagues, students, and church leaders who are doing relief work and require aid since the Russian invasion in February.

All that to say, I’m involved, and pretty broadly informed. My reading and research involves relationships with national church and ministry leaders, multiple international news sources, foreign affairs think tanks, and long-time observers of the Ukrainian situation. I was recently part of the Nashville Consultation on Ukraine in early November which involved Ukrainian church, political, and ministry leaders as well as nearly 100 ministry leaders, academics, pastors, and donors from all over North America. The head of the Baptist Union of Ukraine (2000+ churches, largest in Europe), leader of the Pentecostal Union, an Archbishop of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (pay careful attention to that name), and an Auxiliary Bishop from the Roman Catholic Church were there. The only major Christian group not represented was the Ukrainian Greek Catholic (Eastern Rite Catholic) Church, whose leader had to drop at the last minute. There were members of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament), a Member of the European Parliament, leaders of ministries currently doing work in the country, local pastors, as well as the Mayor of Irpin, one of the cities severely damaged in the earliest stages of the war (about 5 miles from our campus in northwest Kyiv–I was there in September).

Steven Brooks, Myroslava Smetaniuk, Bria Blessing Pohle, Jesse Pohle, and me at the consultation.

Am I infallible on these matters? Absolutely not. Have I done, and am I doing my homework? Absolutely. Am I current? Yes.

Your two issues: is Zelenskyy a dictator, and is he curbing religious freedom in Ukraine? Two quick answers: No, and no. Some background…

First issue: Ukraine is under martial law. Russia has been attacking Ukraine, illegally annexing and occupying Ukrainian territory and killing since 2014, and seeking to undermine its sovereignty for many years before that.

In 2013, then-president Victor Yanukovich turned from saying he would ally with Europe to switching to Putin practically overnight. The country was enraged, and took to the central square (Maidan) of Kyiv in protest, starting with students, then thousands of others joined them from November 2013 to February 2014. Religious and political leaders took part, praying and protesting, and being shot at by the government’s secret police. Over 100 were killed by snipers, and eventually Yanukovich fled to Russia by helicopter in the middle of the night. He was totally in Putin’s pocket, and many Russian sympathizers and plants were all across the country. Yanukovich was found to have skimmed off millions from the national coffers to line his pocket, build his dream estate and fill accounts in many banks. Ukrainians call the process of getting him out as the “Revolution of Dignity” and set out to make changes. They did NOT want further alliance with Russia, period.

The parliament at that point named a Baptist layman to be interim President, and a Jewish lawyer to be Prime Minister, by the way.

Putin took the opportunity to illegally annex Crimea, and then seize a large portion of eastern Ukraine with his forces in anonymous fatigues and local sympathizers under false pretenses.

Since then, there has been another elected President, Petro Poroshenko, followed by Zelenskyy, who defeated Poroshenko cleanly in the next election. (More about Poroshenko in a bit.)

When the new phase of invasion began this past February, Zelenskyy declared martial law, sought to weed out those cooperating with Russia, including a couple of political parties who were more than sympathetic to Russia and calling for re-unification, etc. Those are the groups that he has banned. They continue to root out sympathizers who are cooperating with the occupying forces. Zelenskyy and the Rada also called for “national mobilization” which declared that all men between 18-60 could not leave the country with out express special permission as they might be needed.

This is what happens in war time, in martial law. Things that wouldn’t normally happen are set in place to try and preserve the nation. That is what Zelenskyy has done. (Was FDR a dictator during WWII? Some may have thought so, but he had wartime powers that gave him a lot of latitude, and in hindsight, we are still here.)

Second issue: Up until 2018, Ukraine had three (3) separate Orthodox Churches, dating back to independence in late 1991. They were the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (answering to Moscow), the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate (answering to leadership in Kyiv), and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – autocephalous, or independent. Ukraine also has in its constitution and in its practice, the greatest religious freedom of any nation in eastern Europe, if not all of Europe. Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, other Protestant groups, even Jews and Muslims all meet together in an All-Ukraine Religious Council to advise the government.

The Moscow Patriarchate churches have always been an issue, hence the other two splits. Ukrainians wanted and deserved their official church. After all, back in 988, Christianity came to the east through Kyiv! Moscow or Russia did not exist. Back in 2018, after a good deal of lobbying from Poroshenko (a practicing Orthodox) and others with the Orthodox Church, international Orthodox leaders granted autonomy to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU, the KP and autocephalous churches primarily), and all parishes could make their own decisions where they would go. And go they went. The OCU Archbishop I spoke with here said that the number of parishes joining the OCU has increased exponentially since the invasion. I believe the majority have joined the OCU at this point, but UOC-MP holds a lot of sway in significant areas.

Interestingly, the Metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, Kirill, who the MP churches answer to, has been internationally sanctioned since the earliest days of the invasion. Kirill is totally in Putin’s pocket, spouting the same false histories about the “Russian world,” and blessing and supporting Putin’s “special military operation” to the utmost.

The churches that have been raided have been MP churches. Ukrainian security forces have found Russian passports, millions of dollars, pro-Russian propaganda, etc. Here are two great reports from the Religious Information Service of Ukraine that will give some more insight from the other religious leaders about the MP churches being searched – “SBU raids Moscow Patriarchate churches” and “In UOC dioceses SBU finds Russian passports.”

So, Zelensky has powers under martial law, and the churches being searched are really in collusion with Russian efforts to wipe out Ukraine.

For better, consistent information, I recommend the best English-language news source in Ukraine, the Kyiv Independent, and reporting from the BBC, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and the Washington Post. Use the Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert for in-depth commentary on all that is happening. I also have several Telegram groups that have info straight from the sources and up-to-date reporting on attacks in the nation. (You can download the Telegram app from the App Store for Mac, iPhone, etc.)

The best, most-readable, and reliable history of Ukraine is The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard. It is a pretty quick read, and will give you the best back-story. It was written after Maidan (2015), and will give you context for the fact Ukrainians and Russians are not brothers, and the history that Putin is twisting at best, totally fabricating in general.

I’ve also just read A Short History of Russia: How the World’s Largest Country Invented Itself, from the Pagans to Putin by British Russian Studies expert, Mark Galeotti. written in 2020. It’s just over 200 pages, an informed and entertaining read that clarifies both history and myths about modern Russia and its relationship to Ukraine.

I didn’t intend a major epistle, but so many have asked the questions, I thought it good to put it down in a form that I could post myself and also send to others.

Thanks for checking in with me. I’ve heard so much rubbish and out-and-out lies repeated by Christians especially in the last month. I am more than glad to redress the balance, especially with some of the stories I heard from leaders last month, and in my 8-10 days in Ukraine in September. I’m happy to recommend other resources as well.


11 December 2022

“There is no reason to attack Ukraine. We just made a decision for a different future.”

Our friend and colleague on the front line, helping save lives from this insanity. Ivan Rusyn interviewed by the BBC at 2:40. Proud of my friend, concerned for the people and the nation, looking and praying for the world to do something to stop this now.

Help us help them at

#StandWithUkraine #prayforukraine #uets #serveukraine

Mission in the midst of misery

Just received this post from our colleagues in Kyiv…focusing on others in the middle of horror.

——- is trying to actively pursue its mission of serving society amid all horrors of the war we are facing. 

  • We are preparing a new evacuation from Kyiv of vulnerable layers of population, including women and children from local churches in the seminary neighborhood 
  • Faculty, students and staff of the seminary evacuated to western Ukraine have got actively involved in sending humanitarian aid cargoes to the capital
  • We have turned the campus —– into a humanitarian aid center where people can get immediate assistance and hide in a basement during air raids
  • —– kitchen personnel refused to be evacuated and are working hard trying to provide food for the Ukrainian defenders and anyone in need
  • Faculty and some students who are still on the campus use any opportunity to identify and meet needs of the military and civilians in the neighborhood

We are enormously thankful to all our friends all over the world who are standing with us at this extremely challenging time! “

These are my people; this is the Ukrainian church. #prayforUkraine #standwithUkraine

If you want to give to support these dear ones, ‘s landing/donation page is now live. (The main URL is not yet live, but this link will get you there.)

Ukrainian worship in the midst of conflict

After this page being dormant for so long, it is about to be active again. Christianity Today magazine contacted me about helping their readers get a sense for the worshipping heart of the Church in Ukraine. The article is 5 Ukrainian Worship Songs for War and Peace and it just posted today. If you came here as a result of that article, thank you for checking us out this far. Join us and come back to this space for more opportunity for understanding and prayer for Ukraine in the current conflict.

Why worship and why Ukraine?

16003274_1385166991527929_6680711285658944023_nMy wife Judie and I leave in two weeks for my eighth trip to Kiev, and Music in Worship, the conference we started in partnership with Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS).  Three years ago, it began as part of my Master’s project for my degree at Institute of Worship Studies, and it’s exciting to see it continue and develop.  This year we are also partnering with leaders from here in Nashville and with London School of Theology, Nexus Institute of Creative Arts and Worship Academy, Horsham in the UK.

I’ve been interviewed twice recently about the situation and the ministry opportunities in Ukraine–by UETS and for two programs for Compassion Radio.  You’ll understand more of my heart and get you a sense of why this is a crucial ministry at this time.

Worship from God’s Perspective – UETS

Ukraine: Worship on the Frontlines, Part One – Compassion Radio

Ukraine: Worship on the Frontlines, Part Two – Compassion Radio

Consider being part of our support and prayer team at MusicWorks International.



Maidan, war and refugees

My heart for and involvement in Ukraine over the last years has been due to a number of things, chief among them sensing the call of God, but also through seeing the lives of believers as they have walked through incredibly difficult times for their nation.

I first saw that call lived out before me in the lives of the staff of New Life Church, Kyiv  (Anatoly, Nadia, Anton, Anya, Oleg and Oksana) and then in the lives of the leadership, staff and students of the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS)(Anatoliy, Ivan, Oles, Denis, Marina, other staff and my students).

With all else going on in the world these days and in our nation, even the events of the last few years in Ukraine have somewhat faded from our ADHD culture.  I would like you to take a few minutes and get to know the clear thinking, passion and integrity of these brothers and sisters in Christ through 2 short videos that line out the history of the “Revolution of Dignity” as the protests in Maidan are now known, and the on-going struggle against the Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine as Crimea was annexed by Russia.

UETS and its’ leadership have been honestly wrestling through these times with their hearts in God’s Word and their ears listening to his Spirit as to how they should respond in very difficult circumstances.  They have put together these videos that tell the story of the real issues they have faced and how they continue to respond.

The first video, Maydan: Response (13:22) talks of how they responded as Christians to an unjust government, and the second,War and Refugees (10:41) tells of how they have responded to those fleeing from attack in their own cities.

“We just wanted to tell our friends and partners abroad about what we came through in 2013-2014, and are still going through now.” – Oles Dmytrenko, Communication and Development director.

“Critical times for the nation challenged our theology and understanding of mission.” – Denis Kondyuk, Dean of Theology.

Take less than 30 minutes of your TV binge-watching time, meet my colleagues and some of my students here and I think you’ll understand why I keep going back.


Hallelujah and thank you!

I’m typing this at the gate at Detroit Metro Airport waiting for my flight to Amsterdam where I connect to Kiev. As of right now, the financial support we needed for the trip has come in and then some!

Thank you, Lord for speaking to these friends and partners in ministry!  The additional funds will be a start on the regular monthly support we will be working on when I return.

I hope to be posting up here several times during the next two weeks. Pray for clarity of mind and heart for me, for good interpretation and an openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Got to board…here we go! Blessings to you all.

Invest in “worship old & new” in Ukraine. I need your help!

Can you take a few moments to consider investing in this? I leave on October 23.

The situation today

Walk the streets of Kiev and you will see many amazing churches with incredible artwork, iconography, and music–all creativity dedicated to the worship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In 1988, even under the then-Soviet rule, the city and nation celebrated 1000 years of Christianity.

In a free but beleaguered Ukraine today, those ancient churches have been joined by thousands of new ones across the nation, full of new, energetic Christian believers, passionate about using current music to express their hearts in the worship of God. Since independence in 1992, Ukrainian Christians have sought to bring and be the Gospel in ways relevant to current culture both in their nation and in other former Soviet republics.

Russian-backed separatists are still attacking the country’s southeast. Corruption is still being weeded out of governmental procedures and positions. Terrible economic conditions have seen purchasing power drop by two-thirds. Ukrainians are under attack as never before.

IMG_6403These churches need leaders who are grounded in the values and principles that undergirded the ancient church and are also proficient in using the tools that will propel them into the future. When it comes to worship, that means understanding how the practices of the early church have much to teach us about how we approach worship today. It also means gaining skill in contemporary worship music and how culture, character and calling come into play.

In Kiev in 2012, God re-fired my heart and gave me a passion for the nation of Ukraine and its people, especially young leaders. I found that seeds I helped plant in 1992 had borne much fruit. (Here’s a bit of a report about that visit.)

We worked alongside the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary (UETS), founded that same year by my friend Anatole Glukhovskyy.  IMG_0273The seminary offers both undergraduate and graduate courses in ministry and has a unique trans-denominational perspective.

That fresh sense of calling was delayed a bit by the opportunity to complete a Masters’ degree at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies (IWS).  
However, by God’s grace and provision, the past two years have refueled and retooled me to better come alongside and help as I have completed that degree.

The past twelve months

In less than 14 days, I will board a plane to go back to Kiev for the third time in less than a year.

November 2014 for Mission Ukraine

IMG_0176_2Mission Ukraine pulled together hundreds of evangelical church leaders from across the nation (including the annexed region of Crimea and the eastern parts of the nation still under attack by separatists) as they discussed the priority of united evangelism even in these very difficult times.

I was honored to be invited to attend as a delegate and someone involved in ministry in Ukraine.  They invited me to speak briefly and sing at the event myself, and had me lead the small group sessions involving music and the arts in ministry.

We heard many moving and honest testimonies about the difficult situations facing the Ukrainian church currently, but one comment stood head and shoulders over the rest.  Pastor Vladimir Glukhovskyy (father of Anatoly), a church-planting evangelist and pastor during the difficult Soviet times, addressed the whole gathering.  When asked to give his perspective, he said this: “I think God will hold us accountable for what we have done during this time of openness.”

March 2015 for “Music in Worship”

By God’s grace, I was able to bring a team to do a worship seminar in March as part of my thesis project for my Master’s degree.

John Conner (gifted saxophonist, engineer/producer from Nashville), Rev. Dr. Greg Wilde (professor from IWS) and his wife IMG_2976Jan, as well as Michael and Dawn Marie Helin (former Wings of Light team members and long-time media and music missionaries in Europe) were the highly qualified team that accompanied me. The UETS staff did a marvelous job of organization.  We joined with gifted Ukrainian leaders, speakers and worship teams to work with a tremendous group of church leaders and volunteers from all across Ukraine for three days of encouragement and training. We had twice the number of people expected. There are too many stories to tell here, but you can see a gallery of pictures from the event as well as video of my and Greg’s plenary talks.  It was a powerful time.

NOW, October 2015

As a response to what God did in our midst, Ivan Rusyn, the Rector of UETS and Marina Yarmolenko, the Dean of the Music Ministry and Theology department and her staff have asked that I would lecture and bring seminars to UETS twice a year.

In our planning and discussion, we discovered that Robert Webber’s book, WORSHIP OLD & NEW, is available in Russian!  That will be our main textbook and framework for the class.  47990I will have the music/theology students 15 times in 5 days–pretty intense!  We will look closely at how the Biblical principles and practices that informed the worship of the early church should inform our worship today.  The class will finish with a similar week early in 2016.

The economic situation in Ukraine doesn’t allow them to do much to help financially. On our March trip, the team was able to raise extra money to replace an aging computer for the Music/Theology department and bless them, as well as help with some of the cost of the seminar.

My Ukrainian colleagues are investing all they can to make this work; this is a partnership, not a one-sided American presentation. It is an ongoing dialogue to see how their students and their teachers can be better equipped in the area of worship renewal, and then how together we can help the churches and pastors they work with across Ukraine and Eurasia.

On this trip, we will also be discussing our plans for the seminar and classes to come in the spring.  I will have meetings with other churches and individuals regarding future ministry.  We are also talking with the leadership of IWS about all three ministries (MusicWorks International, UETS and IWS) working together to teach and train leaders and local pastors in worship renewal.

[Click here for some more background on MusicWorks International, part of the ACT International family of ministries.]

How you can help now!

More important than just finance, we need a support team of devoted intercessors who will stand with us.  Are you willing to pray for the guidance and the freedom of the Holy Spirit during my time there?  Let me know in the comments section below or drop me a note at this email.

I need to raise money right away to cover both the trip expenses which have been advanced to me and for the costs of my work in preparation.

That means:

$3000-3500 in initial expenses now,

and when I get back, establishing a substantial base of monthly support.

The initial expenses are most urgent and crucial–it will be important to have them in hand before I fly on the 23rd. The flight cost has been advanced to me, and I need to raise that and cover other expenses for the trip as I prepare to go.

Although this is late, I believe that raising $3500 in two weeks is do-able. God is my source. (If all the friends and partners seeing this gave just $5-10, the need would be more than met.)  I’m praying for:

1 gift of $500 • 2 gifts of $250 • 10 gifts of $100 •  20 gifts of $50 • 25 gifts of $25
for a total of $3500.

(Of course, you can give more or less than this, but this will meet the immediate need.)

Click here to make a secure donation for your initial gift or for on-going monthly support.

You can give via credit/debit card, check (payable to MusicWorks International) or by automatic bank draft by using the link just above.  Donations are tax-deductible and are figured in US dollars.

Again, leave a comment below or email me if you want to be part of our intercessory team, and I will add you to our list to receive reports and prayer requests. If you can’t give financially right now–I certainly understand that.

God is in control; He has given the calling, and I believe He will provide as we look for the partners He has chosen in this season. I’m grateful that you are prayerfully considering this as we look to walk into a new season of ministry.  Already several friends have indicated they want to be part of this trip by investing…I am thankful for the encouragement! I need your “experienced” prayer support and investment now.

This is a unique opportunity in a very strategic nation at a very crucial time. Will you help us continue to walk through these doors? I want to combine worship old and new in bringing solid theology and practice alongside current skills and cultural awareness that will bring great glory to the living God. It is a start to a new season.

That’s the story, the need and how you can help now. I pray you will!

Thank you.

The DeLorean is fueled up…

…and we’re headed back to the future!

All glory to God as we’ve seen all the one-time expenses we needed for the trip to Ukraine raised! Over $3500 has come in, and then some.  I’ve been humbled by the response from those who have given and who will be praying.  It has added a new dimension to Thanksgiving Day around here!

The excess will go toward other related expenses and be a base for the regular monthly support I’ll be raising after I return in the new year.


With only 19 hours until my flight, there’s plenty to do.  To keep up with some updates during the next two weeks, either subscribe to my blog here, or respond to the invite on my Facebook event page.

Pray that we’ll be sensitive to the Holy Spirit, the staff, the students and all that God wants to do in us and through us.  Your intercession is crucial!  Thanks.

Can you take time to intercede for our time in Kiev?  Let me know below…

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