Two miles from Kiev riots, FBC Odessa mission team safe, determined to share gospel
February 20th, 2014 / By: Sharayah Colter | Staff Writer / comments
Eight adults from First Baptist Church of Odessa, serving on a mission team in Kiev, Ukraine remain safe amid riots that began ravaging the city Feb. 18 after weeks of peaceful protests. The group traveled to Ukraine on Feb. 13 with Michael Gott International and is scheduled to return to Odessa on March 2. Pastor Byron McWilliams said the team is seeing a greater openness to the gospel because of their presence amid the tumult.
“The [Ukrainian] students who are coming look at these Americans and are saying, ‘Wow, you’re staying in the midst of this,’” McWilliams told the TEXAN. “It’s building their credibility. The students have said, ‘You care about us enough to stay.’ I think it is opening doors for the gospel more than anything.”
The team is teaching classes, eating and sleeping at Central Baptist Church—the largest Baptist church in the area—just two miles from Independence Square where fighting between police and protestors has now led to 67 deaths, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health. Hundreds have been injured, the ministry reported.
McWilliams said the U.S. embassy in Ukraine knows where the team is, has each team member’s name and would be ready to help evacuate the group should the situation worsen or an order be issued for Americans to leave. He said the team plans to stay because they believe that “God has got them there for this time and that they are not going to come back early unless they are forced to.”
The pastor said the group had their “greatest test” when they met together to decide if they should stay or leave the country.
“They unanimously decided that they feel they are needed more than ever,” McWilliams said.
In fact, in McWilliams’ last email conversation with missions pastor Jesse Gore, he learned the group is only requesting prayer for one thing.
“The team would ask specifically that they would pray that doors for presenting the gospel would be open and that God would use this for his glory and they would be able to present the gospel even more,” McWilliams said. “The families at home are probably the ones who are struggling the most, so pray for them that God would give them a peace that he is in control” and they would be reminded of his omniscience. “They are just as safe there in the midst of a danger zone as they would be in their own home, because God is watching over them,” he added.
The pastor asked that fellow believers pray for the team’s safety.
McWilliams encouraged Gore in their last conversation to remain steadfast and to remember that God is not surprised by the events of the past three days.
“‘Hold the fort, man,’” McWilliams told Gore. “‘Stand firm. Keep doing what God has called you there to do. Share the gospel any chance you get.’ I of course don’t need to tell him that, because he sees it the same way I do. God knew before they went over there that this was going to happen. It’s no accident that they’re there right now.”
In a Facebook post, Gore implored friends to pray—not for his safety, but for the people of Ukraine.
“I again plead with the people seeing this post to lift up the country of Ukraine in prayer. #prayforukraine,” Gore posted.