Thirty hours after boarding a plane in Phoenix, Arizona, we arrived at our first destination — Kharkov, a city of 2 million souls, plus half a million college students. It’s a few miles from the Russian border and the educational center of Ukraine. Our plane landed in Kiev, the northern capital of the country. We were met by our organizers who supplied a van to take all of us to Kharkov, five bumpy hours on less-than-smooth Ukrainian roads. We made our way across the countryside with spring in full bloom. This bitterly cold country in winter is beginning to come alive. Crops are being planted, trees are budding, and the temperature is warm in the 70s. (After here it’s on to Siberia so I’m grateful for the respite.)
Why come halfway around the world when there are plenty of opportunities to bring the message of salvation and deliverance elsewhere? After more than three decades of ministry in 100+ countries I can honestly say that Russia and Eastern Europe are the most exciting places for spiritual breakthroughs anywhere on the planet. Fervor for the Lord is more intense here than anywhere I’ve been, and this is my fifth journey here in four years. The reason is simple. This part of the world is getting a fresh breath of freedom since the fall of the Soviet Empire in 1991, just 22 years ago. Other parts of the world have had decades, even centuries, to experience the fruits of the Gospel. But Eastern Europe has been dominated with atheism for half a century, Russia for a century. Evangelical Christianity is exploding with intensity like nowhere else. The music and worship are bold and intense. The preaching is uncompromising. Very young pastors with youthful constituents are seeing congregations grow into the thousand, sometimes in a matter of months.
But challenges remain. After so many years of Hitler’s Nazism and Stalin’s Communism there’s a spiritual vacuum. That was evident as we drove across the countryside on our way to the first meeting in Kharkov. We slowed down to pass through a small farming village. There, in the main square was a 15 foot tall, imposing statue of Lenin, architect of Communism and murderer of millions. Why it is still there is anyone’s guess. Tradition, apathy, irrelevance, fear of reprisals from still-loyal Communists? That statue is a visible symbol of the shadow of institutional atheism that still lingers over this land. That’s why I’m here, with the Teenage Exorcists; to spiritually dismantle what that statue stands for by bringing the hope of Christ and the message of deliverance from the bondage of unbelief. To all those who have helped to support this mission, thank you.