African Initiated Christianity in Eastern Europe: Church of the "Embassy of God" in Ukraine

Article excerpt

The crucial events of Christian history have often taken place through obscure people.--Andrew F. Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History

Changing paradigms in Christian mission challenge standard definitions of African Initiated Churches as "churches established by Africans in Africa for Africans." This essay revisits the older definitions in light of the ministry of Nigerian-born Pastor Sunday Adelaja, founder of a new type of African Christian initiative in eastern Europe. He is head of The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations, a neo-Pentecostal church in Kiev, Ukraine. (1) The significance of this new type of ministry is understood against the backdrop of the "mission in reverse" theory. Unlike the majority of African Initiated Churches in the diaspora, God's Embassy is not predominantly African in membership. (2) More than 90 percent of its 20,000 adult members in the Ukraine are indigenous Europeans. This fact has turned Pastor Adelaja into a religious icon in the country. During my visit to Kiev in May 2004, my first information on God's Embassy came from a taxi driver. He knew about, and highly respected, Pastor Sunday; "he is doing great work in our country," he told me. (3)

"So what do you think about this church?" I asked. "Well, I don't go [to] church myself, but looking at the many Ukrainians in it, it certainly must be something good, that [an] African pastor has become more popular than the politicians."

Pastor Sunday Adelaja

Nigerian-born Pastor Adelaja relocated from Russia to the Ukraine a little over a decade ago. He was born again in Nigeria at nineteen years of age in 1986. Six months later he obtained a scholarship to study journalism at the Belarus State University in Minsk, during which period he also led the African Christian Students' Fellowship in what was then the Soviet Union. He ruled out returning to Nigeria after studies because of the "unstable nature of the situation at home."

Pastor Sunday speaks fluent Russian and preaches mainly in that language. He started the church because, as he notes, "God gave me a specific word in 1993," namely, "I will use people from the former Soviet Union to gather the end-time harvest ... before the coming of my Son." He states in one of his over thirty popular Christian books, "Though I am a foreigner, God has given me the ability to go and minister beyond race, culture, and denominational barriers." (4) The name of the church was chosen to reflect this understanding of Christian mission: "The Church is the representative of God on the earth--His 'Embassy.' Therefore, we--children of God--are the citizens of His Divine Kingdom and not citizens of this world! The Blessed Kingdom of God [is] a place of destruction of curses. At the head of every kingdom is a king. Our King is Jesus Christ! He is the Lord of all nations; ... Jesus Christ is the Savior for everyone, irrespective of his age, color of skin, nationality and social status." (5)

In the view of Ghanaian theologian Kwame Bediako, the self-definition of the new Pentecostal churches as "international" organizations points to "some specifically Christian dimensions of the African participation in globalization that may escape secular-minded observers." For, by their own assertion, they are international churches because God has called them into a global missionary task. (6) "We now know why God created Africa," is how Pastor Vladimir Gargar, a Ukrainian pastor of God's Embassy, summarized the meaning of Pastor Adelaja in their midst: "God created Africa to open our eyes to his salvation."

"Taking New Territories": The March for Life

"Ukraine is choosing Jesus"; "There is a way out, and it is Jesus"; "Jesus is the answer to AIDS"; "Jesus is the answer to narcotics"; "God is blessing Ukraine"; "Choosing Jesus will protect Ukraine from AIDS." These were a few of the proclamations made in May 2004 during the annual March for Life organized by God's Embassy in Kiev. …