Magazine article Insight on the News

A Search for Spiritual Peace in a Land of Economic Chaos

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Search for Spiritual Peace in a Land of Economic Chaos

Article excerpt

Ukrainians are getting religion, but not the self-reliant, free-market faith the West would prefer. Instead, charismatic evangelists are stepping into the void of political and economic confusion.

There's a new sound on the streets of Kiev. After 74 years of blasting Communist Party propaganda and the speeches of party leaders, public loudspeakers in the Ukrainian capital are crackling with the sounds of religious fervor.

"In every district, you can find a church like this," says Mikhail Shkilov, a 41-year-old engineer who sings on Kiev streets with a German missionary group. "We are getting help from our brothers in Germany. Singers and actors come here to help spiritually."

Three years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians are suffering from political malaise. Where once they relied upon the Communist Party for life's answers, now they're seeking those answers elsewhere.

"Everybody's searching for something to believe in," says Eugeny Tkatchouk, one of Kiev's many unemployed young people. "Before, it was the Communist Party and a job. Now people have lost their jobs; they've lost their belief in the Communist Party. Everybody is trying to find something new to replace communism. Some people find their belief in making money, but most go to church."

Shkilov agrees. "Unemployment and instability lead to the church," he says. "Half the engineers here are already unemployed. But human life doesn't depend on the economy. Spiritual freedom is much more important than day-to-day problems."

Indeed, spirituals are coming from all over the world: Pentecostals from Texas, Lutherans from Germany and Charismatics from Sweden, among others, have descended upon Ukraine like the 10 plagues of Egypt.

"In America, you can preach your heart out and you get maybe one person coming up [to be saved]," enthuses Rick Bradley, an American preacher and self-described specialist in evangelism, Bible teaching and foreign missions. "Here, they come up -- 20, 50, 100 people in one night. It sure gives you a buzz." And Christians aren't the only ones getting in on the act. Moslem, Hindu and Hare Krishna communities have sprung up, and even a cluster of doomsday cults has found new devotees. Last November, police arrested Maria Tsvihun, who called herself Maria Devi Khrystos, and was leader of the White Brotherhood cult, after she threatened to crucify herself and rise from the dead after three days.

In recent months, prominent Christian preachers have rented sports stadiums for huge services. Smaller missions run churches or work with unregistered Christian groups that had been banned by the communists.

Take, for example, Jack Roland Murphy, an ex-jewel thief turned preacher who's known as "Murf the Surf." Murphy has recruited an army of young helpers to hand out fliers around Kiev advertising his appearances. His pretty, female followers fan out across the city, talking to Ukrainians about Murphy's particularly American brand of Christianity.

"Evangelists come here in droves," says Bradley. "We have come to help a church that went through 74 years of communist persecution. We are trying to help them determine how the Lord wants them to live." Bradley abandoned a nine-year speaking tour of American college campuses in 1993 to preach in Kiev. Last year, he won a teaching position at Kiev Pedagogical University; he claims to be the first college professor in Ukraine allowed to teach the Bible in a positive way.

Despite the Soviet regime's hostility to religion, Christianity always has been part of Ukrainian culture. The western section of the country was part of Poland until 1939 and inherited its Catholic tradition; easter Ukrainians adopted the Orthodox faith.

During the communist period, government officials closed most of the country's churches, converting some into museums -- sometimes of a clearly hostile, or at least ironic, intent. …

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