"If sin is advertised, why can’t we advertise God?!"
An interview with the head of the board and executive director of the civic organization Power of Changes of the city of Kyiv, Yurii BABYNETS, one of the organizers of the action “Feel the power of changes”
“Advertising God for half a million.” “Who sponsors the advertising of God?” “Advertising God for the mayor.” “Divine light-boxes.” The Kyivan press has been full of such loud headlines since the beginning of November. Passionate discussions continue on various Internet forums and blogs. Questions have been hanging in the air and provoking journalistic investigations.
The furor has been created by the social action “Feel the power of changes,” which has been held in the capital from 1 November. The whole city is covered with numerous bill boards (some of them of 600 square meters), underground stations are illuminated with city lights, there is a poster almost in every car plus advertisement on Our Radio and Radio Energy and 15-minute films on TV. And all these advertising products call one to “feel the power of changes,” already felt by the persons shown in the ads. These are: Miss Ukraine-2007 Lika Roman, World Fencing champion Volodymyr Lukashenko, singer Maryna Odolska, Oleh Vasiur, a former authority in criminal circles, and others.
Before the start of the campaign, the organizers, members of the civic organization Power of Changes clearly announced their aim, namely, to attract the attention of the people of Kyiv to urgent problems of our society and show the reality of getting out of seemingly dead ends by examples from life.
However, the public was shocked by the wide scale of the action, which pointed to a large budget of hundreds of thousands dollars. A statement by well-known Pastor Sunday Adelaja about his involvement in the Power of Change has also been alarming. For the figure of that preacher is directly associated with the present mayor of Kyiv.
The head of the board and executive director of the civic organization Power of Changes of the city of Kyiv, Yurii Babynets, tells RISU about the character, organization and course of the action.
—In the beginning, about the beginning. What is the origin of this organization?
—I myself learned about the project in April of this year. I received an invitation to meet with Hannu Haukka from the UCTRC [Ukrainian Christian Television and Radio Company, Hannu Haukka was one of its founders]. It was a big meeting attended by many bishops and pastors from various denominations. Hannu Hauka is the president of the international organization Feel the Power of Changes. He presented the project to us and said that a campaign had already been organized in dozens of countries of the world, including: Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South America as well as Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. After the presentation, Hannu asked if we would be able to implement that project. We were willing of course. But we discussed a number of important problems and clarified the problems of cooperation of denominations for another month. For the event gathered denominations which met under one roof for the first time.
I cannot name the denominations, because according to an agreement, no individual denomination or church is to be paraded.
When all controversial questions were settled, it was necessary to elect the executive manager of the project. There were several candidates, but they withdrew in the process of work under the heavy load and I was left alone. My candidacy was approved. Then we began to rapidly register the civic organization Power of Changes for that project. The lawyers explained to us that only physical persons and not associations could found it. Therefore we chose a few candidates to be the founders and began the registration. The main thing for us was to ensure performance by the organization of its function, the realization of the project. That is how the organization was established. Then a press-conference was held at Interfax-Ukraine. To our surprise, 40 reporters came to the event. We did not expect such interest from the press, and even hesitated to hold a press conference, as we were not sure if anyone would come. But the hall was nearly full. It is clear that someone came to see Lika Roman, some to see Lukashenko, that is, the persons who became the face of the project. But this was not important any more, for the project and those persons became one face.
—How long did preparations for the event take? How many people have been involved?
—Preparations lasted from April to November 1. The realization period of the action is from 1 November to 9 December.
All in all, about 1500 persons have been involved in the project They are mostly volunteers. There are also reserves: 5-10 thousand people who are ready to help at any moment. But these people are currently not passive either. They constantly watch the posted advertising materials. We receive daily updates of the condition of the city-lights and posters. For instance, if anyone writes something with a marker on a city-light, we know about it in a few minutes. We even have photos of the incident. The volunteers are our eyes and ears. But we, on principle, do not want to sue anyone as part of this campaign, either persons or organizations or churches ignoring the agreements.
There is a hot line where one can freely order the book “Feel the power of changes” at any time. We have prepared people for this work.
—They say that the telephone operators tried to “convert” some of those who called. And couriers ask one to fill out a questionnaire upon delivery?
—Our telephone operators have no right to persuade people to go to any church. Their task is only to write down the address of the callers or deliver the book through a courier. They also ask how the person learned about the action and can ask about their age. We will need this information later to analyze the results of the campaign. Sometimes, we are asked to meet in town to pass out the book. But we agree to this very seldom, only because it can be dangerous. Neither do we agree to a proposal to come to our office. For the experience of holding similar campaigns in other countries shows that offices often were attacked. There were aggressive demarches, which resulted in broken windows, and so on.
I will be frank, we had incidents when an operator tried to start spiritual talks over the telephone. We stopped it at once and dismissed the person from that job.
As for any questionnaires being filled upon the delivery of books, there is nothing like that in the campaign plan.
— How many books have been ordered already?
— More than 3000 books have been ordered. In some cases, managers of banks, children’s and junior football clubs and beauty salons ordered the book for all their employees. Recently we received a call from a minister of the Greek Catholic Church who ordered a large number of books for his community. I have no right to mention the names of those persons, but they all expressed support for our action.
We are called by many elderly people who do not order the book because of their poor sight. But they expressed gratitude to us for our good work. “It is very useful for our children and grandchildren,” they say.
—What does that “handbook for happiness”entitled “Feel the power of changes” contain?
—The book sets out the basics of Christianity and presents real life stories of participants of the project. The people tell about difficulties experienced by them and how God miraculously works in their lives. For instance, Volodymyr Lukashenko tells that God gave him back his father after seven years of separation: “I hated my father for being a drunkard. My mother could not bear his drinking periods and divorced him. It was a difficult psychological trauma for an 11-year-old boy, which I was. After that, I decided that I have no father.” But the father went through wonderful transformations after his conversion to God. He returned to the family. Moreover, the whole family became believers.
The book contains the story of the head of DPS DAI [state auto inspection] HU in the Kyiv Region, Vasyl Perehinets. He tells how he manages to serve in a fitting way without taking bribes.
Miss Ukraine-2007, Lika Roman, talks about her interpretation of her beauty and accentuates its inner aspect. I am sure that her testimony will be important for young girls.
To cut it short, each testimony is a response to a concrete social problem. And each of the people is known in Kyiv. A former criminal, Oleh Vasiur, is known in certain circles. A former skillful car thief, Petro Kuchuhurnyi, is also known. They are ordinary people whose life changed in an extraordinary way.
- Flowers for women and small calendars for men
—There is another item that is part of the action. The rose one. We organized it twice. Early in the morning, at 7:30 at 24 underground stations, young people, girls and boys distributed small calendars and flyers and big expensive roses to all the women. The effect is immense, I must say! Can you imagine? The morning, sleepy and pessimistic people move to the underground in a long line. And here comes the flower present. The reaction of women was very emotional. Some were moved to tears. It was very pleasant to look at. I always dreamed of doing something like that but never had the opportunity.
—But why does the resonance have a negative coloring as well? The public is suspicious about the budget of the action of nearly half a million? Or, perhaps, the format irritates the Ukrainian mentality?
—God is the only person who can be advertised 100% and even more. Unfortunately, there are a little less funds than we would like. If there were more, we would advertise on an even large scale. But I think we will do it next time.
For a Ukrainian, it is usual to ask “Where has the money come from? Especially, where does my neighbor’s money come from? We never concealed the source of our financing: it is the account of the Finnish TV radio company IRR-TV. The amount is 450,000 dollars. Half of the funds was used to pay for the services of a PR agency Mainstream Communication and Consulting, which helped us to organize the action and booked the advertisement areas, and the other half was received by our civic organization to be used at our disposal.
As for the format of the advertisement, it was used and proved effective in dozens of cities with millions of people. PR managers working with the most famous world brands, such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds, contributed to its development. They were the PR people who accompanied the elections of the top figures of America and Ukrainian politicians. In other words, they are experts.
The main reason why the action surprises people is the fact that a campaign of such a scale is organized for the first time.
The negative resonance is caused by the association of the West with the person of Sunday Adelaja. Therefore, I understand the attitude of the press. But I state that that pastor does not participate officially in the event. He is not a member of the organizing committee. He was not present at any meetings. I will not hide that I met with Pastor Adelaja. I asked him not to undertake such actions during the project in order for the project not to be associated with the Embassy of God. However, as we can see, we were not able to avoid it. And as the present mayor of Kyiv is closely associated with that church, the press immediately drew a parallel between him and the Power of Changes, which is simply nonsense!
The Power of Changes is a project, which is designed to return man to the first source, to God and the church. To any church! Therefore, none of the organizers and participants of the action has a right even to mention the church they go to. I repeat that we do not propagate any specific church, but we propagate the Christian way of life.
— 450,000 dollars… Wouldn’t it be better to buy a building for a consulting center for pregnant women or an orphanage?
—I have been cooperating with many charitable foundations and organizations for a long time. Including the international charitable foundation Father’s House. The foundation works with homeless children. It runs rehabilitation centers for alcoholics and drug addicts, and so on. I often work there as a volunteer. At a recent meeting at Father House,” President Yushchenko said: “If asked whether too not enough funds are allocated for solving the problems of orphan children or for other social problems, one would answer: on the contrary, too much money is allocated. But the problems are not being solved. For we begin to solve a problem when it is already there.”
You know, it is like picking leaves from the trees in summer: they will grow next year anyway. Therefore, first of all, prevention is needed. It is known that it is not so expensive as treatment, but is more effective. Prevention can save much of the state money and the money of all civic organizations and charitable foundations. In my understanding, if, thanks to the campaign Feel the Power of Changes, a family is converted to God and parents who used to abuse drugs and alcohol do not kick their child onto the street, I think it was worth doing for the sake of that one child.
—What effect do you expect from the event? And what usually happened in cities which already “felt” the “Power of Change?”
—Typically, in cities where the campaign was held churches were planted. Churches of various Christian denominations. And the churches were filled with people.
People often express their support and approval to us over the telephone. One can see how they support the moral values lost by our society. And I agree with them. For sometimes, I look at Kyiv and get the impression that we live in Holland, where the notion of freedom has long since been carried to the point of absurdity.
—Are such actions planned to be held in other cities of Ukraine?
We plan to hold similar events. But no such actions will be held in Ukraine in the next half year. It is not easy to implement such a campaign. Each city has its specificities. And methods which are effective in one city are useless in another. We had to change much of what we had planned in the process of implementing the campaign. Ukraine is an interesting country. No statistics are effective here. It cannot be grasped with one’s mind, as well as Russia. One simply has to grow and live here.
— Tо be continued?
—What will our activity be like after this action? Very interesting, and perhaps very scandalous. We will monitor the mass media and the compliance of their activity with the law of Ukraine. It will be a kind of assistance to the National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting. We will filter the advertisement of alcohol, cigarettes, pornography. And we will defend the moral and ethics of the city of Kyiv in court. We will submit hundreds and thousands of claims against companies which broadcast or post such advertisements contrary to the law.
We struggle against the filthiness of sin and advertise God. If sin is advertised, why can’t we advertise God?!
Interview by Svitlana YAROSHENKO
Kyiv, 23 November 2007