"Protestantism has an ever greater influence in society."
An interview with Anatolii Kaliuzhnyi, head of the Council of the Assembly of Independent Evangelical Churches of Ukraine
— First, I would ask you to introduce yourself and say something about yourself and the church which you head.
— My name is Anatolii Kaliuzhnyi. I am 50 years old. My father was a minister since the age of 18, and later became one of the leaders of the Baptist movement in Ukraine. During the Holodomor [Genocide Famine] and World War II, he founded a number of churches. There were 12 children in our family: nine boys, of which eight are still alive. Six work as ministers in different churches and organizations.
In Soviet times, I was engaged in the youth underground movement in Ukraine. We printed literature and organized religious meetings. I cooperated with Western missionary structures, such as Kovpendors (the Slavic mission in Sweden), and even today we have close contacts with them.
Our church was formed in a very interesting fashion. In 1990, during the so-called “Perestroika” in the former USSR, the atheists invited me to participate in public debates in Kyiv. This caught my interest and as a Baptist I intended to speak out. Besides me, there was an Orthodox priest named Leonid Lotkovskyi and Professor Arestov, a professional atheist.
These debates took place in the Roman Catholic church of St. Alexander, which had once housed the atheists. We spoke a lot about Jesus Christ and his nature, son of God or ordinary person, explained about biblical prophecies, talked about the ethics of Christian morality, and so forth.
There were around 200-250 people in the audience. But at the end I said that if you wish to know about God, that’s one thing, but if you want to know God, then you have to resolve the problem of sin, because sin is what stands between you and God. And as soon as I called upon them, people rose to pray, and of course, I had a clash with the atheist, because these people wanted to know more about God.
I could not bring them into a Baptist church, because they were in no way similar to the Baptists, who had been isolated for 70 years and who had developed their own Baptist culture. But later, in the early 1990s, I began spiritual work with these people. Thanks to a man who was involved in the cultural sphere, we were able to rent the October Palace for a week, for a small sum. From that place originated a Protestant movement of new Evangelical churches in independent Ukraine. We call this the new generation of Evangelical churches in Ukraine. I was closely connected to the beginnings of this movement, which also gave rise to the Charismatic movement. I still remember how the already famous Sunday [Adelaja, head of the Kyiv-based Embassy of God Church] visited us for some holy day just to observe…
— Your church is known for its social ministry. Please tell about the operations of your work.
— Today our church numbers around 1,500 adult members, plus a large number of children who listen to our sermons. We team up with more than 200 organizations to provide Christmas gifts and work on other child-related projects. We are the largest organization which receives humanitarian gifts for children. We work with kids, because they are the future of Ukraine.
The way I see this church is that we have to serve these people. They are tired of empty words. The communists promised us many things and the church talks a lot, and so I have understood that something concrete has to be done for the people, by us, if we believe, and love these people who surround us. And our serving God is serving these people.
It so happened that right from the start, a woman named Nina Trukhan asked me to visit a former laundry-washing facility, where we found a woman under the stairs. Try to imagine, she had lived there for 24 years! I was shocked by the conditions in which she found herself. Then I went to visit some other families. For example, on Saksahanskyi Street we found two sisters, one was 87 and the other 89 years old. They lived together; one was paralyzed and the other blind, and there was no one else with them. So, with permission from the government, we started taking care of more than 100 elderly people who lived alone; for some reason, these were mostly Jews, because no one wanted to bother with them. And so, for 15 years we have been taking care of these kinds of people. We have helped to clean their living quarters, prepare food, and procure medicines for them. Basically, we just serve the needs of these people.
Next, we noticed another huge problem: the situation of invalid-children. At this time we have 600 such children, most with cerebral palsy, and some with spinal paralysis. For the most part, they live with their single-parent mothers, because the husbands cannot endure such a situation in the family and so abandon it. The mothers become depressed, often abuse alcohol, and the government does absolutely nothing to help them. We began looking for work for them, and on the lower floor we started a center for these children, a day-care place. Everyday we bring 10-15 children here, we study the Bible together and sing songs: this is great therapy. We have a professional nurse and massage therapists who work with the children, and we feed them. The main thing for them is communication with others, because they live alone in their homes for years. When we first took these children outside the city, you should’ve seen their eyes! These children had never been out in nature. We don’t have proper transportation vehicles for such invalid-children; only, when we attempted this, did we realize the great necessity for them.
After this, we went even further in our work of service. In this part of the city, many children live on the streets. Therefore, we founded a ministry to serve the “street children.” Everyday, we feed around 50 kids, and it is a good thing that the government gave us a place for this.
We are most perturbed by the fact that Ukraine is on the threshold of a widespread HIV-infection epidemic. You know that the West no longer finances anti-AID projects, because the funds sent by them were stolen on the government level, and so the West has lost its trust. Therefore, our church works in this area autonomously. We have developed a program titled Rebirth and have received validation of this by the Department of Culture in Kyiv. Our church works with educators in schools, and we preach Christian ethics and morality; we are particularly troubled by such problems as alcoholism, drugs, and [non-marital] sexual relations. This helps the children to develop a moral basis which will guide them through life.
We not only take preventative action in the schools, but we also work with those who are already infected. We have some very interesting projects in mind: we plan to create a rehabilitation center for infected people, where they will be able to receive all kinds of help, medical and spiritual, because they understand that they do not have long to live. Other people do not want to communicate with them because of their illness. The infected simply need moral support.
— Do you receive sizeable humanitarian aid from the West? Where do most of the funds come from? Having such an active social ministry, how do you manage financially?
— First of all, we do not receive money from the West. We finance all these services with offerings from the faithful, concrete people, concrete churches. But we get a lot of humanitarian support from the West. For example, I am a representative of the organization “Samaritan Person,” founded by Billy Graham, a well-known figure in the world. His son Franklin founded a similar organization which helps children in many countries of the world: in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. We receive hundreds of thousands of gifts, which go to social organizations and orphanages.
Statistics show that 70% of those who come to God are children. Children are a clean slate, with open hearts. What you place there will remain; if you place love and faith and spiritual-awareness, the child will carry this throughout its life.
Secondly, we have very good relations with the Scandinavian countries. We worked a lot with them in the underground during Soviet times, and have a great trust factor. Our religious community receives large-scale humanitarian transports from Denmark and Norway. In addition, I work unofficially with the European Evangelical Alliance: a unifying body of all Evangelical churches of Europe. We have contacts with the Euro-Parliament, because there are representatives of the above-mentioned alliance there. Of equal importance are contacts with European social and community organizations, with which we work closely.
— How would you describe your relations with people who surround you but do not belong to your churches? Were there not acts of aggression and intolerance from the people in neighboring buildings?
— Maybe there was something, if one were to carefully remember everything in the last 15 years. The greatest danger is religious fanaticism. I am afraid of fanatics of a political, national, and religious nature. We are not fanatics. When some church thinks that it alone possesses the truth, and all the others do not, then this is a very real danger.
We do not believe that we alone are right, that everything should go through us and that we have achieved the truth. In the social sphere, we work side-by-side with the Orthodox and even non-believers. Certain infrastructures tried to take away the building which we rent for the childcare center. Those who wished us harm searched for people who would write a complaint about us. But, they were not able to find anything bad about us. Today it is very easy for us to work, especially in Kyiv. Here people are open, particularly those who came at least once to a Protestant church. The situation is a bit different for our church in the east and west.
— How can such extensive work be done by one church? Do you have special sub-divisions that are responsible for social ministry? How does your hierarchical structure look?
— Well, our religious society is divided into three levels, almost like a submarine.
First, this is a religious community, an independent church of Evangelical Christians called New Life. It numbers around 1500 members. We have Ukrainian services in Kyiv every Sunday, and also some in Russian. It is very interesting that in the last few years more people are coming to the Ukrainian services and accepting Christ, and the popularity of the Ukrainian language in services has grown tremendously. This I can state as a fact.
Secondly, we have a religious union, which I head, the Council of the Assembly of Independent Evangelical Churches. In the last 15 years, more than 120 churches of various directions were created in many different regions of Ukraine. These churches are similar to ours, but the interesting thing is that we don’t have a clear vertical hierarchy, but rather a horizontal one. Thus, my function as head of the council lies in the fact that I coordinate various factions of ministry: educational, evangelization, social, as well as other projects.
Thirdly, there is a community organization, a cultural-educational center called New Life. It has an all-Ukrainian character, with 13 divisions throughout Ukraine. It is through this organization that we realize our ministries. We work with people in prisons, particularly in Lviv, where we have a separate church.
We created a Christian Soccer League, with approximately 300 teams all over Ukraine, thus keeping children and youth away from the harmful influences of the streets.
These are the main ministries of our church.
— How are your relations with other Protestant churches?
— My worldview stands above denominations. From the very beginning of our activity, I wanted to work with other churches. In theology, in our methods and forms of ministry, and in our manner of worship, we represent a whole new generation of churches.
I do not belong to the Baptist Federation, we have our own, but it is important to note that during the last 15 years, relations did not come easily. There was a long time when I was not understood, when my forms of worship were not received well. For instance, I organized concerts in the Sports Palace, where I invited athletes. Athlete-believers demonstrated what they could do for young people and we spoke about spirituality through athletics. Because of this, in the early 1990s, I had great difficulties, because the major Protestant denominations condemned these efforts. I told them: ”In 10-15 years, you will also follow this path, because if you don’t, your youth ministry will no longer be needed by anyone.” I am very happy to see that these very processes are currently appearing in Baptist and Pentecostal churches, as well as in others.
Currently, the Protestant movement has risen to such an extent that we are at the negotiating table. Moreover, I was one of the initiators of the so-called Church Council in Ukraine, where officially there are nine, and unofficially about 20 different denominations at the negotiating table. We very regularly conduct consultations dealing with various social, spiritual, and interreligious matters. This has reduced a lot of problems.
— Who exactly is part of this council? It is somewhat known, but we know little about its members.
— I think it would be best to speak with Volodymyr Harbar, because he is the secretary of the [Ukrainian] Interchurch Council. I can say that this council includes Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, and, of course, Protestants. As to its status, you should speak to him, because we have papers and affidavits, and I would not like to say something offhand that is not correct.
— How would you describe the current state of affairs between your council and the government, and in general? In particular, please compare the relations of a year or two ago with today: Are there any changes? If so, in what direction?
— First of all, I can say that during all these years the government did not stand in our way. This is a huge plus. For this reason a very strong Protestant movement was formed in Ukraine.
On the other hand, we had many problems. For example, our church has been trying for 15 years to acquire land for a building. We know of a public resolution that Protestant churches not be allowed to build in the central part of the city. Right here, for instance, across the street from the office we had acquired some land, paid $20,000 and completed all the preliminary work. But then I received official word from the Mayor’s Office that they had a change of plans and that a circus would be built here. Instead, there was a real circus here, because they constructed six or seven enormous buildings and sold them for a nice profit. And so, we see this circus everyday. It was very difficult.
Furthermore, in Kyiv, land and property are very expensive and this is a big problem. At one time, we had a meeting of the directorship of social workers, for those who are engaged in social work, both believers and non-believers. There used to be a lot of pioneer camps, and all these facilities were handed over to commercial enterprises. But those of us who work with drug addicts, alcoholics or invalids — we received nothing. In order for us to hold a camp of our own, we have to go to these commercial companies, and pay huge money to rent these camp sites for a week or two. And I said that the politics were very wrong, with everyone looking out for his/her own interests. Currently, the situation is almost hopeless, because almost all the property has been parceled out, and those who have worked seriously for many years in social ministry have been left with nothing.
And so today we rent dozens of facilities in Kyiv: this office is rented and the center for worship services is rented. We do an immense amount of work with children and we rent approximately 70 places around Kyiv, where we have Sunday schools for children outside of our church. We simply help children understand spiritual matters, in Obolon, in Troieshchyna, in Kharkivske, on the Left Bank (Livoberezhzhia), and practically in all the districts of Kyiv. It’s easier to reach children in the areas where they live, and they come gladly.
Therefore, I believe that relations are complicated, not simple. But I want to say that Protestantism has an ever greater influence in society. Especially in Kyiv, where the mayor himself is a Protestant, this says a lot. I am convinced that if not for the strong Protestant movement, our Maidan [Independence Square] and the Orange Revolution would not have been the same. I noted that the Greek Catholics were very seriously engaged, and so were the Protestants. I myself spoke three times on the Maidan. And I know that all these prayer centers, tents, humanitarian aid, the people who slept here in this office, and in my home, my friends from Belarus who currently work there—that’s the Belarusian movement. They are believers — one of them is secretary to Milienkevich —who were all learning on the Maidan and living in my home. This is why I believe that the Protestants are influential.
Now the time has come to work together with the government and act. On the social level, it is doubtful if any church does more than the Protestants. Since I have contacts with certain government officials, I would like to say that they understand this. The president gave an order to create family-oriented buildings. When they began working, they tried to find educators, but who will take 5-7 children and work with them? Alcoholics took them, because as a rule, they need money from the government, but they did not want to bother with the children and their upbringing. And so, we were approached and told that if the Protestants don’t take them and work with them…And so we formed one such family, then another, and now a third one is on the way. With mutual understanding between the government and Protestant churches, a lot could be done for the city, the country, and the people. There are many people willing to do this, because a believing person has the proper motivation.
We serve people, not because we expect something from them. We serve them because we love them, because God loves them just as he loves us. And this is our calling from God. Having such a motivation, it is very easy for us to stress the fact that if you love God, but not your neighbor, then you are worse than a non-believer. If you love God, then you should love your neighbor, and so you should serve. We have a very interesting concept: every member of the church is a minister. Therefore, every person who came to church, came to know God, was released from his/her sins and old habits, and found new life, should find a vocation in which to serve society. That is why we have many different kinds of ministries, because people want to serve the community.
— What, in your opinion, is currently the greatest problem in Ukraine, and what paths do you see to its resolution? What should we pay attention to right now?
— I feel that the greatest problem of our president and our government is the problem of staff — finding decent, educated, and honest staff. If our president and our new government would focus on deeply religious people, who find it easier to abstain from bribery or take part in some speculation, this would be a great success. Today our government and the principles of the Maidan are being destroyed by the people who surround them, because they are not always decent. Their motivations are not always right. They seek their own gain, not the national, and their consciousness is on a very low level. If at the helm of the nation stood people with high moral standards, deeply spiritual patriots of Ukraine, but not fanatics — who serve the interests of some concrete party or church — who serve the interests of Ukraine, this would help our nation to make that forward leap for which we have been waiting so long.
Interview conducted by Taras ANTOSHEVSKYY, Kyiv, 26 June 2006.
Posted on RISU’s Ukrainian-language site on 20 September 2006.
Translated by Tatianna GAJECKY-WYNAR, 19 October 2006.