Poltava, Ukraine: Ministry Continues During War

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Calvary Chapel Poltava Continues to Gather & Worship in Wartime

Story by Margot Bass
Photos courtesy of Eric Bougie

“Good morning to the Church of God! The blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ is with all of us! Amen! A new day, another day of the life that the Lord gives us,” exclaimed Pasha, the current leader of Calvary Chapel Poltava in Ukraine, in a recent post to his congregation. “We thank our God for [His] mercy and goodness to us. Thank you for the hope we have through Your Word. Thank you for Your Spirit, with whom You strengthen our souls. We live, we pray.”

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Eric and Tatyana Bougie. Eric has been pastor of Calvary Chapel Poltava, Ukraine, since 2006. He and his wife are parents to four children, ages 10-18. When they left for the U.S. in mid-January to take care of important family business, they expected to return in April. War in Ukraine has preempted those plans. Even from the States, they continue to minister to their congregation from afar.

He was inviting them to the Wednesday evening service. “Please come. We need communication more than ever at this time, not only in the world of news and events of today, but much more in the light of the Word and the Spirit of God.”

After the Russian invasion, Pasha is standing in the gap at CC Poltava, located in Central Ukraine. Many church members have left the city of approximately 283,000 situated on the Vorskla River. Pastor Eric Bougie, who has ministered there since 2006, cannot be there now—in mid-January, he took his family to the U.S. to take care of important family matters, expecting to return in April and not expecting a war.

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CC Poltava has a strong ministry in its community. In this photo taken before the Bougie family left, members minister to and assist parents of children born prematurely.

An Unexpected Delay
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have long been tense. “There were warnings all the time that there were Russians on the border, and many Ukrainians thought it was a lot of huffing and puffing by Russia,” Eric acknowledged. “Being away is bittersweet, and we’re torn. We’re here, safe with our children, but we [know] people who are in harm’s way. We understand that there are people in Ukraine who have kids and are in danger.” He and his Russian-born wife Tatyana have four children, three boys and one girl, ranging in age from 10 to 18. Tatyana, his wife of 19 years, has served as the church’s worship leader.

Returning to Ukraine soon “seems impossible” for now, Eric realizes. “Our heart is to go back as soon as the situation changes. We love the church, we want to be with them, and we don’t want to feel like we abandoned them. If God would open another door to get us closer to Poltava somehow, to be ready to go and to help people, we’re open to that. We’re in this place right now: OK, Lord, what next? Make it clear to us so that we’re not moving on emotions.”

                  

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While the Bougie family is away, the church continues to meet on Sundays and Wednesdays, led by Pasha, “a wonderful Ukrainian brother in the Lord, who’s been with the church even longer than I have. It’s personal for him; it’s his own homeland that’s being attacked. We don’t love what’s happening, but we love to see the work the Lord is doing in his life,” Eric explained.

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CC Poltava continues to meet for worship and biblical teaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, even though many members have left for safer locations in Western Ukraine and border nations. Here, the young worship team joyfully leads praises before the current war. Pastor Eric’s wife, Tatyana (back, far left), is the worship leader. Pasha, a church leader, is leading the fellowship until the Bougie family can return.

Forced to Leave
Although there has been, so far, no bombing in Poltava, air sirens go off at least twice a day. Many from the church have left; before the war began, attendance averaged 70, but that number has understandably dwindled, Eric said. “We had a huge African population in the city, and some, students, came to our church. I would say a third of our church came from Africa. They all left. All of the students we know are either in Hungary or back in Africa with their parents. Some of them were in their late teens, and they were so frightened.”

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Vicka, a member of CC Poltava, recently left the city to join her husband who works in Poland. She and her two sons, ages 7 and 4, left the city on this crowded, standing- room-only train, for a roughly 24-hour journey to Poland. Once in Poland, she was transported by volunteers across the country to her husband. “She’s testifying about how the Lord provided throughout difficulty,” Eric shared.

However, leaving has been difficult for many. Recently, some from the church have been helped through the efforts of Calvary Chapel pastors who purchased vans to take Ukrainians to border countries. One mother in his congregation, Vicka, took her two sons, ages 7 and 4, to meet her husband who works in Poland. “It was just a nightmare on the train. Her little boy just about got trampled because everyone was trying to get on these evacuation trains. They had to stand in this packed train car for like 24 hours. She was praying the whole way,” Eric shared. “Once she got to Poland, there was somebody who got her all the way across to the other side of the country. She’s already found a Russian-speaking church [which] speaks a language she understands. She’s testifying about how the Lord has been providing throughout difficulty. God took care of them.”

Poltava lies between Kyiv and Kharkiv, both cities that have been very heavily hit by the Russian military. “Right now, a lot of people are coming to Poltava, but I think it’s just a midpoint to go on further west and to the borders of other countries.” Eric shared concerns about possible future attacks, based on its nearness to those hard-hit cities. However, he said, Poltava doesn’t have a heavy military presence. “We’re just praying that if the Russian army gets that far, which we hope won’t happen, that they won’t do anything here at all. So far, we’ve heard that Poltava has not suffered some of the things you’ve seen on TV.”

“The Lord is our help in this present time of need,” Eric emphasized, summarizing many verses in Scripture. “I encourage the body of Christ to read all of Psalm 121. When all of this started happening, that is what came to my mind over and over again.”

My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore. Psalm 121:2, 7-8

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Poltava was home to a large African population, many of whom were students, until the recent war. Here, members from that group enjoy a Christmas dinner at CC Poltava.

Maintaining Relationships
Despite his absence, Eric has maintained strong communication with his Ukrainian flock. “We had some great ministries, and we’re writing to the people daily to see how they’re doing, trying to encourage them.” In addition, he believes God has called him to raise funding from generous believers—including from his sending church of Calvary Chapel Melbourne, FL—to provide money directly to individuals in his congregation, and to others, from Poltava. Some who give directly have visited the Ukrainian church and know the congregation personally.

“Most of the people in Poltava aren’t working now,” Eric noted. “Some who receive aid are on the road, so I can’t even imagine what kind of expenses they might be coming up with, especially if they’re in a different country. We were just trying to reach out to people who might need help immediately.” At this point, the church has not opened as a refugee center, although it is willing if the need arises, Eric said. Some members are housing refugees as they pass through.

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Couples gather for fun and encouragement at CC Poltava before the Russian invasion. Other ministries include outreach to special needs youth and youth who enjoy playing volleyball.

Eric revealed that his family left 99% of their possessions in Ukraine when they left—but not just that. “Our hearts are there. Absolutely. I can’t stop thinking about them and what they’re going through. We love serving the church there, and the people. Praise the Lord that everything’s pretty quiet in Poltava. We can only pray that it will stay that way.”

Prayer Requests
• Pray for Pasha, who is now leading the church, that God would do a special, deep work in him during this time. “He’s a solid believer, but I believe this is producing in him even more [growth] than he had before,” Eric declared.
• Pray that “people we know, who don’t know the Lord, will somehow get to the church—that they would attend and come to the Lord through all of this," Eric emphasized.
• Pray for non-believers the church has reached out to in the past to also come to faith.
• Pray that the Lord would bring peace to Ukraine and protect Poltava from heavy military action.
• Pray that the Bougie family will be able to find an affordable used van for travel while they stay in the U.S.

How to Help
Donate to Calvery Chapel Melbourne here
Donations can also be made through Calvary Chapel of Philadelphia at app.securegive.com

                  

(Click here to read more about and to register for the Bridge for Life conference)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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