Lisbon, Portugal – Roman Rakhuba, a leader of the Mennonite Church in Ukraine, shared the trauma of recent military actions in his country during his first ever participation in the annual gathering of leaders of European Mennonite conferences.
He shared how the church is responding in the face of lost homes and a mandatory draft for their young men. They are trying to find ways to support each other if people need to evacuate, even having evacuation plans hanging in the church.
He also told a dramatic story about the power of prayer. One pastor crossed the lines of battle to bring clothes and other materials to people in need on the other side. He was caught by separatists who are mainly Orthodox and who see Protestants and Evangelicals as heretics. They put him in a cell and told him he would be executed.
When he was brought to the place where he would be shot he prayed aloud. The wife of the commander of the execution party heard him and said to her husband: “You cannot execute this man, he is a Christian!” She implored her husband to set him free and finally he gave in. He gave the pastor some money and they brought him close to the line of battle and set him free! He reached the other side safely.
A powerful moment of the meeting occurred when all the leaders gathered together to pray for Rakhuba and the church in Ukraine. On his Facebook account, Rakhuba described it as the most moving moment of his life.
The European Mennonite leaders urge everyone in the global Anabaptist community to hold up the Mennonite church in Ukraine in prayer. They ask for prayers for wisdom to be faithful disciples in times of war and violence, prayers for strength and support as the Ukrainian church is reaching out to a great number of refugees, and prayers for wisdom as the church walks with people who are suffering.
What began as a meeting of a few long standing Mennonite churches has grown into a time of connection and mutual support between Mennonite leaders from all over Europe. The most recent annual meeting took place from 17-19 October 2014, and was hosted by the Mennonite Brethren church in Portugal.
Henk Stenvers, MWC Europe representative, shared that it was a time of, “Sharing our challenges and concerns, discussing peace issues and Mennonite identity and trying to think about ways to work together. In this way we want to create a network of Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren churches in Europe.”
Participants, who are leaders of national churches and the MWC Executive committee members for Europe, represented a diversity of countries: Netherlands, Switzerland, Ukraine, France, Spain, Portugal, and several conferences from Germany. David Wiebe, president of the International Community of Mennonite Brethren, was also present as a guest.