At the beginning of the last century, a young immigrant from Russia to the US named Ivan Voronaev found himself in the midst of a revival.
This revival had started in a little store-front church on a street named Azusa in Los Angeles, but quickly spread across the nation and also impacted New York where in 1917 Voronaev pastored a small Russian Baptist congregation. He encountered the work, power and leading of the Holy Spirit there, as described in the New Testament.
Photo: The Voronaev family
Several months later at a home prayer meeting, Voronaev received a prophetic message, “Voronaev, Voronaev, go to Russia!” This would not be an easy task. The tsar recently had been overthrown by the bolsheviks, and political, religious, and social turmoil had produced much suffering.
In 1920 Voronaev went to Ukraine with his message of revival and set up headquarters in the port city of Odessa. In a few years of preaching, teaching and mobilising, he saw over 17,000 people encountering the Holy Spirit and following Christ. They fanned out across the Soviet Union, preached the gospel, and established Pentecostal churches. In 1926, Voronaev organised the General-Ukrainian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, which provided fellowship for the growing number of churches. By 1928, the Union consisted of about 400 congregations with approximately 20,000 members.
Shortly after this revival, Voronaev and his wife Katherine were arrested by the communists and sent to the gulag where he died. His wife sat out her sentence of 25 years. Their story is shared in more detail on the website of the Assemblies of God.
Photo: Odessa before the Russian invasion
Meanwhile, Stalin uprooted millions of Ukrainians (as Putin is doing today), scattering them across the Soviet Union to Siberia and beyond to the Far East, unwittingly spreading the revival. Voronaev’s disciples became the foundation of the underground church of Russia. At the same time Stalin replaced the Ukrainians with millions of Russians, thus creating the problem we are facing today.
Ukraine has long been the spiritual center of Eastern Europe and beyond. Seven out of ten evangelical churches in Russia today have Ukrainian pastors. Ukrainian churches can be found all over the former Soviet Union; and all across Europe, the US and the world.
As the leadership of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church met this week in Kyiv representing 1800 congregations, their senior bishop, Mykhailo Panochko, shared the belief of state officials that the church was a key element in the healing of their nation. “Don’t miss your chance to be part of great things God is performing,“ he told them. “God’s plans are surely higher than ours!”