WINTER PARK (FBW)—When First Baptist Church in Winter Park helped plant a church in Kiev, Ukraine in the fall of 1991 there were only 900 churches in the country. Now there are over 3,000 Baptist churches alone. Since that time J.C. Mitchell, retired pastor of the church and president of the Florida Baptist State Convention from 1989-90, has been engaging the lost people of Ukraine through church planting.
Mitchell was invited by an evangelist to visit the Ukraine in 1991, the same year the USSR was dissolved. There he met a young believer by the name of Yaroslav Machinsky.
“Yaroslav is an example of how God was preparing Ukraine for the time when the country would be free,” said Mitchell.
“Over 100,000 clergy were executed in the USSR,” Mitchell said, “with many more imprisoned and tortured.”
One of the many who were placed into prison was John Machinsky, the grandfather of Yaroslav, who currently serves as the pastor of Revival Baptist Church, one of the fastest-growing congregations in the Ukraine.
A steadfast believer, the elder Machinsky was imprisoned for ten years for preaching the Gospel. After his release, he, along with many
secret churches, met in homes and even in the forest snow to worship and fellowship.
When Yaroslav was 15 years old, he came to faith in Christ and was baptized in 1985. The Soviets compelled him to serve in the army in Siberia for two years, where he was beaten and sentenced to hard labor in excruciating conditions.
Mitchell said it was Yaroslav’s persecution that led to fertile ground for the young man’s call to ministry.
Under Mitchell’s leadership First Baptist Winter Park made yearly visits to the church plant, investing in Yaroslav who enrolled in seminary and began leading a Bible study in a Soviet-era building where the Bible was once declared to be false.
“Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev reportedly held up a Bible and said, ‘We are going to close down the rest of your churches,’” said Mitchell.
There, they opened the first home of Revival Baptist Church. The congregation grew significantly and after seven years needed a more permanent meeting place. Mitchell and others raised almost $300,000 to buy property.
The building they constructed on a busy highway included a 400-seat auditorium and educational space.
Mitchell spoke at the dedication of the new building, challenging Revival Baptist to plant 20 more churches in Ukraine.
“Machinsky and Revival Baptist were up to the challenge and have been planting churches ever since,” Mitchell said.
One church is in the Chernobyl region, near the place of the nuclear explosion and fallout of 1986. Mitchell had received a letter from a member of the Chernobyl community, asking for help in providing a church for the area.
Again, Mitchell led the charge to raise funds for a building.
Again, he succeeded.
“At the dedication, 85 children attended a children’s service and 100 people came for a church service in an area seemingly forgotten by the world,” Mitchell recalled.
The church is the only one in the region where 50,000 people live in 41 villages.
“God is absolutely at work in the Ukraine,” Mitchell said, noting last July that 200 new believers followed the Lord in baptism. “Through the faithfulness of people in Ukraine and those in the United States, churches are rising up and the revival is evident in a country that for so long faced incredible hardship and persecution.”
Story compiled by Mark Heath and Joni B. Hannigan from a report submitted by Scott E. Clark.
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