August 1, 2014

Adventist Pastor Narrowly Escapes Fighting in Eastern Ukraine

The first Adventist church has sustained major damage during
fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine, but its pastor and his wife, who were holed
up in the basement, narrowly escaped without injury, church officials said

The small church in Debaltseve, a city of 26,000 people in
Ukraine’s Donetsk region, came under fire on the night of Sunday, July 27, as Ukrainian government forces reclaimed the city from pro-Russia

The shockwave from an exploding shell caused the church’s
ceiling to collapse and left large cracks in the walls, the church’s Eastern
Ukrainian Mission said. A shell also landed in the church but did not explode.

Pastor Sergei Kobzar and his wife, Tatyana, who live in an
apartment in the church building, were hiding in the basement, where they had
sought refuge a day earlier.

“I could not even imagine that the
explosions would be so powerful and loud,” Kobzar said in a statement
distributed by the Eastern Ukrainian Mission.

He said each explosion blew up clouds of dust in the
basement, making it difficult to breathe.

Eastern Ukraine is mired in a three-month
conflict between the separatists and government forces. More than 1,000 people
are thought to have been killed.

In Debaltseve, the first volleys were
fired on Friday night, July 25, and the next morning Kobzar telephoned the church’s
13 members to check on their well-being. They reported that the area was calm.

But then fierce fighting broke out around noon when
Ukrainian armored personnel carriers rumbled into town. A group of separatists
with heavy arms, including a Grad rocket launcher, set up camp in bushes
directly across from the church building, the Eastern Ukrainian Mission said.

Kobzar and his wife spent two sleepless nights in the
basement with no food. The church lost its power in the first attacks, leaving
the couple without light and running water. They drank from a small reserve of
water stored in bottles in the basement.

Kobzar said he and his wife read the Bible by flickering
candlelight and especially clung to a promise in Isaiah 43:2: "When you pass through the waters, I will
be with you; and through the rivers, they
shall not overflow you. When you walk through
the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall
the flame scorch you.”

They emerged from the basement on Monday
morning, July 28, and found the collapsed ceiling and damaged walls. Nearby
buildings were on fire.

Kobzar said he realized that they could no longer stay at
the church, but he didn’t dare leave in his own car, fearing sniper fire. So he
called four taxi companies, but got no answer. On the fifth attempt, he found a
man who agreed to take them out of town if they hurried.

“They got ready in five minutes,” the Eastern Ukrainian
Mission said in a statement. “They took the bare essentials: ID papers, their
remaining money, a Bible, the Sabbath school lesson guide, and a few pieces of
clothing. With a white cloth tied to a stick, they drove off.”

Kobzar and his wife were accompanied by a fellow Adventist member
and her grandson who had no place to live after a shell struck the apartment on
the floor below theirs, shattering their windows. Three other Adventists have
also fled the town.

To leave Debaltseve, Kobzar’s car had to pass through a
separatist-controlled checkpoint choked with a line of people in cars, on
bikes and on foot. Some people were holding suitcases, others were pushing
strollers with babies. The wait lasted 20 minutes, Kobzar said.

Outside the town, the car faced another checkpoint, this one controlled by Ukrainian government forces. After clearing that checkpoint,
the pastor’s wife burst into tears and thanked
God that they had "checked
out of this hell."

Sergei and Tatyana
Kobvar are now safe in the city of Dnepropetrovsk, church leaders

Guillermo Biaggi, president of the church’s Euro-Asia
Division, which includes Ukraine, called for renewed prayer for eastern

“Let’s pray for eastern Ukraine,” Biaggi said in an e-mail sent
Thursday to Adventist leaders throughout the division. “Our church pastors and
members are suffering. We need to pray for peace.”

He said he was grateful to God that no pastors or church
members have been killed or injured in the three months of fighting. “But many
people are suffering, and we continue to pray and mourn with so many families
who have lost loved ones,” he said.

Biaggi said the Kobvars’ escape reminded him
of a promise that God gave a helper of the prophet Jeremiah: "But I will rescue
you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be handed over to those you
fear. I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape” (Jer.
39:17, 18).

Adventist Review news
editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].
Twitter: @ARMcChesney

Related links

Adventist Review, July 27, 2014: “From Conflict-Hit Ukraine, Adventists Tell Stories of Hope”

, June 26, 2014: “Adventists
Urged to Pray for Peace in Ukraine”