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Kiev conference brings national visibility to churches

Waiting in Houston for the flights that would take him to Amsterdam, and then Kiev, David Deffenbaugh had to admit — he wasn’t sure what to expect on this trip to Ukraine.
Though he and fellow Oklahoma preacher Roger Thompson have made many trips on behalf of the Blagovest and Libre Press ministries, this was different.
Earlier in the year the ministries had problems getting approval to do benevolence work in a Ukrainian city, and met with the National Ministry of Religion seeking assistance. Much to the Americans’ surprise, the government asked them to host one of its regular meetings. Thompson, Deffenbaugh and fellow Blagovest worker C.D. Bailey put together the Nov. 4-5 conference, which featured about 60 government officials, scientists and representatives of religious groups from across the country.
Church members from the United States addressed the conference on the roles of family values and character education in nation building. Speakers included Deffenbaugh; Marcia Lightsey, a licensed counselor and member of the Broken Arrow, Okla., church; Lyle Asbill, minister for the Grapevine, Texas, church; and Bob Burkle, president of Dallas-based Character International.
Ukrainian speakers, including Orthodox priests, covered topics ranging from the need for different faiths to work together to make a better Ukraine to preserving historic religious buildings.
It’s not the first time such a meeting has featured guests from the United States, but it was the first time a principal organizer represented a specific religious group, said Victor Bondarenko, head of the State Committee of Ukraine of Religious Affairs.
“I do not know Blagovest very well, but I met with Roger Thompson,” he told the Chronicle. “He is a very energetic person who sincerely loves Ukraine.”
Igor Kozlovsky attended many similar meetings during his tenure as Deputy Minister of Religion for the Donbass region, in eastern Ukraine. Kozlovsky, now a church member working with Blagovest, spoke to the assembly about the nature and work of churches of Christ.
“This is a time when (we) can talk eye-to-eye,” he said. “Blagovest played the role of a bridge. This is very important because the government can see churches of Christ in action.”
Unlike neighboring Russia and Belarus, where the Russian Orthodox church heavily influences religious policy, Bondarenko said that Ukraine’s Ministry of Religion seeks to work “hand-in-hand with churches” of many different stripes, including the country’s three Orthodox groups.
“Any kind of dialogue is always very positive,” said Michael Babij, a professor in one of Ukraine’s institutes of science, who spoke during the conference.
The Ukrainian government will compile all of the speakers’ words into an academic journal to be placed in schools, universities and government facilities throughout the country, C.D. Bailey said.
Frank Farr, president of Eastern European Mission, listened to the Blagovest and Libre Press interpreters translate the many speeches. “I really didn’t have any expectations,” he told the Ukrainian and U.S. church members. “I just pray that we have left a good impression.”
Apparently so. Three regional Ministry of Religion heads invited Blagovest and Libre Press to work in areas of the country where they have not previously had access, Deffenbaugh said. The ministers also received four invitations to lecture at universities across the country.
“These were the kinds of results we had hoped for, in addition to the national exposure,” Deffenbaugh said.
Contact Blagovest at (918) 623-1232.

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