When Russia invaded Ukraine, destruction was inevitable. More than 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and more lives have been upheaved and cities destroyed. Churches were not spared either. Almost 500 religious buildings have been completely demolished, damaged, or looted by the Russian military.
Some of the church buildings may still be standing; other congregations found a new spot to gather, but often the people going to the church have changed. Some people fled, some joined the military, and others remained. Nothing is quite the same as it was before the war. God has remained the sole constant and true (Malachi 3:6).
Our hope for the future of the Ukrainian church is rooted in God’s promises in Scripture and how we have seen the church bounce back from persecution and destruction time after time throughout history. We can joyfully and hopefully face trials and suffering because we are promised that through God’s power, we will endure (Romans 5:3–5). Furthermore, we have confidence that the church will endure all things, no matter the sin nor the power because Christ has already defeated all sin (1 Corinthians 15:3–4).
The Church Bounced Back in Nigeria
In northeastern Nigeria, Sunday morning attacks on churches are not uncommon occurrences. The large, Christian gatherings often entice the violent persecution of Boko Haram, an Islamist militant organization. Christians are often the main target of Boko Haram. The hymn books are sometimes the only means of defense for these believers just seeking to meet together as a church.
Innocent lives have been slaughtered, women raped, and churches burned and vandalized. Church buildings have been destroyed, making meeting in person impossible at times. Church congregations have even been separated due to many Nigerians fleeing for their safety.
In the midst of this violence, it seems like Boko Haram has defeated the Nigerian church. Surely they must have the upperhand since they are driving Christians away due to fear and killing them, right?
These congregations may be grieving lost brothers and sisters and their buildings, but they are clinging to Christ.
These congregations may be grieving lost brothers and sisters and their buildings, but they are clinging to Christ. In fact, there are examples of Nigerian Christians prioritizing rebuilding their church before their own houses. Out of the ruins, churches have been reconstructed because the community knows that no threat can overpower the importance of the centrality of the church.
The Church Bounced Back in Scripture
Not only have we seen the church bounce back in recent history, but Ezra presents a biblical example of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. The book begins with Cyrus king of Persia’s decree to rebuild the temple after the Babylonians destroyed it.
However, just because the Jews set out to rebuild the temple, does not mean it happened easily. Throughout Ezra, we see how the Samaritans relentlessly tried and succeeded to thwart the building of the temple. Despite challenges, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah encouraged the Jews to continue their work. When it was finally rebuilt, we read how the Israelites joyfully dedicated the temple to God, finally having a house of God once again.
Like the Jews in ancient Israel, churches in Nigeria and Ukraine are rebuilding their own church buildings after they have been destroyed by evil intent. Similar to how the Jews were equipped and encouraged to rebuild the temple amidst challenges, we have seen Nigerian and Ukrainian believers being sustained by God to continue growing and gathering as his family.
Hope in the Power of the Church
Many of us have not experienced the sudden loss of our church or the inability to gather together consistently in the same building. The COVID-19 pandemic only gave us a glimpse of what it was like to not meet in a building together, and it proved how difficult it was for most of us to not worship next to our brothers and sisters in Christ. There is power when the family of Christ meets together in person to worship, pray, and study Scripture (Matthew 18:20).
We have hope in Christ’s promise that he will build his church and that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). No power, no tribulations, nor persecution will inhibit God from succeeding in his work (Romans 8:38–39).
The local church is not only a physical building but a gathered body of believers.
So we have a blessed assurance that when we see churches in nations around the world being persecuted and destroyed that no one can truly destroy the church. The local church is not only a physical building but a gathered body of believers who are united in Christ under the preaching of the Word and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. God is no less at work if the church does not look like big buildings on every street corner, but more like underground house churches in dangerous and unreached countries. A house of worship is not necessary to worship our true and almighty God. We can joyfully expect God to advance his kingdom as we pray now for him to use us to make disciples as part of his church in all nations.