Revival breaks out in Russia’s back yard

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By George Thomas —

(screengrab CBN YouTube)

A remarkable Christian revival is underway in a Russian-controlled part of Moldova, despite Moscow’s heavy hand. Very few foreign journalists are allowed in, but CBN News gained rare access to the Transnistria region.

Getting here is no easy feat. We began the 5,000-mile journey from the U.S. East Coast, stopping first in the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova’s capital Chisinau. From there, we drove north along Ukraine’s southwestern border, where Moscow has recently stirred up political turmoil.

We made our way through several Russian checkpoints to Transnistria’s capital Tiraspol where a huge statue of Lenin still adorns the town square.

The Lord put a burden on Yuriy Semenyuk’s heart to move his family to this volatile region.

“In my heart, I really love people, that is my passion to serve people. I love God and I wanted to do something for Him all my life. And after a while, God told me, ‘Yuriy, I need you in one place that name is Transnistria’,” the pastor of Church of Christ Savior tells us.

PastorYuriy Semenyuk (screengrab CBN YouTube)

In 2000, Pastor Yuriy, his wife, and 3 children decided to move from their home country in neighboring Ukraine to Transnistria. The first seven years of ministry as a missionary family were not easy.

“I was targeted by some people from the government, policemen, KGB, and gangsters. The worst of course was from the gangsters because they tried to kill me, they tried to kidnap my children. Once I was kidnapped, but praise God, God let me escape,” he recalls.

A home video from May 2000 shows Semenyuk’s first foray into preaching. Despite ongoing threats, he continued to openly share the gospel, often taking his message to areas controlled by gangs.

“Some of the gangsters became Christian, they became evangelical, their wives became evangelical, so they hated this, so that’s why they tried to stop us,” Semenyuk says.

In 1990, Transnistria broke away from Moldova to establish its own government, currency, and statehood. And while it’s not recognized by the international community, the breakaway territory became economically, politically, and militarily dependent on the Kremlin. Russia has about 2,000 troops stationed here.

Moscow’s agents soon began harassing Pastor Semenyuk. But he was undeterred.

“Each morning, I wake up I say to myself, ‘Yuriy, you are still alive, and you have one more day to preach the gospel, one more day to do something for God’s Kingdom’,” he says.

From those humble, and at times nerve-wracking beginnings, Church of Christ Savior today is the largest congregation in Transnistria.

“We have an unbelievable revival,” he says. “We are still alive 24 years later on the mission field, we are still alive!”

Each Sunday, hundreds pack the church with many hearing the gospel message for the very first time. Semenyuk says the secret to the church’s growth is simple: “We love God, we try to be very obedient to His Word and to His Spirit, and because we love people, we do whatever is possible to help people.”

 

Baptisms are a regular occurrence, and during the week, Church of Christ Savior holds several youth programs for different age groups.

Parents also get their ministry time. And when folks can’t get to church, members often hit the streets of Tiraspol and neighboring cities, holding evangelistic rallies.

Semenyuk says the church often reports signs, wonders, and miracles following the preaching of the gospel.

“For example, it can be cancer, and the cancer disappears. Or somebody has a problem with their vision and God fixes their vision. Deaf people can hear,” he describes. “I believe all this power is in the gospel and all these miracles happen because people preach the gospel and God equips us for the gospel, to preach the gospel and make disciples.”

Meanwhile, CBN’s Orphan’s Promise partners with Church of Christ Savior to run their School of Life project here in Transnistria.

Each week, young people attend various classes including computer skills, sewing, photography, English, math, and discipleship classes through CBN’s Superbook.

Some of the mothers take dance, singing, and cooking classes run by Orphan’s Promise volunteers.

Many who attend cannot afford to pay, so Orphan’s Promise holds the classes for free in Semenyuk’s church.

“For School of Life we use the basement rooms and the children can hear what’s happening on the first floor when they have youth meetings, teenager’s ministry, Sunday ministry, and because of that sound they start joining, they start coming to the sanctuary and they join the church and after a while their parents join the church so by that relationship with Orphan’s Promise we are expanding the Kingdom of God,” he says.

While the majority here would rather be part of Russia, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has many residents concerned that war could soon be on their doorstep as well.

Semenyuk isn’t afraid. He plans to stay despite fears of conflict.

“We know our calling. God told us to preach the gospel and make disciples, so nothing changes, war, or no war, doesn’t matter what kind of situation we face around us, we have the same calling all the time.” — CBN

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