God’s Messenger to the Youth in Ukraine
August 21, 2014
An evangelistic crusade was the last place Irina expected to find herself. The 23-year-old preferred to spend her weekend evenings smoking and drinking with her friends. What use did she have for God anyway? He didn’t stop her alcoholic father from abusing her and her little brother. Nor did He help her family when their house in Crimea burned down.
After the fire they moved to Rivne, a city in western Ukraine, to live with Irina’s grandmother. It was her grandmother who first told her about Jesus when she was eight years old.
“She always prayed for us. She took me to church, and it was there that I learned more about God,” Irina said. “My mother eventually received Jesus into her heart. As for me, as I grew up I became apathetic and I did not want to hear the Word of God.”
For no other reason than to keep them from pestering her, Irina agreed to go with her mother and grandmother to a crusade being held in their city by a Ukrainian evangelist.
The words of the evangelist, Slavik Radchuk, pierced her heart. Standing there in the midst of a throng of several thousand people, she felt like he was speaking directly to her.
“Does anyone here feel like their life is a train wreck? Have you made bad decisions? Have other people’s choices hurt you?”
Irina looked down at the laces of her shoes to avoid eye contact with anyone, but her ears were attentive to every word he said.
“I have good news for you tonight,” Radchuk addressed the crowd. “God loves you. You are of great worth to Him, no matter what has happened in your life. He loves you so much He gave His Son, Jesus, to die for your sins so you can be saved. He doesn’t want you to deal with your pain through drugs or alcohol. Instead He wants you to cry out to Him. He wants to rescue you. Today is your day for salvation. Don’t miss this opportunity to be saved.”
Irina blinked back tears. She could hardly believe that she was accepting his invitation, joining hundreds of other young people who were pressing forward to come to the altar for prayer.
“I realized as I followed others to the front that the house fire in Crimea had been part of God’s plan of salvation for me and my family,” she said. “When I watched our home burn all those years ago, I took offense at God because he had allowed the fire to happen. But on the day of my repentance at the crusade, I cried and thanked God. It was because of the fire that we moved here, and now I am able to receive the thing of most value—the salvation of my soul.”
Living out his purpose
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the late1980s, Ukraine has gained notoriety as one of the most evangelized countries in the region. That’s a far cry from the intense religious oppression Slavik Radchuk experienced as a child growing up during the communist era in a village near Rivne.
In those days the mere possession of a Bible would net three years in prison. No one could preach openly. Radchuk remembers at the age of six walking with his father to an underground church. Three times a week his father would leave the house at 5 a.m. and walk a round trip of 10 miles so he could attend a worship service.
When he was 14, young Radchuk accompanied his father to Belorussia. While there they went to an underground church meeting that was attended by over 200 people.
“My dad turned to me and whispered, ‘It’s time for you to start preaching.’ I spoke for 20 minutes, sharing a message from Acts 12 about when the angel helped Peter escape from prison,” recalled Radchuk.
“I ended with a prayer, and almost right after I said ‘Amen,’ secret police stormed into the house. They asked, ‘Who was preaching just now?’ Fortunately they saw that I was only a boy and they didn’t harm me.”
Unbeknownst to him at the time, that was the beginning of Radchuk’s lifelong call to the pulpit. As soon as religious freedom returned to Ukraine in 1988, he and other believers organized an evangelistic crusade in Rivne. Naysayers told him not to expect more than a few hundred people. Instead some 20,000 people showed up during the two-night event, and 500 of them made public professions of faith.
Since then Radchuk has led hundreds of crusades in Ukraine, Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. He speaks in public plazas, sports arenas, and churches, typically drawing crowds ranging from 3,000 to 15,000 at each event.
In 2013 alone, he delivered the salvation message to over 55,000 people in 49 crusades. More than 6,000 people—mostly youth—came forward to receive Christ.
Early on in his ministry, Radchuk would conduct as many as 350 crusades per year, sometimes holding three in one day. However, he realized that the media of radio and television, used so masterfully by the Soviets to promote communist ideologies, could be a powerful tool for sharing the gospel with millions of people.
God has greatly blessed his ministry, and Radchuk’s Kiev-based radio program now reaches over 100 million people in Ukraine, Moldova, Belorussia, western Russia, the Baltic States, and western Europe. In addition, his television programs broadcast from Tel Aviv, Israel, are seen by viewers in 135 countries.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Christian Aid Mission’s partnership with Radchuk. Christian Aid helps raise funding for his crusades and for the radio and television broadcasts. And as the area director for the former Soviet Union, Radchuk manages the relationships with other Christian Aid-assisted ministries in the region.
Such an insatiable passion for proclaiming Christ has prompted comparisons between him and another highly-regarded evangelist—Billy Graham. In fact, in his home country he is affectionately known as “the Billy Graham of Ukraine.”
But Rachuk merely shrugs his shoulders in response and says, “All glory goes to God. I will preach the gospel until my last breath.”
A heart for youth
The escalation of violence since March has hampered, but not stopped, Radchuk’s evangelistic efforts. He held 20 crusades in Ukraine in the spring and greatly desires to preach in Russia, if the doors of opportunity reopen there.
Ukrainian pastors have told him Christians are gathering every day in churches and private homes to pray for peace. Communities that were resistant to the gospel are now experiencing a spiritual awakening.
But what encourages Radchuk the most is the high turnout of young people at his crusades. At a typical event, 70 to 80 percent of the attendees are between the ages of 15 and 30.
“Our nation’s youth are ensnared by alcohol, drugs, and other addictions. Many of them still do not understand that all these things are the devil’s net and it is impossible to escape without God’s help,” he said. “We have seen many young people at our crusades confess their transgressions and repent before God with tears in their eyes. Our children are our future, and we want to point them to the right way, which is Jesus Christ.”
Victor, now 25, experienced a change of heart after attending a Radchuk crusade in his village. The youngest of four children, he seemed to follow his brothers and sisters into trouble on the streets. He got into fights and drank alcohol. His mother’s tearful pleas to clean up his act were ignored.
Deciding to please her, Victor went to hear the evangelist at a church gathering. Radchuk’s message that evening focused on Jesus’s parable about the prodigal son.
“I recognized myself in the prodigal son. Arriving home, I closed my bedroom door and wrote all my evil deeds on a piece of paper. I got down on my knees and prayed all night, asking God for forgiveness,” he said. “After that I stopped smoking and drinking alcohol. God completely changed my heart. Today I am very happy and cannot imagine my life without God.”
The parents and grandparents of youth, like Victor, grew up in an atheistic society with little or no exposure to the gospel. Even with the return of religious freedom, many hearts remain closed to Christianity. It is the younger generation that is turning to God, and Radchuk hopes to raise them up to serve in positions of leadership and ministry.
Through his video Bible school program, Radchuk seeks to train thousands of young men and women to become missionaries and evangelists. The classes have filled a crucial need in Central Asian countries, where religious activity is still highly restricted and seminaries are not permitted.
Hundreds of college-age believers have also served as summer missionaries and distributed New Testaments to villages in Ukraine and Russia, where previously there was no Christian witness.
“Where once there was a gaping spiritual vacuum, now people are looking to God for answers,” Radchuk said. “We are preaching the gospel, and the gospel is convicting and changing lives. Only God can take a heart that is darkened by hatred and malice and fill it with peace.”
The cost for a single crusade, including equipment, transportation, evangelistic literature, and advertising, averages around $1,800. Air time for radio programming (three broadcasts a week) costs about $27,000 per year, while television programming (eight broadcasts a week) is $38,000. Expenses for recording programs total an estimated $12,000 annually.