by Scott Carter
Current events often have major impact on the ministries of friends and colleagues around the world. Missionary Scott Carter with ABWE in Ukraine writes his perspective on Acts 8:1–4 in light of the political happenings in that country.
Vitaliy sat across from me a few days ago, fighting tears. He was saying good-bye, perhaps for the last time on this planet. We have known each other more than 15 years, during which time God has grown him in innumerable ways. We have also grown very close. My mind swirled with a kaleidoscope of images of shared experiences. And now here he was, saying a muted good-bye. He was on his way to register for the draft, as required by law in Ukraine of all males under 40.
Neither of us knows what the future holds. We may see each other many more times . . . but we may not. The future of Ukraine is in the balance. Most Ukrainians expect war, although few if any want it, and almost none expected it even a few weeks ago.
Funny how things change, huh? Sometimes in a flash. It’s also funny how we can wish for changes, sometimes for years, when it seems like God isn’t doing anything. Then bam! And sometimes it’s like, what? What’s that all about? No, no. That’s not the change I had in mind.
I felt a little like Paul in Acts 20 with the Ephesian elders. But this was all backwards. In Acts 20 Paul, the spiritual elder, was going to almost certain imprisonment. In my case, it was the younger person facing uncertain and foreboding circumstances. That just didn’t seem right. That wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I guess God didn’t get that memo.
And thus the future of Ukraine is in the balance. We don’t know how this story ends. But the macro level question of Ukraine does remind me of another story from Acts, this one in 8:1–4.
The first seven chapters of Acts are some of the most blessing-filled chapters in the entire Bible. The church is birthed, grows from about 100 to well over 5,000, and the Spirit of God is very present in both word and deed. It’s an amazing time. Then suddenly everything changes. Stephen is stoned, and we read that everyone, other than the apostles, was scattered, and went sharing the gospel.
Immediately preceding this, the church was on a high rarely ever seen in history, where almost nothing could go wrong, and God seemed to bless almost everything. Good times—great times! But then their world came crashing down, as Stephen was brutally stoned. Yes, stoned!
Suddenly, in a matter of minutes or hours, the priorities of at least several thousand people underwent radical transformation. Suddenly it became imperative to relocate, even though we see not even a hint of any such urgency previously. Nada! Yet now they clear out faster than you can say “persecution.” Talk about a church split! Acts 8:1 says they went from over 5,000 to about 12! I don’t think the apostles got too many invites to speak at church growth conferences after this debacle. I bet a lot of people unliked them on Facebook. And their book signing tours probably took a hit too.
And those poor scattered believers: no shepherd, no direction, on enemy territory, unprepared, scared—that’s the end of them, right? Not exactly. God had a plan. And what about Stephen? How’d you like to be him? He got stuck serving marginalized, grumbling widows, then got a chance to preach and promptly got stoned to death. Ouch! Hey, don’t sign me up for that. I’ll just sit this one out.
It’s interesting that if you compare Peter’s and Stephen’s sermons in chapters 2 and 7, there is actually a lot of similarity, with one glaring exception: the results. About 3,000 were added to the church when Peter spoke, and Stephen was murdered when he spoke. We know of not one person who repented at Stephen’s preaching. Most of us would want to be Peter in Acts 2, hands down. How sad for Stephen. Obviously God blessed Peter and didn’t bless Stephen. Right?
Well it’s true, Peter’s sermon was undeniably, immediately, and visibly blessed by God. Yet was Stephen’s not? As a direct or indirect result of his sermon and death, nearly 5,000 believers were scattered and went everywhere sharing the gospel. I know of few people who have ever seen 3,000 people come to faith in one event. Yet I know of no other person who can say that 5,000 people became missionaries because of one sermon and its immediate consequences. Who’s to say which sermon was blessed more?
This all relates to praying for believers in Ukraine right now. Many people are asking prayer for protection for believers and others. We’re not at all convinced that is what we should be praying for. We are convinced God is up to something extremely significant, and we don’t want to miss it. So we ask for prayer for the following:
- God to pour out His Spirit on believers to shine as perhaps never before in the midst of very dark days. Ukrainians are desperately seeking answers to life’s most basic questions, and only Jesus has those answers. Pray that believers will shine, whether as Peter in Acts 2, or Stephen in Acts 7. Quite honestly, there may be examples of both in Ukraine in the near future.
- God to work through believers in sending some forth as missionaries to the nations through this. I’ve spoken with two such Ukrainians in the last week alone, who believe God is leading them to do this (they brought this up, not I). While we don’t expect this to rival Jerusalem’s figure of nearly 5,000 leaving and only 12 remaining, God is shaking Ukraine spiritually, both unbelievers and believers, and this could be a seismic global event spiritually.
- God to glorify Himself through political events, however they proceed to unfold. Everyone has their opinion about what might happen, yet no one knows, other than God. And He’s pretty good at what He does.