It sort of caught us by surprise when we arrived at church yesterday and saw that everyone else was dressed for a picnic rather than the usual Sunday attire. Besides feeling conspicuously overdressed, Kellie and I were both wondering how we had missed the casual dress memo. Then it suddenly dawned on us: “Of course, it's Victory Day!” For those of you who are not WW II veterans or who didn’t get an A in Western Civilization, “Victory Day” is the celebration of the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9, 1945. Americans typically use Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives for their country—not only in WW II, but in all of America’s wars.In the former USSR, however, Victory Day stands alone--and for good reason. While America sent many of her sons to spill their blood on foreign soil in defense of freedom, many more in the former USSR--combatants and non-combatants alike--perished on their their own soil during the so-called Great Patriotic War.
No country suffered more casualties than the people of Ukraine. Their recent geopolitical history sandwiched them between two of the world's most ruthless dictators, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Under Joseph Stalin's forced starvation (1932-34), between 7-10 million Ukrainians died for their refusal to work on the communist-controlled collective farms. Just a decade later, Nazi forces obliterated thousands of Ukrainian villages and murdered more than a million of Ukraine's Jews. And these figures don't even include the hosts of combatants who lost their lives in defense of their homeland! If you are interested in a brief but insightful summary of Ukraine's tragedy during these years, click on the link at the end of this blog for the radio report from NPR radio. It is worth the six minutes of time to listen to it.
What is amazing to me is how all this can be so easily forgotten. For many, this nightmarish tragedy has become little more than an occasion for a picnic. But what is perhaps most amazing is that all this can happen again. The same desires that drove dictators to such inhumane actions still lurk in every human heart (See James 4:1-2). They may not always culminate in mass genocide--but their effects are nonetheless devastating for individuals, families, communities, and nations. In the context of James' remarks, they can even invade and cause devastation among God's people.
The only hope (and answer) for all this is the Gospel of Peace. It alone has the power to transform hearts and reconcile people to God and each other. But until the Prince of Peace comes and brings to final fulfillment all of God's promises to redeem His people and restore His Creation, we (God's people) must live and proclaim that peace. Pray for us as we prepare to work with churches here in Ukraine to live out God's Gospel peace and be a trailer for God's coming blockbuster production--To End All Wars!
Until the Final Victory Day,
Jerry and Kellie Benge
PS Don't forget to listen to the radio report from NPR at the link below: