Ukrainian Evangelical Migration to the West

Esther Grace Long The West threatens Ukrainian Baptist churches because it is the destination of many Baptist families who are permanently leaving Ukraine. Each of the Baptist churches studied [in L’viv, Kherson, and Vinnytsia] lost large numbers of people – up to half of their pre-1991 families– as they emigrated to America, Canada, another countries. Baptists who left were seen as abandoning their church, depriving it of pastors (actual and potential) and lay leaders. Once Baptists arrived in America they tended to disappoint those who stayed behind by not sending as many plump checks as had been hoped-for from the land of plenty.

 Large-Scale Church Losses to Emigration

 In any conversation with Ukrainian Baptists about the West, the topic of emigration invariably arises. People in all the churches studied expressed the opinion that their churches were damaged by emigration. They are disappointed that those who moved away no longer sing in the choir, lead various ministries, or pastor churches. Members of L’viv Baptist reported, for example, that 150-200 of their church members, plus children, left for places like Philadelphia, Seattle, Germany, Canada, and Poland. This seems high number, but there is no way to disprove the statistic. Young adults at Kherson Baptist said that they lost “more than half” of their church in this way, more than 100 families. Pastor Evgeniy  at Vinnytsia Baptist told me that about 150families from his church emigrated to the West. Emigration from Ukrainian churches fits in with the larger trend of migration from Ukraine in general. From 1992 to 2003, for instance, over223,000 Ukrainians legally immigrated to the United States (Office of Immigration Statistics,2003). Ukraine’s population decreased from52.2 million in 1993 to 48.5 million in 2001.Part of this decline is a result of emigration(Olena Malynovska, International Migrationin Contemporary Ukraine: Trends and Policy, Global Commission on International Migration,2005,

 Church Opposition to Emigration

While transnational connections through migration do increase the exposure Ukrainian Baptists have to the West, nearly all of the people who spoke with me were opposed to the idea of emigrating and felt abandoned by those who had already left. Although some who moved away maintain contact with the church and support it financially, one young man in Kherson said that “the rest have forgotten us. We don’t hear or see anything from them.” The general consensus appears to be that when a church family gets ready to emigrate, they make big promises about helping the church financially when they get to their new home, but that most of the promises fall short. Pastor Oleksandr in L’viv, eager for American financial support, took a fund-raising trip to the United States in which he especially hoped to recruit Ukrainian Baptists to donate tithe church. Some people did help, he said, but our desire was that those people who wanted to help would do much more. But a person has various personal problems: “I have a house, or a car, I need to pay insurance for my car” or “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. “Pastor Oleksandr actually found that recent immigrants were more generous than those who had been in the United States for a longer period of time. He felt that after being in the United States for a while, Ukrainian church members had become more concerned with their own personal financial needs and less concerned about the needs of the church they had left behind. Ukrainian Baptist pastors try to discourage their flocks from leaving Ukraine. In response, Christian excuses to justify their exit. Pastor Evgeniy in Vinnytsia quoted some parishioners as claiming that they would go to America to raise the level of morality there. Pastor Evgeniy remained unconvinced and blamed some of the problems in the church on the fact that so many of his parishioners had left for the West: They could be ministers, of whom we don’t Have enough. We could establish more churches in our region, but there’s a lack of ministers. It is very sad that those families emigrated. I worrieda lot about that. I preached trying to stop them.Of course, there were people who did not like me for that - I mean those people who were going to emigrate. I told them, “You have to be here.

America is for Americans. They evangelize, and you won’t help them evangelize. God’s will for you is to be here and to evangelize your nation.” They said, “We will go to America. Its morality has fallen, and we will go to raise it.  All of the preaching against migration and the teaching about the corrupt influence of the West cannot persuade some Baptists to stay in Ukraine as they leave for what they hope will be a better life. The parishioners who move away go with the disapproval of their church leaders. Even so, they believe that the morality of America has fallen, and they are hoping that a missionary attitude will make their pastors at home feel better about losing them. F

Edited excerpts published with permission from Esther Grace Long, “Identity in Evangelical Ukraine: Negotiating Regionalism, Nationalism, and Transnationalism,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2005.

Esther Grace Long is assistant professor of geography, Morehead State University, Morehead, Kentucky.