Ukrainian American Churches Deploy Praise as a Weapon

Evangelical Ukrainian churches in the home of the largest Ukrainian population in the United States wept and prayed Sunday. Having escaped persecution in the Soviet Union themselves, they already have testimonies of God’s faithfulness. 

On Sunday, Ukrainian evangelicals in New York City gathered in their churches and wept, vented, and sang, feeling the existential threat to their loved ones and their homeland alongside people around the world.

As President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert, the Ukrainian Americans called their praise songs “weapons of war.” Outside the churches on a blue-skied morning, fellow New Yorkers continued protests against the Russian invasion, with some worshipers joining after their services.

New York City has the largest Ukrainian population in the United States, a community of about 150,000, historically concentrated in the East Village of Manhattan and Brighton Beach in Brooklyn. Thousands had come to the United States as religious refugees, most of them Baptist or Pentecostal, under a special asylum for those fleeing Soviet religious persecution.

In the East Village, some of those refugees attend Cornerstone First Ukrainian Assembly of God, where elderly women in traditional headscarves worship alongside young people in sweatshirts. The Pentecostal congregation now includes Russians, Nigerians, and Belarusians, with services in a mix of Ukrainian, Russian, and English.

Many at Cornerstone have family in Ukraine and fear their fate as the war continues day by day. On Sunday, one woman with white hair wept softly through the whole service.

“What can we do but stay in prayer and cry to God?” said elder Peter Pristash, who lived much of his life in Ukraine and is now a US citizen.

As the nuclear threat escalated tensions, people in the service were in disbelief about how quickly the situation had spiraled.

“Our minds fail to understand: How is this possible in this day and age?” said …

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