Pastor abducted during church service in East Ukraine
Church leaders call for prayer while seeking to learn Litovchenko’s whereaboutsSeptember 30, 2014 | Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Andrew McChesney/Adventist Review
A Seventh-day Adventist pastor is missing after being abducted by gunmen during a communion service last Sabbath at a church in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, local church leaders said.
Unidentified men carrying machine guns and wearing camouflage burst into the church in the city of Horlivka on September 27 and seized Pastor Sergei Litovchenko, the Ukrainian Union Conference said.
“They interrupted the worship service and forced the worshipers to disperse,” it said in a statement. “They ordered Pastor Sergei Litovchenko to close the church, forced him into a car, and drove away in an unknown direction.”
The incident occurred as the pastor was leading the congregation in a communion service in the small, rectangular church located at 1 Ulitsa Horlovskoi Divizii. Adventist churches around the world commemorated Jesus’ Last Supper on September 27 as is customary on the last Sabbath of each quarter.
The Horlivka gunmen justified their actions by saying that “this is Orthodox land and there is no place for various sects here,” the conference statement said.
They refused to say who they were and what right that had to disrupt the church’s activities, replying bluntly to church members’ questions, “It’s none of your business.”
The Ukrainian Union Conference was trying to establish the whereabouts of the pastor.
“Where he is and what has happened to him is unknown,” said Vassily Nichik, director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department of the West Russian Union Conference, which borders eastern Ukraine.
“Please pray for him,” he said on his Facebook page.
The abduction is a troubling development for the Adventist Church in eastern Ukraine, where clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian government forces have killed more than 3,500 people since April. Separatists, who support the Orthodox faith and have spoken critically of Protestantism as a sect, have detained several church members in the past but always released them quickly.
No Seventh-day Adventists have been injured or killed in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict de-escalated into an uneasy ceasefire on September 5. Only one church building has suffered major damage.
John Graz, director of the Adventist world church’s Public Affairs and Religious Liberty department, expressed deep concern over the kidnapping and said he was puzzled over why anyone would target the pastor.
“Our church is officially recognized in Russia and Ukraine, and we expect our members and pastors to be respected by the authorities on the territory of eastern Ukraine,” Graz said Monday. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not involved in politics, and we don’t understand why it should be attacked.”