United Church of God

Personal From the President: February 17, 2022

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Personal From the President

February 17, 2022

We deeply mourn the sudden death of pastor Shawn Cortelyou, age 50, Tuesday night, Feb. 15. He was a faithful minister true to God’s Word and a genuine example of a Christ-like life. He was pastor of congregations in Elkhart and Munster, Indiana.

Your prayers for his wife, Beth, children Megan (and husband Jake) Crouse, Emma and Heather, as well as Shawn’s parents, Larry and Terri Cortelyou, would be appreciated. We share in their grief. Shawn’s father, Larry Cortelyou, is also a United Church of God elder in Central Illinois. In a time like this, I take comfort in these words from the apostle Paul:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“‘For Your sake, we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

Great is His faithfulness—inspiring insight from besieged Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine have saturated world news for the past month—with good reason. A re-invasion by Russia of Ukraine (as a local Ukrainian would remind the American news media, Russia first invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014) would destabilize an already pandemic-weakened global economy and bring hardship, calamity and even death to many innocent people. The world has collectively held its breath over the thuggish actions threatening Ukraine.

Disinformation and unverified claims (including statements that Russian troops are withdrawing) continue even as I prepare this column, leaving tense sentiments and emotions on edge across the world—except, perhaps ironically, in Ukraine itself.

For me, current issues are not about politics or even prophecy. It is not about looking at maps showing amassed troops, tanks and missile launchers, and maps showing troop movements. This is about what is most important and painful to us all: the human toll.

It breaks my heart to see the personal level of continued suffering of Ukrainians. I have talked directly to a number of primary sources inside Ukraine recently. The news is grim. But sadly, Russian threats are not new to Ukrainians.

As the Wall Street Journal recently chronicled, there may not yet be an open shooting war, but Russian cyberattacks and psych-ops have been mercilessly harassing Ukrainians for months. As the WSJ reported last Monday, the Russians have stepped up “a destabilization campaign involving cyberattacks, economic disruption and a new tactic: hundreds of fake bomb threats.” On Tuesday, Russian cyberattacks disrupted two major state banks.

The United States received a taste of what the Ukrainians are going through in May 2021, when a Russian-based cyberattack disrupted Colonial Pipeline computer systems supporting the complex, multi-state pipeline. Colonial instantly halted all gas, diesel and jet fuel supply operations from Texas to New York. That resulted in emergency federal action. This type of attack happens all the time in Ukraine!

Oleksiy Danilov, the top national security adviser to the Ukrainian President, told the Journal: “The No. 1 task for Russia is to undermine us from inside.”

As a person born a Ukrainian in a United Nations refugee camp shortly after World War II, I hold a deep personal interest in Ukraine, even though I hold U.S. citizenship. This interest is made deeper by the fact that I still have many family members and friends living in Ukraine, including my nephew, who is living and working in Lviv.

Also on the list is the Revival Centre for Disabled Children in Chernihev, whom we have helped and worked with since 1996. Our friends there, near the Byelorussian border where tanks are just miles away, do not appear alarmed. They just hope that war doesn’t come. In a recent conversation, they spoke matter-of-factly to me about their work in the coming week and hope that nothing happens. They look forward to the time when we would see each other again.

Through LifeNets, we also have long supported Sabbatarian Christians in Ukraine. One even attended Ambassador Bible College here in Cincinnati.

As some know, we have supported that Revival Centre for many years. But perhaps lesser known, back in 2014 we helped the Centre’s work in directly supporting child refugees who survived the Russian invasion now occupying the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Those Ukrainian names may not mean much to people not from the region, so to give perspective, think about how Americans would feel if Russia forcibly landed troops in Maryland and Massachusetts, annexed the city of Baltimore and Baltimore harbor (or Boston and Boston harbor) like they did the city of Sebastopol in Crimea, dismantled and stripped each state of critical assets, and then held it for eight years (Russia presently occupies about 17,000 square miles of eastern Ukraine).

In eastern Ukraine, the United Church of God once had quite a number of subscribers to the Beyond Today magazine. That group has disappeared over the past year.

What has this country been through? Consider this: during World War II, more than 5.2 million Ukrainians lost their lives through forced starvation, Nazi occupation, or outright extermination. In contrast, less than half a million—407,316—American soldiers were killed during the same time, and America never suffered an invasion or occupation of the continental states.

My relatives lived through that holocaust. I have heard personal stories of inhumane horror from those times.

Given all that, although I still personally marvel, I can understand when one of the Ukrainian Sabbatarians writes to me this week: “Our hope is in the Lord and we pray that there will be no war, but God’s will for everything.” Quoting Matthew 24, he continued: “We read in the Bible where Christ says: ‘there will be wars and rumors of war.’ Do not be afraid and do not be terrified, because this is the beginning of sorrows, but when they say peace and security, then they will be doomed.’ So, today we do not believe in those selling media disinformation, and [we] believe what is written in the Bible.”

If a very real threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardment could rain death down on you or me at any moment, could we calmly write and believe the same thing?

To me, the long-suffering Ukrainian people reflect the stark book of Lamentations, a tear-stained journal of a ravished, once-proud city. Lamentations poignantly and painfully captures the anguish of a people in a holocaust. God evidently wanted this book to stand out for all. He inspired a unique composition of the book, with four of its five chapters written as alphabetic acrostics.

Amid unrelenting torment, the unnamed author (whom I believe is Jeremiah) cries out triumphantly: “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” (Lamentations 3:22-24, New Living Translation, emphasis added).

God really wants this section to stand out, because this third chapter is written in a unique triple acrostic!

After talking directly with several in Ukraine, I see this type of faith. Many—including my nephew—could leave, but they’re staying. The Ukrainian Sabbatarians in particular show remarkable faith in God. Here’s how our long-time Ukrainian Sabbath contact finished his note to me:

“May the Lord bless you and Beverly, as well as your entire family, your church, and all of God’s children around the world. We pray for you. God’s blessings to all. Sincerely, Ivan and Nina Yurishko”

Can we have that kind of attitude in our daily life?

The current crisis will likely not end soon. By the time you read this, many things could have changed. The Wall Street Journal recently (and rightly) spoke of “The New World Disorder.”

But let us not succumb to fear. Let us remember what Jeremiah wrote for us today: “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning . . . I will hope in him!”

The Ukrainian Sabbatarians are praying for us. Let us be inspired by their remarkable example. Let us all pray for them. May God’s Kingdom come—and come soon!