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Covert to Centerstage: Gospel Ministry Emerges from the Shadows in Israel, Ukraine

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We've seen it all.

Uprisings. Communism. Persecution. The Iron Curtain. The Cold War. The construction and tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The collapse of the Soviet Union. And now two devastating wars in Israel and Ukraine.

For decades, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), the ministry I lead, has operated quietly behind the scenes in Russia, the former Soviet Union and Israel. Right now, we're in a unique place to help tens of thousands of people whose lives have been torn apart.

2024 marks exactly 90 years of this one-of-a-kind ministry serving evangelical churches across a huge landmass covering 11 time zones, reaching even into the Arctic Circle.

Covert to Centerstage

We've never sought attention. You could say we've been a "covert operation."

But now we suddenly find ourselves centerstage — serving the most vulnerable, and the forgotten, in the midst of two terrible, high-profile conflicts.

Just as Aaron and Hur supported Moses and lifted up his weary hands as the Israelites fought a critical battle (Exodus 17:11-12, NASB), SGA endeavors to "lift up the hands" of beleaguered local churches.

It surprises many people that a ministry founded to take the Gospel to the Slavic world is active in Israel. That is, until they learn that roughly a third of all Israelis are either Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union — from nations such as Ukraine and Russia — or direct descendants of Russian-speaking immigrants.

Right now, SGA is supporting Jewish-Ukrainian missionary pastors and church workers on the Gaza border — men and women who put their lives on the line every day to bring help, hope and the Gospel to thousands of anxious and traumatized Israelis.In Ukraine, we're "lifting up the hands" of hundreds of local evangelical churches as they provide refuge, food and the Gospel to those experiencing death and destruction all around them.

Evangelistic Zeal

It's astonishing to think God foreknew this more than a century ago when 15-year-old Peter Deyneka left his homeland in Belarus to come to America. With a fervor to preach the "good news" of Jesus Christ, Deyneka established SGA in 1934 to "evangelize Slavic-speaking people wherever they could be found."

Bibles were hand-carried to 'secret' believers behind the Iron Curtain, and the Scriptures on microfilm were mailed to church leaders, many of whom suffered torture and imprisonment.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, we had newfound freedom to open Bible schools and seminaries, stretching from Ukraine to frozen Siberia to mountainous Azerbaijan on the Iranian border.

Today, partnering with more than 6,000 local evangelical churches, ministries include Orphans Reborn operating in state-run orphanages, Christian summer camps that host thousands of disadvantaged children, and work among prisoners and addicts.

But time for the Gospel could be running out.

In some regions, Christian ministries are again being put under intense pressure and restrictions. Just days ago, we received an urgent message that security forces burst into an evangelical church service in a former Soviet nation, interrogating the pastor and intimidating members.

We must seize opportunities while we still have them to make Jesus known across the vast Slavic-populated lands. Our world stands on a precipice. And Russia, Ukraine, and Israel are at the center of world-changing events.

Who knows how long the door will stay open.

The key is prayer.

Peter Deyneka said: "Much prayer, much power; little prayer, little power; no prayer, no power."

Will you be one of God's "covert" operatives — and release his mercy and power through "much prayer" before it's too late?

--- Michael Johnson is president of Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), an Illinois-based Gospel ministry to the former Soviet Union and Israel.

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About The Author


Michael Johnson is president of Slavic Gospel Association (SGA,, an Illinois-based Christian mission that partners with local evangelical churches across the former Soviet Union. To support SGA’s Ukraine Winter project, go to