Prison ministry in Ukraine
In November 1992, shortly after Ukraine had won independence from the Soviet Union, Vic Jackopson was asked by the Baptist World Alliance to go to Ukraine as part of a fact-finding mission.
While there, he preached at the only Baptist church in the city of Cherkassy. Asked by the deacons to share with them his Christian testimony, Vic told how he had grown up in an orphanage, experienced homelessness as a teenager, and was eventually sent to Winchester Prison for housebreaking. He told of his conversion through reading a Gideon Bible.
Anatoly, who was one of the church’s deacons, became excited and told how he had just started to visit Prison 62 in Cherkassy and how the governor had invited him to create a chapel out of a spare cell.
‘Are you going to do it?’ enquired the ex-con director of British charity ‘Hope Now’.
‘Yes. As soon as we have the money, we shall start work’, came the enthusiastic response. On discovering that all he needed was £300, Vic took the money from his back pocket and passed it across the table.
Three months later Vic was invited to return to Ukraine to open the new chapel. Thus began a saga, not only of prison ministry to all the region’s prisons, but also the growth of a broad-based ministry of care and evangelism in Ukraine.
This has included healthcare, caring for orphans, education, church-planting, and providing for pastors and missionaries. Anatoly Perepilitsa has continued in long-term service with this the first prison in Ukraine to have a Christian ministry.
The first chapel was too small. Within a year Hope Now had to finance building a second larger chapel. When this too proved too small, permission was given for building the present church, which seats 400 men.
Of the 140 baptised Christian men who have left this prison over the past eleven years, only one has re-offended; and that in a country where the return rate of re-offenders is 84%.
Of those men more than 100 are involved in Christian work in their own churches. They have become Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, music directors, evangelists, pastors, church planters and even one prison chaplain.
Pre-release prisoners are housed in a separate unit at Prison 62 and are unable to rejoin their fellows at the weekly services inside Prison 62. Therefore Hope Now is building a separate chapel for them. Also, chapels have been built in all the prisons in the Cherkassy Oblast and another at the young offenders’ prison in Preluki where an ex-prisoner from Prison 62 is now chaplain.
Such was the effectiveness of the work that one day Colonel Alexander Tarasenko, governor of Prison 62, went before the men and announced that he too had become a Christian. Soon he was removed from his post. Now he works for Hope Now as head of its prison department.
For the past four years Aileen Callender, from Dawlish in Devon, has been the director responsible for the oversight of the prison ministry. Under her leadership the work has grown to the point that it has become a separate Ukrainian national ministry.