For Boris Borisov, lead pastor of Pacific Keep Church, a USMB congregation in Spokane, Washington, the Russian invasion of Ukraine hits close to home.
Borisov, like many first generation immigrants in eastern Washington, came to the U.S. as a child in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His hometown of Mykolaiv is a strategic port city situated near the Black Sea in southern Ukraine. Naval ships were built there in the Soviet era, and it is currently being besieged as the gateway to Odesa, Ukraine’s third largest city where Borisov’s wife Julia’s family still lives.
An acquaintance, Anton, is fighting Russian tanks, he says.
“If my parents didn’t come (to the U.S.) in the 1990’s, I probably would be with Anton right now in my home city trying to figure out what do we do with this onslaught of Russian military power,” Borisov says. “It’s interesting to sit here and be far away with (Spokane as) my home, but at the same time, knowing that (I’m) one decision away from being there.”
In addition to requesting prayer that the war would stop and at the very least, praying for an end to the targeting of civilian infrastructure, Borisov says the war is providing an opportunity for people to learn how to lament in a biblical way.
“Just because you’re angry and you want justice, it doesn’t mean that you are pro-violence or no longer a pacifist or a person of peace.”
As a pastor in a city with a large Slavic population—Spokane County is home to as many as 50,000 Slavs—Borisov has not only had opportunities for coordinating humanitarian aid, he has also been invited to pray for Ukraine live on the local news (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giJffTuk7u8) and continues to walk with the congregation he pastors through lament. As many as 85 to 90 percent of his congregation knows someone in Ukraine, Borisov says.
“For us in America, these first generation immigrants, we didn’t grow up there,” he says. “This is our home. At the same time, we are experiencing a level of lament because it still hits close for whatever reason from a heart perspective.”
The challenge, he says, for people who worship the Prince of Peace, is in knowing how to respond to these emotions.
He has seen some people from the faith sector express anger and grief on social media and receive responses of “simmer down” or “love your enemies,” which Borisov says are not technically wrong but are misguided and insensitive.
“It’s okay to express grief and anger,” he says. “Just because you’re angry and you want justice, it doesn’t mean that you are pro-violence or no longer a pacifist or a person of peace.”
Borisov sees this as a wakeup call for the broader USMB conference to consider the extent of its teaching on how people can walk through lament in a way that honors Jesus.
“Have we done a good enough of a job of walking our people through the process of lament, which includes the expression of grief and anger and shock?” asks Borisov, who also serves as vice chair of the USMB leadership board.
Instead of channeling anger toward retribution and hate for enemy, Borisov says, a Jesus-follower takes those feelings to God in prayer, handing over justice and vengeance to God.
“I think because we’re pacifists and we don’t talk a lot about conflict, somehow we inadvertently skip that process,” Borisov says. “So our people are confused, like if I’m expressing anger, does that mean I’m no longer worshipping the Prince of Peace?”
As Borisov has walked with people through lament, he sees an opportunity for discipleship.
“Any tragedy reveals what’s in your heart,” he says. “I think there’s an opportunity here. As people express and react, it reveals areas where we need Jesus more now than ever.”
The May/June issue of Christian Leader will offer more on this story, including Pacific Keep’s participation in humanitarian and refugee resettlement aid through the Ukraine Relief Fund. Visit www.spokane-loves-ukraine.mailchimpsites.com/ to learn more or to donate.
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.