At a traffic light in downtown Kiev, Ukraine, a man pulls up beside Lev Belov and rolls down his window. With a steely expression, the man asks, “Vi otkuda?” meaning “Where are you from?”
Belov smiles apologetically and eases the tension with humor. “I love Ukraine so much, I want to move here!” Because of his Russian license plate, Belov is used to confrontations like these. He’s reached the point where he shrugs it off. Just that morning, a woman outside an apartment building glared at him and said, “If you weren’t standing by your car, I might have slashed your tires.” To these encounters, Belov is always warm and generous. He’ll turn the conversation toward empathy, and explain why he’s visiting their country.
Belov is a pastor and native of Tutayev, Russia. Once every few months, he travels to Kiev to pick up In Touch Messengers that he smuggles back into his country. When war broke out between Russia and Ukraine in the spring of 2014, he was heartbroken by the actions of his home country and felt inspired to do something. Belov discovered Global Christian Support (GCS) based in Kiev, an organization dedicated to connecting those in need with people who can serve. Through GCS, he learned how the In Touch Messenger was being used to minister in regions affected by the crisis.
Though he initially planned to do Messenger ministry in Ukraine, Belov soon realized he could fill a unique purpose. “While Global Christian Support was an answer to prayer for me, I was an answer to prayer for them,” he says. The organization had been praying for someone to coordinate Messenger distribution in Russia. Throughout the conflict, as Ukraine has become more open to the gospel, Russia has become even more closed to it. Laws that severely limit evangelism have been enacted, and Russian border control prohibits gospel materials, like the Messenger, from passing through.
“It is very risky for everyone involved,” says Belov. “I am only able to sneak in 20 to 30 Messengers at a time.”
Belov recognizes the risks of working within these tensions and amid the hostilities between the two nations, but he’s confident that God has him right where He intends. “I am fulfilling Jesus’ command to go and preach the gospel. He never promised it would be easy. He was crucified—I just get harassed.”
Photograph by Audra Melton