At World Wide Conference, God was at work in every dimension, not just in teaching and worship, but even in our times of play. CRM staff Lyle Thomas, who lives in Russia, shared details of what happened the last morning of Conference and why it was such a significant Kingdom moment:
To break up the intensity of the work and prayer we were doing at World Wide Conference, the organizers always have some fun moments. This year they organized an "Olympics" between ministry teams from various different countries. They played silly games, relays, and contests on stage before the morning speakers shared.
Providentially the two finalists ended up being the Russia team and the Ukrainians.
I don't write much about politics, but you need to know that the tensions between these two countries are very high over the territories in eastern Ukraine where Russian forces have been unofficially supporting separatists. I personally know people from these regions, and the tragedy and loss of life—and especially relationships—is truly horrible. This absolutely senseless war continues to this day, and Russians and Ukrainians everywhere now hate each other, where they were friends only three years ago. Bitterness is probably most severe from the Ukrainians, since they are the ones suffering, and resent Russian aggression.
On the evening before the final competition between the Russian and Ukrainian teams, someone from each team, unbeknownst to each other, decided that for them to compete against each other would be wrong. Diana (Lyle’s wife) ended up playing the role of facilitator between them.
One of the Ukrainians shared that he had kept away from the Russians all week, seething with anger before God got his attention with the simple question, "Why are you avoiding them?"
The next day when it came time for the final “Olympic Competition” they told the conference audience what had happened. Dave, from Ukraine, shared what God was moving them to do:
Back in the reality of life in Ukraine we are at war with our friends, our brothers and sisters in Russia. It’s a war that’s been going on since 2014 when Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine. It’s an incredibly painful time. Tens of thousands of people on both sides have been killed—innocent citizens.
And for some reason, here, God puts Ukraine against Russia. It’s kind of strange, and it’s hard for us. Yesterday after the games, straight away we on the Ukraine team felt that we didn’t want to fight against Russia, didn’t want to compete against Russia. And it turns out the Russian team had the same feelings—they didn’t want to compete against us. It just doesn’t feel right here at all. We were challenged yesterday by the [talk] about reconciliation. So we decided to start that reconciliation right now. There’s reconciliation that needs to take place between our two nations. And it’s going to start right here at Ridgecrest.
Lyle Thomas recounts what happened next:
Thus the teams would not compete, realizing that in the Kingdom we are all called to reconciliation and unity in the Body.
The Ukrainians then took off their team shirts and gave them to the Russians, and both teams swapped half of their members with the others before playing—together—against each other.
After the game, Olga, one of the Russians, shared this with everyone:
You know there are so many complex things going on between nations now, and I would not have imagined that I would belong to one of those nations that is in conflict. It caught my heart so hard yesterday. And in the session I went to pray with the Ukrainian team—so we could pray together—and the only thing I wanted to share was my love. Because the Kingdom should prevail between us. And here on this stage, it did prevail. Unity, mutual love, respect, honor—and I’m really grateful that we could demonstrate that here. Our nations are so tightly connected, and it tears up my heart. I’m grateful for today. I’m grateful to God that we could all step over our inhibitions and just be one.
Viktor and Olga, Ukrainian and Russian, then led us in the Lord’s prayer—in Russian, and every other heart language in the room.
Let God’s good Kingdom come.
ABOUT: Lyle Thomas and his wife Diana serve with Ethne in St. Petersburg, Russia. They have three children. Olga Bondareva was mentored and trained by the Thomases and now works alongside of them, heading up Strategic Development and looking for creative ways to expand their ministry reach across the largest nation in the world (Russia). David Bute is part of Kreativity (a CRM Conext ministry) in Ukraine. He and his wife Katya have three children.