In August 2011, I had a marathon interview in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, with Pastor Sunday Adelaja, the Nigerian-born founder and senior pastor of the Embassy of God Church in Ukraine about his pace-setting ministry, his perennial ordeal at the hands of the Ukrainian government and the local Orthodox Church. The interview which covered a range of issues was part of a Christian communication project about to formally unfold. But for exigencies, part of it has to be used for this write-up in order to drive home the kernel of the persecution Pastor Sunday has been going through under the present regime in Ukraine. As at the time of the interview, many people did not know (and I am sure even up till now), that Pastor Sunday, as he is fondly called, is under probation in Ukraine.
This type of probation is not the one commonly known as a period of tutelage or apprenticeship under a master before proper certification. But in the classical sense of the post-communist Ukrainian society it connotes absurd restrictions on his freedom of movement; something akin to a humiliating conditional freedom. It is like a war of containment normally reserved for enemy of the state.
It is a probation that prohibits Pastor Sunday from travelling out of Ukraine. It also subjects his actions and activities in and out of the church to state surveillance. Like a criminal under parole, he is constantly under watch. That has been his experience since 2009 when he was fraudulently framed in a ludicrous charge that he was a scammer along with some of his church members in a failed real estate business he knew nothing about. The frivolous charge by Ukrainian Interior Ministry accuses him of defrauding the country’s citizens of money, an amount which the ministry’s Department for Media Liaison and International Activity then put at $100m.
In spite of consistent denial of the allegations by Pastor Sunday, a testimony corroborated several times by the actual owners of the business, King’s Capital, the state and its propaganda apparatchik continue to rubbish the name of the man of God through a deft use of both local and international media.
To reiterate his side of the story, Pastor Sunday was again asked during the interview to explain the genesis of this allegation. Here are his words as recorded unabridged: “Apart from persecutions, I do not think I face any challenge. I am enjoying the ride. I call myself pastor without tears. But the greatest challenge I face now has to do with government, society and persecution. I am undergoing one right now. There is a case in court. It is a case that involves members of our church that have investment company that collapsed during the recent economic meltdown, lost money and the government found it as a good opportunity, a good excuse to charge me to court. I have survived 22 court cases so far. This to the government was a good one because members of our church were involved. The only thing the police were asking me is: Do you know them? And my answer is: I know them.
“So as long as I know them they believe I must be involved. So it is just a way to be able to corner me. They have been looking for a way and Satan did a good job this time. He gave them a good excuse. The people who started the company are not denying it. They say it is our own; pastor does not have anything to do with it. But the media, the government do not even talk about them but they are only focusing on Pastor Sunday. They only need the big name; the one that can be sensationalized and scandalized. But they would fail as they did in the past.”
In a nutshell, this is the story of the alleged scandal or Ponzi scam for which Pastor Sunday has been put in a box, fettered in his ministry work and disallowed to travel out of Ukraine to preach the gospel to the world. To compound the case, the neighboring country, Russia Federation, also declared him persona non grata, allegedly fearing that his charismatic approach to Christianity would “corrupt” the age-long orthodoxy of the Russian Native church and its citizens generally. As a matter of fact, this false fear is one of the underlying contentious reasons he and his ministry are also facing persecution in Ukraine. Apart from state hostility to him, the Ukraine Orthodox Church is falsely accusing him of spreading “strange” Christian doctrine and of using voodoo to attract new members to Embassy of God church. Whereas the truth is that the church has been experiencing phenomenal growth because it cultivates, as an evangelistic priority, the salvation of the jetsam and flotsam of the society, namely, the lowly, the alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, mostly people on the fringe rather than the elite. These were souls massively saved and rehabilitated through the power of the living word, rescued from crashes in life and restored to wholesomeness.
Many of these born-again and redeemed people are today members of the more than 25,000 congregation and playing prominent roles in Ukrainian public life. For instance, a judge in the country’s highest court and a one-time mayor of Kiev are members of the church while many others are competently leading several nongovernmental organizations that are improving the conditions of the people in different spheres of life.
In spite of these good works, Pastor Sunday continues to suffer a barrage of misinformation and to face hostility from the state. And in a bizarre twist to the on-going case, latest report from the church says that Pastor Sunday was invited on August 21, 2012 to the police station where the charge against him was “re-qualified from fraud to organizing a criminal and dangerous bandit group that specializes in committing heavy crimes. In this new case Pastor Sunday is being charged as the head and organizer of this dangerous criminal bandit group.”
In addition, the report states that all the five people accused along with him were arrested by the police while Pastor Sunday has been asked to report to the police station by early next week. The church fears that this invitation and the deliberate change of the charge to a criminal one are part of the plot to jail the innocent pastor as he is seen to be a threat to the present government.
One reason this conclusion may be true is that the members of the Embassy of God church took active part in the demonstrations that ushered in the successfully carried out Orange Revolution between November 2004 and January 2005 during which the present president Viktor Yanukovych’s rigged election victory was resisted through series of protests and acts of civil disobedience. A re-run gave victory to his then opponent, Viktor Yushchenko. But he won back the presidency in 2010, and it looks like his administration thinks it is payback time for anyone who played prominent role in the Orange Revolution. This is not a far-fetched deduction if it is recalled that the former prime minster, Ms.Yulia Tymoshenko, is already imprisoned in spite of global protests against the trumped up charges against her, the unfair trial and unjust jailing. Without doubt, the present Ukrainian regime still exhibits vestiges of the draconian communist mentality. This is the more reason while the world, especially the Christendom, must rise up against these false allegations and the imminent unjust trial of Pastor Sunday. We cannot wait any longer.
Pastor Sunday has suffered a lot of indignities in the course of preaching the gospel to a post-communist society in Ukraine. Like a stoic believer that he is, he has borne with grace incidents of bananas being thrown at him at a public event just because he is a Black missionary in a predominantly White society. For many years, the church was not granted the right to acquire land for its own building; the members had to move from one open place of worship to another, inclement weather notwithstanding. While there is no doubt that Pastor Sunday is beloved by overwhelming members of his congregation, the truth is that he is intensely hated by the extreme right wing and the state in Ukraine. There is no justification for this blackmail and ordeal, especially for a person who has spent most of his adult life in the host culture and speaks Russian fluently to the detriment of his mother tongue.
So while we pray and ask God to intervene on behalf of his servant, the global church has a responsibility to speak truth to power in Ukraine that “Enough is enough? The Ukrainian authorities should be told in clear terms that the case has dragged on for too long, without Pastor Sunday being formally taken to court but kept waiting in suspense. The authorities should let Pastor Sunday go and continue to serve the Lord unfettered, because the word of God cannot be chained.