LASI, Romania (BP) — Despite a variety of challenges resulting from the ongoing war, a Christian radio station broadcasting to Slavic nations has continued its gospel ministry, this time from Romania.
Although New Life Radio is the first and only Christian FM radio station in Russia, the station moved from Russia to Odessa, Ukraine several years ago due to increasingly restrictive media laws.
Now the violence and uncertainty of war has forced the station to relocate from Odessa twice in recent weeks. Although the station’s representatives had plans in place in the event of a Russian invasion, they never imagined what had unfolded over the past few weeks.
In February, station manager Ivan Zhurakovski was preparing for a possible relocation of the station, including purchasing a vehicle to help with relocation efforts. Although the station had never purchased a vehicle before, it was able to purchase an SUV on the evening of Wednesday, February 23. The invasion began the next morning.
Daniel Johnson is the founder and organizer of New Life Radio. Although he moved to the United States several years ago, Johnson continues to help New Life Radio from afar, as well as his sponsor organization, Christian Radio for Russia.
He said that Zhurakovski called him on the morning of February 24 with the solemn announcement “this is war”.
Johnson said the city of Odessa went into a panic as Russian forces attacked Ukraine on multiple fronts. Many townspeople entered bomb shelters, and Johnson said station workers could see rockets flying outside outside their own windows.
Zhurakovski and other station workers were forced to make the decision to stay or go.
Several decided to stay in Ukraine to help their local churches during the crisis, while one worker – a young single man named Yuri – decided to stay in Odessa to operate the station.
The station’s equipment allowed it to continue broadcasting via the Internet and on satellite radio despite the conflict surrounding it. In fact, there was no interest during the crisis when New Life was off the air, as Yuri was able to automate equipment to deliver programming when live streaming was not an option. .
Despite this, station executives still wanted to search for a safe place where they could resume live broadcasting.
Zhurakovski decided to flee with his family in hopes of reaching Chisinau, Moldova, to prepare for the live broadcast again. A few days after the start of the war, the violence ceased for a brief period for talks between the nations.
It was during this brief break from the fighting that Zhurakovski fled with the family, along with most of the station’s radio equipment, in the newly purchased SUV.
After a long and complicated queue at the border, the family was finally able to cross into Moldova, but that was not the end of their journey.
Immediately after entering the country, one of the pastors of the local church informed the family that it would be too dangerous for them to stay, as Russian forces were operating very close to the border and it was feared that an invasion is imminent.
“We had absolutely no other contacts in Moldova or Romania,” Johnson told Baptist Press, “and so when they called me to tell me the update, it was like ‘where are we going or What do we do?
Returning to Ukraine was not an option, so Johnson said he was “scrambling” on the internet trying to find a safe place for Zhurakovski and his family to take refuge.
“As soon as I hung up the phone with Ivan, I just prayed, ‘OK Lord, what’s next? Please help me figure something out. And I just knew God would provide’ , Johnson said.
Johnson determined that Romania would be the next best option and began researching evangelical churches in the country within driving distance. After much research, he found two local evangelical leaders near Lasi (pronounced Yash) who contacted him.
The two men were a pastor from a local evangelical church named Paul Schneider, and another man named Dan Maftei, who runs a Romanian Christian media ministry based in Lasi. Despite the similar missions of the two organizations, Johnson said New Life had no precedent. contact with this Romanian Christian news station. Maftei happened to be one of the people who contacted him.
When Zhurakovski and his family crossed the Romanian border, the two men helped them find safe accommodation with plenty of space where they could both stay and set up the radio show.
“Everything they needed, they got,” Johnson said. “It was like God just stepped in and provided the right people and gave them exactly what they needed.”
In the coming days, Zhurakovski would install the station’s equipment and begin broadcasting live for several hours during the day, then switch the signal back to the still-running automatic programming from Odessa.
Johnson said that even if Russia were to shut down the internet or communications (Russia has already blocked Facebook, Instagram and other social media), New Life would still be able to broadcast via satellite signal.
The station has seen a noticeable increase in Russian listeners since the war began, he said, and he believes this signals the spiritual desperation of those involved in the war.
“It’s a really critical time and people are really looking for answers,” Johnson said. “As people face war, destruction and death at all times, they are much more open to hearing from the Lord.
“We’re not completely sure why people end up finding us, but we just know we’re getting new listeners. No matter how they find us, our challenge is to give them what they need to know—the gospel and the assurance that the scriptures give us.
Johnson said the station has increased its Bible teaching programming, prioritizing music to clearly articulate the gospel message to listeners.
“We are going to trust God that He will allow us to have the technological means to spread the scriptures and teach people,” Johnson said. “The need to share the gospel will never end, and we will continue to find a way to do so. Nothing will stop us until God takes it away from us.
Timothy Cockes of the Baptist Press wrote this story for Kentucky Today.