A Christian radio station in Ukraine needs to change how they broadcast after the country passed a recent language law.
According to Christianity Today, earlier in July, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed into law a near-complete ban on Russian music on radio and television. Passed by parliament with a two-thirds majority, it exempts pre-independence classical artists like Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich as well as modern composers who have condemned the war.
"We were expecting bombs to wreck our radio operations, but it turned out to be this law," says Dan Johnson, president of Christian Radio for Russia in an interview. "I don’t want our staff busted on the air for reading the Bible in Russian."
Christian Radio for Russia broadcasts from Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast and currently runs New Life Radio (NLR). They air 65 per cent music on the station, with the reality that most of the contemporary worship songs played are in Russian, even those originating from Ukraine.
A 2021 national survey showed that 22 per cent of Ukrainians are native Russian speakers and that 36 per cent speak the Russian language primarily in their homes.
The president of NLR has been broadcasting Christian radio into Russia, and faced challenges, since 1996. Johnson moved there in 1991. After a decade of broadcasting, in 2006 Johnson was kicked out of Magadan and took up his ministry broadcasting in Moscow, reaching across the former Soviet Union.
In 2019 Johnson had to relocate once more as the campaign against both free press and evangelical ministry tightened in Russia.
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Odessa, Ukraine looked like it would be a trouble-free spot to broadcast Christian radio, until the recent laws.
"There isn’t a government in the world that can stop the gospel. We will pivot and move on as always."
NLR broadcasts by satellite and online. They continues to produce content in Russian, encrypting the signal to broadcast from outside the country.
Before the invasion, the global Christian radio network—which broadcasts from 149 stations in 50 countries—operated seven FM stations in Ukraine, all of which were in majority Russian-speaking areas—and added Zaporizhzhia in April and Kyiv earlier this month.
Since that time, two FM stations have shut down.
People remain free to speak the language and thousands of Russian-speaking Ukrainian patriots are fighting to resist the invasion.
"All my life I spoke and read Russian; I authored articles and books in Russian; I preached in Russian," said Sergey Nakul, FEBC’s senior broadcaster in Kyiv. "Today, I can’t. I switched to Ukrainian completely."
Many people are making the change in language on their own accord.
"Russian is now experienced as the language of the invader," says Sergey Rakhuba of Mission Eurasia, a Christian ministry focused on building the next generation for Christ in Eurasia.
Rakhuba shares that many churches are voluntarily switching their sermons to Ukrainian, while the Pentecostal union officially dropped the Russian language in all its services.