A million Bibles for Ukraine: an interview with the project manager

"The main thing was to meet the basic needs of people who were forced to leave their homes and our military: water, bread, a roof over their heads and everything."

Leonid Rutkovskyi, head of the “Bible for Ukraine” project, on the eve of the launch of the project, spoke about the prospects and plans for the purchase and distribution of one million Bibles in a country suffering from war.

How did you become the head of this project? Why did you agree to lead it?

I learned about it back in March. I was invited to chat on Zoom directly with Liz Polanco, a preacher from Puerto Rico, who actually started the project. From her I learned the whole story about the dream, about the strange circumstances and about her future plans. Miss Polanco asked for help and asked if Ukrainian Adventists were ready to participate in her project. And I thought: “If they want to help us somewhere in the Caribbean, why shouldn’t we help here?”.

Honestly, I thought someone else would take on this project because Liz wanted to finish her involvement with it. We had to implement it in Ukraine ourselves. This decision to become a project manager was not easy for me. This service is new for me, I see it as charity and my contribution to the struggle of the Ukrainian people. I headed it to scale: not just to collect funds for printing Bibles in Ukraine and Puerto Rico, but also around the world. We have a great challenge, the war, and the circumstances caused by it, dictate to us that we must do something more. Water, food and weapons will be brought to us by other countries, but who will bring the Word of God here?

Why do you think God began to work through people from another continent? What plan do you personally see in this?

Until at least May, we were completely absorbed by the circumstances of the war: the air raids that did not stop, the sirens wailing, the distribution of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of the population. We were simply saving human lives. And a person, when he is under stress, cannot look wider in the circumstances of a full-scale war.

The main thing was to satisfy the basic needs of people who were forced to leave their homes and our military: water, bread, a roof over their heads and everything. Therefore, if in February-March someone were to meet with a dream that prompts us to distribute Bibles in Ukraine, then we would not be ready for this.

And I also see that the Spanish-speaking people we met are so open: they immediately accepted, believed in God’s providence and were convinced that implementing God’s plan is possible and they will be able to do it. God chose his man of faith, Liz Polanco, to take the first steps in the Bible for Ukraine project. For God, His man of faith was found right there, in Puerto Rico.

Throughout your ministry, have you ever been involved in similar projects that also started from someone’s dream or gut feeling?

I have been in ministry for over 21 years. In fact, I do not specialize in such large mission projects, this is my first experience. But it is important for me whether it is God’s will for its implementation, because without it there will be no success. So I always look for signs, in this case a dream, that shows God’s providence. If the Lord sent such a dream, how can I counteract it? Everything should be in harmony: people, circumstances and inner feelings. Because the harmony inside you is also the influence of the Holy Spirit and I definitely feel it.

How did God help to solve the difficulties on the way to the implementation of the project?

When you are given Bibles and money to print them – there are no difficulties, it is pleasant to do. Sister Liz did all the most difficult work: she prayed a lot, fasted, spent vigil nights and started this project, realized the printing of the first batches of Bibles. Conducted thousands of interviews. Her talent of persuasion is important and it brought 95% success. The most difficult thing for me as a project manager is the responsibility for donations. It is necessary to submit reports, collect photos, show people how and in what way their funds are transformed into the Bible and where they are taken next. But doing a good deed with God is simple. When we see the gratitude of people who take those Bibles with tears in their eyes, we understand that this is a noble mission.

However, it is almost impossible to print Bibles in Ukraine now. Because of the war, Ukraine has physically run out of books, in particular, the problem is that there are not many of them in Ukrainian or Russian. Many publishing houses have stopped working, there is no paper, and logistics are suffering due to destroyed roads. It is quite difficult to implement the project in such conditions. That is why we collect funds and focus on printing Bibles for Ukrainians abroad.

How many Ukrainians have already managed to receive the Bibles thanks to the project?

20,000 books (8,000 of them, by the way, are children’s books), and we plan to collect and distribute the same amount in September-October. 100 thousand dollars have already been collected.

Did the people who received the Bibles share their emotions? Is it possible to find information about this somewhere in social networks?

Ukrainians who were forced to flee their homes to save their lives took only the necessary things with them. So not everyone took their Bibles with them.

The emotions you see when you give the Word of God to a person who asks cannot be described in words. They accept it with a smile, gratitude, and even admiration. It is something so supernatural. I have not met a person who would react somberly to such a gift. Ukrainians distribute Bibles to their friends and acquaintances.

However, from the beginning we did not aim to interview people who receive the Holy Scriptures because at that time it did not seem important. But now we will think about how to implement it, maybe even through social networks.

We will only collect money for the further implementation of the project, or can everyone who wants to donate a Bible to someone through the “Bible for Ukraine” project?

If people want to donate Bibles themselves, that’s great, we’re open. You can write to us and agree on the details. But this makes the implementation of the plan much more difficult and expensive. If you print in publishing houses to order large batches at once, and this now has to be done abroad, it will be cheaper that way.

So many people now, as I said, have left their homes and lost everything. The Bible is a book that, for many, is strongly associated with a sense of peace, a sense of home. But there is currently no possibility to print books in Ukraine. Because this is not a simple process in the conditions of war, and there are practically no Bibles in Ukraine.

Such literature is a huge deficit. Even when people want to buy them in Ukraine for money, we Adventists have nothing to sell. Many publishing houses never started work after the bombings, a large part of logistics was destroyed, the Ukrainian economy is suffering and this could not but affect us. For today, the first issue is to find funds, then to get Bibles, to think over logistics.

Now we are drawing the attention of the whole world to Ukraine, and it is definitely better to do it together. Therefore, if someone wants to join the project, we will support any effort, because we are looking for partners who are ready to help financially, as well as distribute Bibles in the areas and sow God’s word.

Question – Anastasia Kushnaryova