by Monte Sahlin

From ANN, September 30, 2014

A Seventh-day Adventist pastor is missing after being abducted by gunmen during a communion service on Sabbath (September 27) at a church in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, the denomination's Ukraine Union Conference has told the Adventist News Network. Unidentified men carrying machine guns and wearing camouflage burst into the church in the city of Horlivka and seized Pastor Sergei Litovchenko.

The armed group interrupted the worship service, told the congregation to leave and made the pastor close the building. He was then forced him into a car which drove away in an unknown direction. The incident occurred as the pastor was leading a communion service in the small, rectangular church located at 1 Ulitsa Horlovskoi Divizii.

The gunmen said "this is Orthodox land and there is no place for various sects here," according to the report from the conference. They refused to say who they were and what right that had to disrupt the church’s activities, replying bluntly to church members’ questions, “It’s none of your business.”

The Ukrainian Union Conference is trying to find the whereabouts of the pastor. “Where he is and what has happened to him is unknown,” said Vassily Nichik, director of public affairs and religious liberty for the West Russian Union Conference, which borders eastern Ukraine. “Please pray for him,” he said on his Facebook page.

The event is very troubling for Adventists in eastern Ukraine, where clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces have killed more than 3,500 people since April. Separatists, who support the Orthodox faith and have spoken critically of Protestants as a "sect." A Protestant journal published in the United States, Christian Century reported this week that Orthodox clergy have been seen with separatist armed forces.

No Adventists have been injured or killed in eastern Ukraine, where an uneasy ceasefire began September 5. Only one church building has suffered major damage. Adventists have been detained on occasion but always released quickly.

Dr. John Graz, director of public affairs and religious liberty at the denomination's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, expressed deep concern over the kidnapping and said he was puzzled over why anyone would target the pastor. “Our church is officially recognized in Russia and Ukraine, and we expect our members and pastors to be respected by the authorities on the territory of eastern Ukraine,” Graz said Monday. “The Seventh-day Adventist Church is not involved in politics, and we don’t understand why it should be attacked.”

The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the denomination.