Valentin Korenevych – Head of the Bachelor’s program “Pastoral and Chaplain’s Leadership” at the Kiev Theological Seminary, pastor of the Church “Path of Truth”, Kyiv. Born in Kazakhstan in 1965, seven years later the family moved to the suburbs, then again to Baikonur, as their parents were builders, often moving. In 1983 he entered the Yaroslavl Higher Military Financial College (now the Military Financial and Economic Academy in Yaroslavl, Russia). After four years of study, he served in Kazakhstan.
In 1992 he returned with his wife and children to Ukraine. In 2000, he and his wife were baptized at a Baptist church. In 2004 he graduated from Kyiv National University. Taras Shevchenko, received the rank of colonel. In 2008 he graduated from the Irpin Bible Seminary. In the same year, he started a bachelor’s program in Pastoral Chaplaincy at the Kiev Theological Seminary, becoming its head. Over the 11 years of the program, 40 graduates are active in chaplaincy.
He and his wife Marina have four children and two grandchildren.
How and why did you become a military?
I became a military by accident. Although God does not have coincidences and everything is under His control, I only realized this later. My family had no military, my parents were builders. I thought about economic education, but went to study with a neighbor at a financial and economic school, only then realized that it was a military school. So he became a military man, studying in the north of Russia for four years. There he met his future wife, Marina. She came to study at Yaroslavl Pedagogical Institute. Ushinsky from the Kostroma region.
In 1985, my parents returned to Chernihiv, where they came from, where they live today, and I stayed in Russia. After graduation, he got to Almaty, then to the military town of Otar (near the border with Kyrgyzstan) and again to Almaty. Further Taldykorgan – almost under the Chinese border, a pregnant wife came to me after school, and we lived there for 5 years.
How did the military become a Christian?
Of course, at that time I was a non-believer. I never saw the churches, didn’t go to them, never saw the Bible, they just didn’t exist in Kazakhstan. And when I was studying in Yaroslavl, at the weekend I went to eat and walk … What churches! ( smiles ) While in Taldykorgan, I was talking about God, raising a toast for not being there. But I enjoyed reading. Once read the book “Master and Margarita” Bulgakov, and this was the first impulse to believe. The story of Yeshua and Pontius Pilate, which I read in this book, made me a crack. And in 1991, I was first given the New Testament on the street. Then they gave me the New Testament a few more times. Recently, he even found a copy of one of the things, on the last page of which was a piece of paper with the inscription “Baptist Church of Taldykorgan”.
At the same time, in 1991, he first entered the Orthodox Church. It was Easter, my friends and I played football, drank wine, and then our coach suggested either to the girls or to church. And I say, “What is a church? Why do I have girls, I have a wife !? ”Here we went to church. By four in the morning they stood there, I didn’t understand anything, of course. Arrived at home, and his wife did not let. I say, “I was in church,” and she said, “What church, are you a communist ?!”
In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and my wife and children returned to Ukraine, to the military town of Semipolka. He began to actively seek God. I went to the Orthodox Church, but I knew little. We moved to Kiev. He was here and in the Pechersk Lavra, then came to Jehovah’s Witnesses, read their journals constantly, went to them to study the Bible. It got to the point where he argued with his wife because she was convinced that I was not studying the Bible, but their journals. It turned out that my wife believed in God all this time, read the Bible, but didn’t tell me anything because I was a communist. He went to them for a while, but realized that there was no Christ there. I have read that no one can call Jesus Lord, only the Holy Spirit. So I decided to check it on their elder. He asked who Jesus was for him and whether he could call Jesus Lord? He was staring. I saw that he could not say anything. And I realized I needed to get out of there. But to go home and tell my wife that I was wrong, I couldn’t, I didn’t allow the pride. The same condition that she tells me nothing more about the Orthodox, and I tell her about Jehovah’s Witnesses, otherwise we will not be together. And one more condition he set, a baby one at all. He said, “Then the first one to come in the door and invite him to the church, without saying which one, we will go without talking.” She agreed. And I said I would pray now. It was rather a childish wish-wish, I could not pray, did not understand what prayer was. But he said in simple words: “God, who you are, just whoever goes in the door first, we will go where you say.” The next day a lieutenant colonel’s wife from our house invited us to church and we left. It was a small Baptist church: 16-17 grandmothers, one man older than me, and a pastor and several others a little younger. There we repented in 1999 and in 2000 received baptism. So from the first push through the book “Master and Margarita” to repentance took nine years.
What educational institutions did you go through?
ЗDuring this time he graduated from the military department at the KNU. T. Shevchenko. I had my first civilian higher education and my second secondary military education. In order to become a senior officer, I had to have a second higher military education. That is why I studied at the military faculty for three more years. If I wanted to become a general, then I would have to have a third higher education – special education of the General Staff. The first civilian higher education and secondary military means that the officer must understand how the platoon, company, battalion operates. The second higher military education expands the horizon, the officer must understand how the regiment and the brigade interact, and the third higher higher is the level of the division and the army, the officer must have not only tactical thinking, but also strategic.
In 2004, he graduated from the University and immediately entered the Irpin Bible Seminary and later retired from the Armed Forces of Ukraine. For three years he worked with Pastor-Chaplain Vasily Khimich at the Union of Christians of the Military of Ukraine. My parents didn’t really understand why I changed my military security, good pay, medical security for such uncertainty, but I went by faith. He graduated from seminary in 2008 and started a new church with his wife and youth group.
In the same year 2008, you started a Chaplaincy program at KTS. Was that your idea?
No, it wasn’t my idea at all, I never dreamed of it. One day, Bruce Kittleson, President of Olive Brench International, told me: “We want to start a Chaplaincy training, can you write a program?” I told him, “What is the program?” ! I do not know the word “chaplain”, what can I write? I am a military financier, a tailgater, what a chaplain? ”They bought tickets and took me to the States to show what chaplaincy is. I saw, came back, collected all the necessary documents and wrote the program. This is what God did, not me. He had already prepared me for this at Irpin Seminary. During my studies, I was preparing a course work that was a bit shocking to the teachers at the time. The theme was: “The State and the Armed Forces in the Light of the Bible.” My work was then corrected many times, crossed out, but I still defended myself and got excellent. And that work became the basis, the basis for the curriculum, to which it was only necessary to add sections on chaplaincy. I introduced the program to the leadership, the teaching staff of the UPS, then there was an agreement with the board of trustees, and in 2008 the bachelor’s program “Pastoral and Chaplaincy Leadership” began its work.
The curriculum has been in operation for 11 years – a considerable time. What are your results?
Yes, 11 years to the program and the church. And looking at this path, I understand that God has prepared all this, prepared me, even when I was a non-believer. He brought me to a military college, although there were no military in my family, he gave me an education, even the topic of my coursework He gave me and then he led me to the Kiev Theological Seminary. It was a very difficult time. We had 4 children, my wife did not work. We started a new church, and the pastor-chaplain program started. A lot of effort and health have been spent, but now I see that the church is strong, I have already given almost all my responsibilities, we have four deacons, the youth actively serves, there are four elders who solve all church matters collectively. The curriculum is working, and today we have 40 graduates who successfully complete the chaplaincy ministry. Over the course of our program, about 150 people have been free students, attended individual courses, or have not yet completed their studies for various reasons.
In addition, we have the Olive Branch NGO, and through this small UPS organization, we hold annual training conferences for various chaplains, women’s conferences for the military. In addition, we organize camps for children of servicemen every year, we have women’s clubs to support women servicemen or military wives across Ukraine. It is a considerable layer of work that God gives us the power and ability to do.
Who comes to study in the Pastoral Chaplaincy program?
My students are usually adults, with an average age of 40. They come here, understanding what they came for. There are almost no random people, in 11 years I remember only two. One left at once and the other came, not understanding what he was doing, but continuing his studies. Often, these are people with a difficult past: former convicts, drug addicts and drug addicts, former military men. All of them have difficult fates, often complex characters. Most of them, as a rule, are already engaged in chaplaincy, and if such a person is given some other service in the church, they are forced to drop out. Many can’t handle the load, so I fight for every student, constantly calling, persuading, suggesting to study longer, but still finish my studies and get a diploma. Because it is a great blessing to study, I know, to study myself. And anyone will say how the years of study in seminary change. I have one graduate who has been studying all his life, but this is his first school where he was able to get to the finish and get a diploma, he talked about it at graduation and was glad. Such testimony is very valuable.
Who are the chaplains? Is Chaplain just a pastor?
To put it very narrowly, a chaplain should help a person meet his or her religious needs. The person is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on duty, in prison, on a hospital bed. The person at this moment is not himself, can not stand up and go anywhere. And any person has certain religious needs. We, the chaplains, have to provide these needs exactly as a person wants. If the mother of a dying girl wants her sprinkled with, say, Presbyterian spills, and I’m a Baptist chaplain, then I can’t deny a man her request. The wounded Muslim wants me to put the Quran, I have to do it, I have to love him so much that he has to do as his faith requires. And if a person wants to know how I believe and asks, then I can tell about my faith.
Chaplaincy has three aspects. First, chaplaincy is a continuation of the ministry of the church beyond. Secondly, where a church cannot or does not want to go, a chaplain can come. Third, although the chaplain is a pastor, he is not a pastor in the literal sense of the word. Because the pastor serves his own, his own denomination, his people. He loves his own, sometimes strangers, those who come to church, preach to their own, take care of their own. It is difficult for him to understand a person even from other churches of his denomination. I’m not talking about other denominations or historical churches. I have seen many pastors, and they are very loving people who find it very difficult to love a person from another denomination or not at all like a Christian denomination, but worse if they are confronted with an atheist or an ardent pagan. It is already necessary to have a special state of acceptance of a person, not just from another denomination, but his adversary, moreover, he may be a Satanist. How to love them? And here is this dramatic difference between a chaplain and a pastor. The chaplain serves everyone, accepts everyone as they are. Chaplain does not try to convert people to their faith, but serves them as they would like. We can evangelize things and only sometimes in words.
Sometimes I joke, I say, “Sometimes you go into a building, you know where we have a fire extinguisher? But if there is a fire, everyone starts running around to find where he is. So is a chaplain in a military unit or a prison. While everything is calm, nothing has happened, it seems like it is not needed, but it should be. For if a soldier is hanged, they kill the soldier, who is to tell the parents? That’s when they look for a chaplain like that fire extinguisher. He must be in crisis or in order to prevent a crisis, everyone should know where he is.
There is one more thing that differentiates the chaplain and the pastor. The pastor is under one authority of God in the church. It is more difficult for a chaplain to have a double subordination under the influence of his denomination, his pastor, his rope, and entering the territory of a military unit, prison, hospital, coming under military rule or hospital, prison regime. The chaplain can no longer behave as he wants, he has entered other people’s territory, he must know from A to Z all the clauses of the statute, regulations and have no right to say: “I will not do this” or “I will do this or that ».
There are two categories of humanitarian law in human beings that are forbidden to be taken captive – a chaplain and a medic. These are people of double submission. Everyone understands that the first heals the body and gives the oath of Hippocrates. The second heals the soul and is under the oath of the Creator. Even the non-believer understands that the Geneva Convention protects such people. Therefore, the principle of double submission is very important for the chaplain: if he violates the statute, the church’s doctrine, that is, the oath to God, the chaplain will be recalled; if he breaks the subordination, the statute of the institution of stay – chaplain will be sent. Such a double subordination does not have an ordinary pastor, but in such circumstances the chaplain constantly works.
Due to the war, military chaplaincy is most rumored, but there is still chaplaincy in hospitals, prisons and others. Is there any difference between them?
The base is the same – being close to the person. But the difference is in the peculiarities of the work and in the different legislative framework. It is possible to create a church in prison, but not in the army. In the army, if there is a building or structure on the territory of a military unit, it must be accessible to all, there can be no confessional. It’s prohibited. It is not possible to divide people during combat operations, they must be united for their safety and for the success of the task the military performs. The chaplain must bring people together. All differences (ideology, religion) should be eliminated. It is easier in prison because you can make different rooms based on different religions.
A military chaplain, for example, does not have a medical record, but a hospital, in America, for example, has access to the medical record of any person in a hospital. There the medical card consists of two parts: for the body and for the soul. When a chaplain takes a medical card, he must know both body diagnoses and “soul diagnoses”. He needs to see what the previous chaplain wrote about the person, if that record is there. The chaplain must understand the condition of the person, whether he or she should speak of repentance, for example, before surgery or immediately after surgery, and in general what it is worth talking to about the person, given his or her physical condition. There is no such thing in prison either. All types of chaplaincy have their own peculiarities, and we tell our students about this in detail in the program “Pastoral Chaplaincy”.
Which of the military, penitentiary, hospital, and police chaplaincy areas is most popular among seminary students?
We have two of the largest groups on the program – military chaplains and prison (penitentiary). And the third group, much smaller, are hospital chaplains. There were several police chaplains, several firefighters, two sports chaplains, several social chaplains, school employees, several hospice chaplains. That is, the main group is the military and prison chaplains.
How much do chaplains need in the country? Is there a need for such specialists?
The need is very great, although the state is not fully aware yet. Take, for example, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, there are some difficulties. While there is no law on chaplaincy, the authorities are constantly failing to adopt such a law. At present, chaplaincy in the army functions within the order of the Minister of Defense of Ukraine No. 685 of 14.12.2016 . Of course, it’s better than nothing, but it’s not enough. Chaplaincy cannot develop as a structure. People receive money, but not as military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but as technicians. For example, a front-line military man receives about 20,000 UAH, and a chaplain, who is right there, – 4,000 UAH. In addition, chaplains have no security: no uniform, no nutrition, no health care. All this he must provide for himself, or the church must provide. The chaplain also needs to keep his family with this money, which he has left for a long time while staying with the military in their locations. In different denominations, this issue is handled differently. We now have 300 positions of chaplains in the Armed Forces, but barely half are employed. Of these 300 positions, 3 places are officially required to be filled by Baptists, but we cannot even occupy these three positions.
Why is this situation now?
Because for such an amount to feed a family, he cannot provide himself with everything necessary for the service of a chaplain. After all, he must leave the family and go to war, the chaplain must be constantly with his part either on the rotation or at the front. In addition, the church is not always ready to support financially or even release its minister for this service. This is despite the fact that such an employee must have a special education of a chaplain. The law should provide for all matters relating to the provision of a chaplain. For example, prison chaplains do not even have an order like the military. Although prison chaplains actively began working much earlier than the military, everything is volunteer based.
That is, the law of chaplaincy can remedy the situation?
Yes, the law is very necessary and must regulate this area so that chaplaincy can develop fully. But such a law should apply to all law enforcement agencies: the police, the Security Service, prosecutors, firefighters and other semi-closed structures. And if such a law is adopted for Ukraine as a whole, and sooner or later it happens, we will have a shortage of staff not of 150 people, but 1500 full-time positions of chaplains. And to be a chaplain you will need to have: special education, being a minister of the church, having a church direction. These requirements are already prescribed for the military chaplain. What we have today in Baptist churches – people do not have special education, most local churches are not ready to bless and send to ministry.
This is where we face another problem. Will be the law, but will not send anyone?
Yes, our program has been running for 11 years and we only have 40 graduates – it’s a drop in the sea. This is despite the fact that we teach students from all faiths. When I started this program, it was my main requirement – we should teach all Christians, regardless of denomination.
What other Protestant educational institutions have Chaplaincy ministry programs?
The Tauride Christian Institute previously had a two-year program for prison chaplains; That is why in such a complete form the bachelor’s chaplaincy program offered by our seminary has no Protestant educational institution, we are the only one in the Protestant world of the post-Soviet space.
Let’s get back to the chaplains themselves. Chaplain helps others, takes care of their spiritual and emotional state. But who to go to with the chaplain for help? Does the chaplain have his own chaplain?
Of course, any chaplain has such a period. As one American told me, “When I come to my office and see a soldier sitting at my door, I start to hate him quietly. Then I realize it’s time for me to go on vacation. ” They have a senior chaplain in charge of all the chaplains, he is their senior pastor. He watches over the condition of his subordinates and sometimes tells whom time to go on vacation, who is already burned out. Even the US President and the Pope have their own chaplain.
In the US, there is a whole system, a staff of chaplains. This year, for example, the senior on a military basis is a Baptist chaplain. He is responsible for all chaplains and in his charge representatives of all other denominations. Next year it will be Roman Catholic, another year another. The senior chaplain looks at his team, protects against burnout. If he sees a problem somewhere, he must respond immediately. There’s still a garrison chaplain. For example, I was familiar with the chief chaplain in Iraq. His duty is to look after senior chaplains, who are responsible for fewer chaplains. There is some accountability and a system of control and responsibility.
It is like biblical counseling for people. If you take two people for counseling within a week, it is already quite difficult, and three in a week is already difficult. After all, the consultant needs time to “wash away” all the dirt that pours on them. If you do not pause, you will not be able to wash away everything and drown in this dirt.
So we have a huge shortage of chaplains, and there is no proper support for those chaplains who complete this ministry.
Do our churches support chaplaincy? Is there an understanding of the need and importance of chaplaincy?
The fact is that we have a congregational management system. Each Baptist church is sufficiently autonomous and independent, and there is a designated center for coordination. So, the church may approve of serving in penitentiary institutions, for example, but to have pacifist beliefs, to be indifferent to the problems faced by the rest of our society. In this case, the church will not send people to the chaplain service, will not ordain, authorize. Ordination is the transfer of some of its authority, the delegation of responsibility for serving others. Such a person should be supported by the church, but often not simply not supported, but even opposed by those who decided to become a military chaplain. Even worse, the church is so pressed by a successful chaplain that he is either forced to either cease his ministry or move to another church. People run to where they can show their gift, where they gain understanding and support.
The head of the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Baptist Churches – Valeriy Antoniuk actively supports chaplaincy, always speaks with encouragement to his employees. But at the level of regions and individual local churches, we have a completely different situation. There are churches that actively support their ministers – military chaplains, but a minority. But we have no right to condemn anyone, all churches are autonomous and can make their own decisions.
Who is the biggest support for you in your ministry and life in general?
If it wasn’t for my wife, this would not be all. She is most supportive, motivating and encouraging to me. I now often tell staff and students about their wives when it comes to getting married or when a student comes to a session. I always ask for the wife’s phone number or communicate in person. And I tell students or staff that a wife or a spouse is your rear, the support you need to thank. When I give a diploma or church certificate to a student at graduation, I say that the part must be received by the husband and the part by the wife, because the husband without the wife is zero without a stick. This is their common ministry. Anatoliy Prokopchuk became a great support in the seminary for me. He always invites communication. The first steps of this program were made only through its support.