Ukraine Captured Larry’s Heart

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Larry, pictured here on his first trip to Ukraine in 1998 with Sergey and Lyuda Betin in front of the Christian Clinic Sergey founded. Sergey is now a pastor in Belgorod-Dnestrovsky.

For months, Ukraine has captured the world’s attention. But since 1998, it has captured Larry Roff’s heart. After visiting Ukraine with a team of PCA pastors and pastors’ wives, he says, “God did something in my heart…I fell in love with the people. I fell in love with the country.”

As the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, we spoke with Larry to ask what PCA members can do to help.  TE Larry Roff serves as the organist for the PCA General Assembly.  At this year’s General Assembly, Larry offered a prayer for the people of Ukraine (see the video here).

When he first visited the country, Ukraine was emerging from its days under Soviet rule. The government was returning private property back to those who had claim to it, and they gave an old Presbyterian church to modern-day Ukrainian Presbyterians. Larry was with these Christians when they entered the building for the first time.

When they stepped inside the 500-seat Victorian sanctuary, everyone noticed the wear and tear of the years. Graffiti marked the walls, plaster peeled, cracks testified to old earthquakes, and the building leaked.

Amidst the ruin, Larry realized one thing: this room needed a good organ.

He pitched the idea to the MTW missionaries and local Christians, and they were supportive. Ultimately, it would be up to Larry to raise the funds. So for the next seven years, he played scores of organ concerts across the southeastern and midwestern United States. He raised the funds and the organ was installed in 2004, the 200th anniversary of the church’s founding.

Since then, Larry has returned to Ukraine over a dozen times. He’s performed organ concerts in a dozen Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv and Lviv, and has taught seminary classes. These return trips have allowed Larry to form deep and lasting friendships, such as with Kyiv pastor Ivan Bespalov. Larry and Ivan continue to email every weekend.

“Heartbreaking is a common word, but my heart is in a million pieces.”

For Larry, having those relationships deepens the pain of watching Russia’s devastating attacks.

Since the war began, he’s remained in contact with his Ukrainian friends, regularly hearing their reports from the danger zones. “It’s not at all infrequent that I get an email, and I just sit there and read it and sob and just plead with the Lord to hear our prayers and to deliver his children there.”

Watching the tragedy unfold but being on the other side of the world has been “surreal” for Larry. He says, “I’ve been to those places. I know exactly what it looks like. I’ve stood there. I’ve taught there. I’ve preached there. I’ve visited them and stayed in their homes. It is very much surreal.”

Amidst the heartbreak, Larry is glad that his friends have remained unharmed and that God is working amidst the people of Ukraine. Citing Genesis 50:20, Larry sees God using the pain for good: the church is growing and ordinary citizens are performing extraordinary acts of love.

How to Help

We asked Larry what his Ukrainian friends pray for. In addition to an end to the war and the safety of their church members serving in the military (nearly all adult men are fighting), they pray selfless prayers: they ask for eyes to see and hands to meet the needs around them. For his own part, Larry has grown to appreciate the imprecatory Psalms, which call for the downfall of evildoers.

Larry recommended several aid groups whose on-the-ground work is crucial and who need to stay funded:

The sacrificial love of these Ukrainian Christians is a call to all of us. As we heed that call, please join Larry in prayer—and in giving—as we seek to aid those devastated by this war.

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