Following service on Pentecost Sunday in 2014, four men were kidnapped from the parking lot of a church in Slavyansk, Ukraine. Artur Pavenko, son of the pastor, watched as two of his brothers and two deacons were taken by masked gunmen. Though shocked, Artur thought this would be an interrogation and release as had become common in the ongoing conflict between Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military.
Days passed into weeks with no word. About a month after the abduction, all four men were found in a mass grave, mutilated by gunfire. The Pavenko family was devastated. There was little information as they grieved, and any possible leads quickly grew cold.
Then one day, Artur received a mysterious phone call.
“One morning, a stranger called me,” he said. “The man told me he had information about the death of my brothers. I didn't believe him at first. I thought he wanted something from me, that he was a fraud. But after he told me the whole situation and about the things that belonged to my brothers, I realized he wasn’t joking. He said it was hard for him to live with this burden, so for a certain compensation, he would tell me the location of the people who took part in it, their families, and more.”
For months the Pavenkos relied on their faith in Jesus as they sought the strength to forgive a senseless act. But now Artur had a choice: the faceless murderers could be identified.
“It’s not easy to forgive the people who have done evil things to you when you can do something about it. Perhaps it would be easier to forgive and let it go when you don't know who did it, when you can’t do anything about it. However, thanks to my faith, and the example of my parents and their Christian life, I gave him a very simple answer: I do not want that information.”
His offer rejected, the caller was dumbfounded. Instead, the man listened as Artur shared the story of the thief on the cross, who put his faith in Jesus as he hung dying.
In hanging up, Artur closed the door to answers in his family’s tragedy. He knows that vengeance ultimately belongs in the Lord’s hands. The call to forgive, though weighty in the case of his family, is critical to following Jesus Christ.
Photograph by Audra Melton