Full Hands and Full Hearts
As I write this, we have just boarded our return flight home from Ukraine. It was another incredibly wonderful and heartbreaking trip. I’ll call it eternity therapy. For me, it makes heaven closer and my decisions to bring heaven to earth, as Jesus taught us to pray, a reasonable response to these precious ones whose lives have been barbarically attacked. Thank you to all of you who have understood the privilege of ministering to the least of these with your giving. You are making a difference. We were indeed messengers of hope, and we didn’t come empty-handed either…thanks to you.
The medical team was simply amazing! When I asked one of our dear Romanian friends who drove us for his feedback on what he saw, he said, “The combination of tablets (pills), hugs, prayers, and love was something I have never seen before.”
In prior trips, we have been in areas that had experienced heavy shelling from tanks, planes, and missiles. This time, we went into areas where Russian troops had actually occupied before being forced out by Ukraine counter forces. The tragedy was on another level.
Shell casings of automatic weapon fire littered the ground. Fresh-dug graves and homemade memorials were plain to see. To say it was sobering would be a challenge to anyone’s understanding. In one area, Russians had done mass burials; it had been dug up to give those people a proper burial. I asked our lead driver to stop, not because I wanted to, but because we needed to. Our whole team reverently walked through this ground. We will never forget.
Our convoys consisted of eighteen Americans, eight Romanians, and a flock of Ukrainians! It included worship leaders, cooks, interpreters, and crowd control people so we could organize people for food, clothing, and medicine. To say they were highly organized doesn't do justice to the efficiency of how they get things done. They honored the investment you and each team member made.
On our first day in the Ukraine war zone, we divided into three teams. Each team was assigned two villages each that were about 1-2 hours outside the major city of Kharkiv. We met together in the morning for prayer and worship, and then loaded vans. We would arrive at 11am and see patients until 1:30pm. Then, these legitimately poor folks fed us lunch! Then we were off to the next village. Upon arrival at each and every location, we found full buildings and lines of people, often erupting in applause as we pulled up.
I don’t mind sacrificing and even taking some risk if I believe it will make a difference. I can tell you there have been times that I've put a lot of effort into something and just had to lay it at the Lord's feet as to whether anybody or anything was changed. In this case, there was no second guessing. The gratitude that was poured out on us was both rewarding and humbling. It made all the effort worth it. How I wish you could have been there with me and experienced it, to see first-hand how you have helped change the world. While others have gone on in life, ignoring this tragedy, you made it happen. It was hard to hold back tears, and often I couldn’t.
Because of the well-orchestrated plans of the churches we were working with, we were affecting not only individual people, but entire communities. They witnessed the Church in action as they saw and heard the gospel.
Dr. Brent and Beth Jacobus led one of our teams into a village that was within fifteen miles of the Russian border and had been hit with missile fire just five days before. They have some stories to tell!!
Our whole team also descended upon the town of Izume. Imagine a suburban town in your area. Now imagine every shop and store burned and bombed, as well as house after house. And those left standing were full of bullet holes; others were just left as shells. This was the worst concentrated damage we saw. When I got out of the lead van there, a lady broke from the crowd and said in broken English, “I want to touch an American.” Part of the Russian propaganda while the soldiers were occupying this town was telling these people that the Americans hate Ukrainian people and that they should not expect any help from us. Not content enough to destroy their town and kill their families and friends, they also attempted to get them to surrender what little hope they may be hanging onto. But God did not forget about them, and we were the evidence of that.
One early morning as I was talking to the Lord about all this, I felt like He breathed Isaiah 9:7 into my heart, There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. Several days later, the lead pastor asked me to preach to his core team. We included our team.
We were not in Izium just to feed people, do a medical clinic, give food and clothing, but to help plant a new church. There was no Holy Spirit-filled church in this area before. There had only been an orthodox church, and the priests had left town; so did the Russian army, but not of their own accord. Now God's government was increasing. We were holding church services for four hours. We preached, worshiped, and testified. We found empty Russian rocket boxes stacked up and used them for pews. (I would love to have one of those boxes.) In that group were four nations: Americans, Ukrainians, Romanians, and Russians. Now we have an embassy of heaven, a local church under the banner of heaven!!
Our trip required a lot of drive time. On our last trip, we had to bring all our fuel along with us (not exactly safety protocol). This time, gas stations along the major routes were open and had coffee and snacks. At each stop, our team took advantage of that. I felt like I was leading a youth group! Each time we stopped, we affected the local economy of that area. They didn’t know half of what they were buying, but that was not a deterrent. Ukrainian hot dogs became a favorite!
A lot of bridges and roads have been repaired. Many of the anti-tank barricades on the main roads were moved to the side, and only a few of the checkpoints were manned.
The Ukraine army is now dug in with more sophisticated measures. The villages that the Russians had occupied and plundered are now focal points of a church planting strategy. So imagine a local church that has 60% unemployment, who has been feeding people for thirteen months, and who has lost a lot of its younger folks who have moved out of the area (there is a steady flow of people returning) now embarking on an aggressive church planting strategy!! Our next step is to get US churches to consider partnering with a church plant. It just seems like a reasonable plan to me, and I look forward to this day.
As we were driving back from one of our stops in one of the vans that NRP purchased, I asked how many miles they had put on it. The answer translated to about 10,000 miles a month! Most of all of those miles were for food distribution. No wonder we purchased another set of tires! Of course, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to drive it. They gladly turned the wheel over to me along a stretch of country road (those diesel vans go pretty good) until we got to a military checkpoint. I came in a little fast…(my son Daniel exaggerated the guards response)!
A special thanks to Pastor Mervin and Dasha Strothers for orchestrating a lot of the details of this mission. They arrived before the rest of us and communicated and coordinated a lot of moving parts. As the medical teams were landing, we were meeting with Ukrainian pastors from five regions. We were encouraging them, preaching, and planning. At the end of our time together, we asked them what we could do to help them most. They all said the same thing, “Come to my area.” So we are planning and praying about how best to do that. I know it will have to include getting other American pastors involved on the next wave so we can build on the kind of relationships that we have already seen happen. There is no doubt that much progress since our last trip has been made, and much is yet needed. With that progress, there are very clear and strategic opportunities to advance the Kingdom. True, there are a lot of needs; also true, there are more opportunities to win souls, make disciples, and plant churches! I want you to be a part of that.
I stayed with one of the pastors. We would leave in the morning and get home at about 9pm. Then we would sit around, drink tea and talk . What impressed me was the way they looked at this heartbreak–not denying the trauma and tragedy, but seeing God calling His people and church to rise up at a delicate and critical time. They have earned the right and trust to speak to their nation, and they are doing just that.
We are tired after a short trip. They have been doing this for over a year! So I paid a lot of attention to how they are doing it. Our call to make history His-Story is unfolding before our eyes. There is a shout that they do. When we stopped at checkpoints and were asked our business, they would say, “Jesus is for Ukraine, and Ukraine is for Jesus!” These are Kingdom builders, not just humanitarians.
At the end of our pastors’ gathering, they presented a plaque to us. It’s your plague.
It will hang on my wall. And I will think of you and be thankful to you and all those who have helped make a difference. Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Please join us in the next phase. Again, every dollar goes to the effort. We have no overhead salaries or costs; everyone pays their way. Please ask your friends to join this movement. Join us in continuing to make history His-Story!
In the Master’s Service,
NRP Team Leader
YOU CAN CONTINUE TO GIVE HERE.
Here’s what some of the team had to say about the trip:
“Going to Ukraine reminded me that pain has a face, suffering has a name, and poverty bears a heartbeat. The people we helped were real people with real names, with real families, living in real villages that needed to see the tangible, unconditional love of God. We listened to their stories, served their physical needs (food and medicine), and reminded them that they are not forgotten. That message was clear despite any cultural or language barriers.” –Beth
“Serving the people of Ukraine in their hour of need was the most satisfying and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.” –Nick
“The devastation in Ukraine is unexplainable. It is an honor and privilege to be a part of the movement of God in this nation.” –Kat
“It was amazing to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring love and hope to God's people who are in crisis.” –Brent
“I’m so grateful that I got to remind the people of Ukraine that there are people across the world who care for them.” –Drew
“I am very grateful to be part of this amazing work of God. I am sure this trip gave hope to many people in Ukraine and lifted up the hands of those who serve here.” –Tania, Ukrainian interpreter
“When hopelessness, despair, and depression are near, Jesus is nearer still.” –Michael
“It was such a privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the beautiful people of Ukraine.” –Monica
“It's apparent that God is present in Ukraine by the genuine welcoming and love we received.” –Melissa
“It is an honor to see disciples of Jesus at work under these terrible circumstances.” –Jess
“I’m so incredibly humbled to work alongside this amazing church in Ukraine.” –Sandra
“God worked through us to give people hope by reminding them that they are seen by Him, loved by Him, and not forgotten.” –Michelle
“In the midst of cruelty, destruction, pain, and war, there was, among the believers, a sense of unity and love.” –Tom
“We are thankful to our King and NRP. You all are a great blessing from God to us and the people in Ukraine. May God reward and strengthen you.” –Pastor Soran