This trip into Ukraine was specific in its strategy to bring together key Ukrainian leaders living in the war zone and the Romanians that have been part of the supply line getting food and medicine to them. We had husbands and wives and a few small children together, and it was a great family atmosphere.
At this point, there are comparatively few people leaving the country. There are, however, an estimated eight million people inside Ukraine borders who have relocated to safe zones. These folks are in need of assistance on every humanitarian level. They are refugees in their own country.
The most critical needs are those who are in the war zone, especially with winter approaching. These areas have been damaged by war and have major disruptions of utilities, including water. We have concentrated our efforts more and more on these areas as they are most in need and the least reached.
The purpose of our gathering was to get these folks in the same room, to give them a break from the war front, have them meet others they don’t know, and for us all to grasp what each group and area is doing to help people.
Goal number one was a big success. They were so grateful to have a good night's sleep and good, hot food. Many told us this was like a dream come true. We brought ski caps for the guys and shawls for the ladies. They were so excited to get these small gifts from us.
We drove about five hours into a small Ukrainian town that was picturesque. It looked like the kind of place you would take a vacation. There were military roadblocks going in and out of town, and we saw several trucks of soldiers not far from there. Take away those things and the fact that it was lights out in town at 10pm, and you would not have realized that just hours away Russian missiles were being launched into towns and villages. We did have one air raid alert while there, but all was well. Thank you for praying for our safety.
The second part of the strategy, getting them connected, was likewise a huge success, and some of those connections are already bearing fruit. We ministered the Word and had worship and prayer. There was truly a great spirit. Our team of Pastor Steve Crombie, Pastor Mervin and Dasha Strother, and myself was able to minister and encourage the folks there. Dasha interpreted all the sessions, some of which went three hours long. It was amazing that she didn’t lose her voice! We had to go from Russian to English as our team obviously speaks English and most of the Romanians grasp English better than Russian. The Romanians who spoke during the session actually used English, and Dasha then interpreted into Russian for the rest of the crowd. (Ukraine and Russian languages are similar but different; almost all Ukrainians speak Russian.)
The last step of our strategy was to ascertain how we could best help, especially in light of winter. They need all sources of heat and light, generators for running lights, and especially well-water pumps. Flashlights, candles, and wood stoves are primary items needed. We have two men working on purchasing these items by the truckload. Time is of the essence, and they are moving fast. Any help right now will go towards these immediate needs.
This group of Romanian churches continues to inspire me. They are doing much with little. However, they are in the minority. Most Romanian churches are not engaged directly with aid across the border. Estimates are that 80% of the aid from outside Ukraine has stopped from Christian and non-Christian organizations alike. This was predicted, especially since media coverage of the Russian invasion has been limited.
There have been many promises made of help that have not come to pass. I’ve been very careful not to promise anything we can’t deliver, but at the same time assuring them that they will not be forgotten. They are appreciative of our forthrightness.
On the military front, Ukraine has scored a series of victories over the last thirty days, pushing Russian forces back and intercepting major amounts of Russian military supplies. Russia had responded by random missile attacks for the purpose of disruption of rebuilding. Russia has also instituted a draft that has been met by a lot of resistance. News stories now say that over 200,000 Russians have left the country, mostly through Turkey and Finland because they will not participate in the war of aggression. I’ve personally seen correspondence from Russian pastors whose congregations have declared they will not participate in this war and are being threatened with long-term jail sentences. There have been public demonstrations, and several draft offices in Russia have actually been burned. I think the public unrest inside of Russia may be the greatest solution to Russian aggression beyond their borders.
These, of course, are all factual details that don’t do justice to the human element and the suffering. The uncertainty of this tragedy cannot be understood until you see it with your own eyes and see people heroically loving their neighbor. When we were ending our two and a half days together, it was evident that no one wanted to leave. The hugging and greetings just went on and on. As I was finally being called to the car, it was one of those moments that I will both cherish and regret at the same time for the rest of my life. Cherish because of the love and bond that was formed with these people and regret that this awful tragedy painfully exists. It’s very conflicting to just drive away knowing what awaits these precious people.
In the Master’s Service,
NRP Team Leader