The trip into Kharkiv was as disturbing as expected. This city, southwest of Kiev, has recently pushed back Russian troops. The heroism of the Ukraine fighting forces and the population is inspiring. While many have fled, especially women and children, others have decided to stay and fight. As we moved south of Kiev, it was eerie—the roads were empty, the commercial districts abandoned, no gas stations were open. We carried fuel with us to refill. As we grew closer, there were road obstacles set up to slow down Russian infantry. That required us to zigzag around concrete barriers, sandbags, and even tires and telephone poles. There were also military checkpoints where we had to produce our “aid assistance” documentation.
All street lights were out, and the homes that were visible from the road were darkened. All highway directional signs were painted over so as not to help the Russians at all. We stayed at a youth hostel for the night which, in better times, was a soccer camp. The place was pitch black. The agent briefly turned lights on to check us in.
We drove through the town of Bucha. This is where Russian atrocities were first recorded; many civilians were tortured. This is where we saw the Wolverine tank. The city is rebuilding. A large lot with hundreds of burned-out cars were stacked, witnesses to the tragedy and violence that had recently taken place. The streets were full of people reopening businesses. This is evidence of a resilience that has to be seen to be appreciated.
After our night stay, we were on the road at 5:30 a.m. No breakfast or even coffee was available for the next 100 miles. Everything was closed. The military checkpoints got closer together. There was no waiting; there was no one in line.
We arrived at the church a little after 7:00 a.m. There were 1,000 people outside in line for food. Word had gotten out that we were on our way. As our drivers positioned the trucks, we were escorted through a side door. There was a fervent prayer meeting going on. Pastor Mervin and I were warmly embraced and asked to say a few words. Then we worshiped. These folks have joy!
Then the food distribution began. It was pointed out to us that the building next to us was caved in by a missile hit. The side of the church was full of what looked like machine gun fire but was shrapnel from that hit. The side of the church was actually side-swiped by another missile. All the windows on that side were blown out. This hit happened just days before while they were doing a food distribution. There had been hundreds of people between the two buildings, but no one was hurt. They all hit the ground and were praying. When you look at all the shrapnel holes, it’s hard to fathom that no one got hit.
As we began to pass out food, a worship team came out and I even joined them—just so I could say I was once on a worship team.
There was an older gentleman who moved down the line speaking to each person, hugging the adults and patting the kids on the head. It was apparent we were going to run out of food before we ran out of people. Pastor Mervin and I ran away. We could not deal with seeing these people who had been in line for hours leave empty-handed. I asked the leaders what they told them. They gave them a ticket so they could be first in line when our next delivery arrived in two days. The astonishing thing is that those who got nothing did not act angry. There were some who stayed around for a while, maybe hoping for something. One of the volunteers found some candy and brought it out to the kids. The moms were full of gratitude.
There is no food available right now. Stores are not open, and if they were, there’s no money. I asked the pastor of the church, which has 350 members, how many were out of work. He said, “All!” I thought that surely, he had misunderstood me. I was wrong; not one person’s business was functioning. This will surely change if the Ukraine army can keep pushing back the Russian forces. In a few weeks, at least some services will begin to operate. I asked him what they will do until then. He said, “Trust God and ask for help.”
After all of this, they took us through the neighborhood; apartment building after apartment building had been destroyed! There are no words for what we saw. We could hear and feel the Russian and Ukraine armies trading rocket fire about 5 miles away.
The next few weeks are critical on all fronts for them. We are committed to helping them. Before we left, we were able to give them $14,000 in cash that we were carrying. We will be sending more. Before we left, they served us breakfast and coffee! During that time, I interviewed the pastor. It was very obvious that this church was in full ministry mode. I asked him about the prayer, the worship, the joy, and the servanthood that was evident. To summarize his answers, he said, “That’s who we were before the bombs; that’s who we are now!”
As I’ve said before, this is not just a test for them; it’s a test for us—at least for me! What will I do? I will fall back on my Winston Churchill history. He knew he needed help from America, and he begged for it for over two years while Roosevelt considered all the implications. Then something happened. Roosevelt sent a very close friend, Henry Hopkins, a frail man dying of cancer, to see Churchill and witness what was happening in London. The Germans were bombing Britain every night; hundreds were dying—over 50,000. Hopkins could only attempt to tell Roosevelt not only of the death and destruction he saw, but of Churchill’s refusal to consider surrender. He told him how the U.S. had to help with planes and tanks.
Before Hopkins left to go back and tell Roosevelt what he saw, he asked Churchill if he wanted to know what he was going to tell Roosevelt. Churchill, of course, said, “Yes.” Here was Hopkins’ answer. From the book of Ruth, he said, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” Hopkins returned and pressed Roosevelt to ask for the Lend-Lease Act. Who would know that Japan would be about a year away from attacking Pearl Harbor and the U.S. would already have an ally in England?
I believe that if you could see what I reluctantly have seen, you would have to harden your heart to justify not helping these women, children, and families. These are our brothers and sisters. We are united—not by a language, but by the cross and the blood of Jesus. When one member suffers, we all suffer. Please, let us pass the test together and do all we can!
In the Master’s Service,
NRP Team Leader
PS: I want to thank Pastor Mervin Strother. He was an incredible traveling companion and we couldn’t have accomplished this without him!
While in Ukraine, Pastor Mervin and I recorded a bonus episode for the Leadership in Context podcast. You can listen to it HERE.
There is a war going on for the hope of the people in Ukraine. They are not forgotten. We have not forgotten them. We will not forget them. We will continue, with your help, to provide resources, the hope of Jesus, and to care for the people there. You can partner with us in making history His-Story HERE.