Artillery shells rock buildings. Armed men run through the streets firing their weapons. Citizens take refuge in any safe haven they can find. Yet, Christian workers in eastern Ukraine say the church has never been more alive.
In Kharkiv church members take turns preparing meals at the train station for refugees who are fleeing their homes from other eastern cities where fighting has intensified.
“We saw how hungry, hopeless and desperate they were,” Nadia Morokhovets, the wife of a local Baptist pastor, said. “The Lord spoke to our hearts through Scripture where Jesus looks at His disciples and says, ‘You give them something to eat.'”
Nadia said churches in the city came together and formed an agreement with local officials to provide free meals for the many refugees and displaced people who pass through the train station each day. For more than two weeks about 100 liters of soup have been cooked and distributed each day. Church members also bring essential medicines, fresh fruit, food for babies, and even toys for the children. They also provide copies of the New Testament.
“The refugees are really thankful,” Nadia said, even though many in the predominantly Orthodox country typically regard Baptists and other evangelicals with suspicion. “All the people have been so grateful!” …
In nearby Izum, one of the Baptist churches has been working around the clock for several months to help refugees transition as they move from their besieged home cities to a new life elsewhere in Ukraine.
Pastor Slavik Veronen said 2,135 refugees are registered in the city of Izum and another 1,200 in the region. He said there could be many more since those numbers represent only those who have officially registered with the local government.
“Some of them are living in very bad conditions,” he said. “There are some houses with leaking roofs or broken heaters. Some people are living in apartments without any furniture, kitchenware or beds.”
Pastor Veronen and other church members are helping provide basic needs for these refugees. Many, he said, do not have money because they once owned their homes and now have to find new jobs and pay rent, leaving them with no money for food, medicine and clothing.
International Mission Board worker Tom Long* has served in and out of Ukraine for 20 years. He says he has never seen the local churches so active.
“It is amazing,” Long said. “They have become vibrant, active communities of believers who are reaching out to the people of their cities.”
In the 20 years since the fall of communism, Long explained, most evangelical churches have been timid about engaging their communities. Even today, most evangelicals are considered to be part of sects, or cults. “But, this crisis has given the church a new boldness … a mission to reach out to their friends, their neighbors and their entire community.”
Long communicates regularly with pastors throughout eastern Ukraine. “The one thing I hear over and over again is that even though people are leaving the region because of the fighting, most pastors have chosen to stay because they feel obligated to their community,” he said. “One pastor told me that he wants the people in his city to know that the church is where you go when you are in trouble. How can you not be supportive of that?”
*Name(s) changed for security
Excerpted from “Ukraine conflict prompts local church response” by Marc Ira Hooks, Baptist Press, September 12, 2014.