February 09, 2016

Lost and Found in Ukraine

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Home of a refugee in Ukraine.

You've lived in this quiet town all of your life; have a good job and a couple of kids. You're not rich, but you've always been able to provide for your family's needs. They've never had to worry about things like food and clothing.

Then the war started. Bullets fly through the air and mortar fire rains from the sky. Afraid for your family's safety, you keep your wife and children inside the house. Buildings are blasted through and set ablaze. The constant shelling destroyed your local hospital. Its crumbled brick walls showcase what remains of its charred interior.

Rebels and army soldiers daily attack one another, and your town in in the crossfire. You do your best to fight back the panic and plan your escape. And then it happens. A shrill pitch slices the air followed by a deafening blast. A bomb has landed on your neighbor's house, demolishing it.

No time left. You order your wife and kids to grab whatever they can carry and exit through the back door. You're pretty certain the field behind your house has been mined, but you see no other way out. A journey through your besieged town is much too dangerous.

Partially demolished structure in Eastern Ukraine.

Somehow you and your family safely make it through the field. You finally exhale and look back at your home, knowing everything you own will be stolen or destroyed. You wave down a car and ask the driver for a ride. Where to? No specific destination, just westward. . .far, far away from this part of the country.

The journey west is long and tedious. You and your family manage to hitch rides almost all the way to the western border. Here the population is sparse, sprawled throughout the rural countryside in humble farm cottages. Fortuitously, the last driver, a farmer, had mercy on your situation and offered to let you stay in his small, unfinished basement. You accepted. Where else could you go?

The farmer and his wife graciously stretch their plain suppers to feed your family. She's loaned your wife a few extra shirts, two sizes too big. You've begun helping him with the sugar beet harvest. It's backbreaking work.

People working in the fields of Ukraine.

Though you're grateful for the shelter they've offered, depressing thoughts flood your mind each day. You've lost everything. Even the linens you sleep on are borrowed. What kind of a future will your family have in this place? Will you ever be able to return to your hometown? Why is this happening to you? Does God care? Does God even exist? Maybe not. Maybe your sad, little life is just a product of chance. . .you just got the short end of the stick.

The farmer answers a knock at the door one day to find a young man, who looks to be in his early 20s, on the front stoop. From where you're sitting you hear him mention something about being a Christian and offering to help with the beet harvest. The farmer accepts the help.

Day after day, the young man arrives, spending long hours in the field with your family and the farmer's. He's a nice kid, though you wonder what he's getting out of this. He's not asking for pay. You finally start asking questions. His kindness, he tells you, is because of what Jesus Christ has done for him. He's compelled to share Christ's love with others in sacrificial ways. You're confused and ask exactly what Jesus has done for him.

Person holding farm instrument in field in Ukraine.

That day, far from your home, out in the middle of a beet farm, you hear the gospel for the very first time. When he finishes talking, the young man takes a small New Testament from his coat pocket and places it in your hand. Your fingers slowly close around it. You have a strong suspicion that you'll find some answers inside that little book.

What a strange, chance encounter. . .though maybe not so strange. Your doubts about God's existence begin to lessen.

A year after conflict broke out in Eastern Ukraine in June 2014, more than 1.5 million Ukrainians were displaced. Most of them fled to the western part of the country, which still enjoys peace. The majority face shortages of food, shelter, and medical care.

Refugees in Ukraine enjoying a meal in feeding area.

Sometimes I forget that refugees haven't always been poor huddled masses. Most of them are educated and had well-paying jobs, they owned homes and businesses, they provided for themselves and their families. They're no different from you or me, except that everything they possessed has been stripped away—often including dear family members. They're suddenly dependent upon the kindness of strangers.

Can you imagine having to beg for your food or some basic necessity? Can you imagine having to do this without the hope of the gospel? This is the situation of many displaced Ukrainians. War has taken so much from them; it has also forced them to consider their mortality and the deeper meaning of life.

In this spiritually fertile ground in Western Ukraine, near the Polish border, six young native missionaries are determined to establish a church presence.

Their mission base is a tiny, dilapidated house. The locals consider the place cursed because of the suicide that happened there. Ed White, founder and president of Great Commission Resources, which partners with Christian Aid Mission to raise funds for certain mission projects, visited the house during his recent trip to Ukraine.

Young man sharing the Gospel to a woman in Kiev.

"It looked more like a stable than a house," White said. "It might be suitable for a horse, but not for human habitation." There isn't any heat in that house either, he told me, and it was freezing cold.

"I know it's cold," one of the young men told White, "but I'm committed to Christ."

The young missionaries work with an indigenous ministry we support in Ukraine called Good Samaritan Mission. They receive a modest stipend of $100 per month, along with some firewood for heat.

The missionaries chose their current abode because of its prime location in the center of 53 unreached rural villages. However, the need for a suitable mission station is painfully apparent by any who've visited the place.

Without a vehicle, the young people walk eight to ten miles a day into the surrounding communities—that is, if they're unable to hitch a ride on a donkey cart.

They knock on doors, asking how they can lend a helping hand. Some of them care for the elderly and the sick. Others help with childcare and hold Sunday school classes and children's camps. Some help bring in the sugar beet harvest. Little do the farmers and displaced people from Eastern Ukraine know at first, but these missionaries have come into their lives to change them forever with the message of the gospel of Christ.

Young woman talking to older woman in a village in Ukraine.

Their methods are tremendously effective. Last year, due to their outreach, more than 150 children attended summer camps where they heard the gospel. In addition, many teenagers were presented with the gospel and repented at special youth camps. Every Friday, between 20 and 25 of these teenagers gather for Bible study. Seven adults put their faith in Christ and were baptized. Around 35 people are now attending home church meetings every Sunday.

In the past two years, Good Samaritan Mission has set up six other groups of native missionaries in mission bases throughout Ukraine.

Young woman giving New Testament to older woman in a village in Ukraine.

The mission bases are typically two-story facilities. The first floor is used as a meeting place for new converts to worship and study the Bible. The upper floor is where the missionaries live.

The ministry has started construction on a new mission station for the six gospel workers, but it has been unable to finish the structure due to lack of funds.

For $35,000 they can finish this building, which will include a sanctuary for up to 300 people and a place for Sunday school classes, as the first and only church in this region of 53 villages. It will also be used as a training base for future missionaries.

These faithful young servants of the Lord have sacrificed their lives to tell others about our Savior. Let's support them by providing them with a proper place to live and minister. Let's help them provide the hope of Christ to lost and desperate people.