Speaking to my Ukrainian friend, I asked, “So you saw where the snipers were hiding?” She was at the main square serving in the prayer tent when the snipers started firing nearby.
“They weren’t hiding,” she answered, “They were standing there on top of the buildings just picking people off like rabbits. They knew no one on the ground had guns.”
No matter how many times I repeat this story, it still makes my stomach churn.
This is what happened in Kyiv, Ukraine a year ago, the second week of February. Fed up with political corruption and abuse of power, hundreds of anti-government protesters had taken to the streets of Kyiv peacefully. But they were met with violence, and ultimately, death.
Along with the protesters, believers had also taken to the streets to be the hands and feet of Jesus, believing that wherever people were hurting, the church should be there too. They were all at the square day and night, enduring below-freezing temperatures. Prayer tent volunteers maneuvered around various barricades handing out sandwiches, cookies, hot tea and soup to the protesters—and to the police on the other side of the barricades. When the fighting worsened, volunteers were there to bandage up the wounded. But most importantly, they were there to pray with those who were understandably frightened and confused, thinking, Why is God allowing innocent, unarmed citizens to be gunned down and killed by their own government? Where is God? And in the midst of this confusion, Christians handed out scores of Bibles and tracts, praying with many people. Surrounded by all the heartache and tragedy, God was indeed present.
One friend told me what he saw when the onslaught of shooting started between the police and the protestors, “When the storm hit, we all ran together and people started praying—real prayers! Not long and pretty prayers but just, ‘GOD, SAVE US!’ From the bottom of our hearts we were crying out to God. And suddenly the shooting stopped. We really believe it was a miracle from God. We saw many such miracles.”
I serve with Calvary Chapel Kyiv. But the very first day the violence began in Kyiv, I was on my way to the States, completely unaware of what was happening in my adopted home of almost 17 years. I will always remember exactly where I was the day the snipers attacked—on the highway driving to Sacramento. Tears streamed down my face as I listened on the car radio to the news reports of what was happening in Kyiv. Although I had planned to stay in the States one more month to be with my mom who was recovering from a severe stroke, I returned just a week later after I read in my daily devotions, “And who is your mother and your brothers? Those who do the will of God….” I knew I had to return immediately to those whom God had called me to serve.
I’d heard of “survivor’s guilt” before but never really understood it. But when I came back home saw the burned buildings, the overwhelmingly sad faces of those whom I love, glimpsing only a tiny ember of hope in their eyes, I felt “survivor’s guilt.” I felt like whatever help I could try to do was so pitiful in comparison to their need. They had been here; I had not. They lived through this tragedy; I did not, I was gone. What could I say to them? Did I have a right to say anything? But, thankfully, no one was nearly as concerned with me as I was. The believers in our churches wanted only one thing—Jesus. And He was there through it all.
Like any tragedy, every one was simply in survival mode. Our pastors sent out mass texts when the “storm” hit. “Where are you all? Is everyone safe? Check in, please. Girls, go home. Don’t come to the prayer tent. Men, come if you can. Everyone, pray!” We gathered for special prayer meetings. We fasted. We cried out to God.
All over the country, in every city and in church, everyone was hurting. Then as time went on, just as it got calmer throughout most of the country, things started to escalate in Eastern Ukraine. Russia invaded Crimea and eventually claimed it. To this day, bombing attacks are still occurring in the eastern part of the country and many civilians are dying daily. The war in Ukraine (unofficially called as such) still rages on; sadly it is no longer mentioned in the international news as if the world has forgotten us.
But God…but God has not forgotten.
During this time the church has grown stronger by unimaginable tests of grace even when missionaries responded to the crisis differently. While one group of missionaries got involved politically by boldly sharing their opinions on social media, others were silent, or fell somewhere in-between. As always, Satan tried to divide the body of Christ by breaking up the leadership. But I will say this with hands raised in glad worship to the Lord, he has not been at all successful in Ukraine.
Rather than witnessing division, I have watched not only our own churches, but the whole body of Christ here in Ukraine gather together to pray, to reach out to the lost like never before, and above all, to trust and glorify God preeminently in all that we do. Calvary Chapel pastors and laymen are banding together with believers from other churches in the Volunteer Chaplains Battalion to minister to the soldiers, care for the needy and heal the wounded in the hospitals and refugee centers around the war zone—all of which are under-supplied and lacking in the most basic of resources.
But God... God is at work; many hearts are open and we have seen many come to Christ.
And in all this I have never been so blessed and humbled to serve with such a great group of missionaries and servants. I have seen our national pastors and missionaries dig deep into the foundation of their faith and reaffirm their roots in grace, love, kindness and through God’s Word.
According to the UN and other watchdog groups, the humanitarian situation is reaching crisis proportions. With winter still months to go, people are still without adequate housing, food and water. Others are fleeing the war zone. While churches are taking in refugees, gathering and sending aid, the need is so much greater than what this already poor country can meet alone. But God…. all we can do is—well, all we can do—and leave the rest to God. We hope in Him.
Recently after church, two women pressed me about how I thought everything would end here in Ukraine.
“Victory, right? Victory for Ukraine! Right? Victory? You know that Ukraine will be victorious, right?”
She was speaking in Ukrainian (and I speak Russian) and since I didn’t answer right away, she kept repeating her question in different ways, thinking I didn’t understand her. But I did understand; I just couldn’t find the words to answer. Her saddened eyes were so full of hope. My heart sank seeing her desperation and my mind raced, What do I say to her?
But God… Thankfully, as always, God had another plan than any smart answer I might have had.
A Ukrainian brother standing nearby grabbed my hand to stop me from answering and started to speak—so full of emotion I thought he might cry (good Slavik passionate soul that he is!)
He said, “Well, victory. Victory. You see, victory is not the main thing. I don’t want Ukraine to be conquered by Russia. We don’t want that.” The women’s faces fell at the very thought of it that I thought they would cry. “But you know,” he continued, “that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that people turn to God. God knows what our nation needs and He knows how to bring it about. Whatever it will take for our nation to get on its knees before God, let Him bring it. We need Him more than we need any victory.”
Now I thought I would cry. (We do a lot of crying in Ukraine.)
I stood there feeling so many things. I wanted to cry out for joy at the childlike faith and submission of this brother, but then I thought, Would I be able to say that about America? If it meant being conquered by a hostile nation, would I welcome a war if it were God’s means to bring many to repentance? Did I have that level of submission and trust for God’s plan for His people?
For this missionary that’s what this year has been about. Trust. Submission. Getting back to the basics. I haven’t heard people praying for Russia to be destroyed, but I have heard many prayers asking for God’s grace to forgive Russia and for God to care for the people of Russia, despite the fact that we are at “enmity” with one another right now. For we know that “we war not against flesh and blood”––the Russian people are not our enemies, despite how evil men might want to set us against one another. I admit it is hard. The temptation to hate is strong.
But God…but God calls us to grace and reconciliation.
And we hope for that. And we hope in God’s provision and protection.
When we sing songs like, “You are my shield, in whom shall I fear?” it means so much more when I think just the day before, talking to my friend on the phone in the war zone, and she said she could hear the shelling nearby as she sat up nursing her newborn son. And when you see people enter into worship with such joy, crying out “God, You are exalted above all!” it carries so much more weight when the “all” is all the usual stuff of cancer, the family alcoholic, poverty AND a war raging on in their country. To hear our pastors remind people to hope in God when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the next day, well, it makes the good news SO good!
Pray for Ukraine. Pray for Russia. Pray for all nations where there is injustice, war, and death. We are not the only country suffering in the world. And God’s arm is not too short to save. Pray that He would. Pray that many in Ukraine and Russia would come to repentance. Thank you all. We desire your prayers always.
My prayer for Ukraine: “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:3-7).