Sometimes when the darkness seems as black as it can be, his light shines all the brighter.
The morning of February 24 brought with it the unthinkable as the Russian military pummeled cities throughout Ukraine with an onslaught of missile fire. Ukrainians fled to “safer” regions of Ukraine, and millions fled across the borders to surrounding countries. Some families sat waiting at border crossings for days, while others carried their children across through the snow.
In the midst of the darkness, I saw the body of Christ rally together, both within Ukraine and outside Ukraine, to care for those in need. Our teammates rallied. Our national partners rallied, and almost overnight a network of believers came together in a variety of ways to help Ukrainians.
When we love others, they will meet our King. His light will shine in the darkness.
I left Ukraine three weeks before the war escalated, and teammates opened their homes and hearts to receive me. Little did I know that this evidenced just the beginning of the outpouring of love that would sweep through our region.
Our ABWE Odesa teammates left Ukraine on February 24, spent all night waiting to cross the border, and were received by our Moldova teammates and national partners on the other side. These friends in Moldova provided food and housing to them and many more to follow in the coming days.
Multiple churches in Romania banded together to form UBC22 (Ukrainian Bucharest Churches 22), desiring to do more to help Ukrainians together than they could individually. These teammates and national partners provided food and housing to displaced Ukrainians and sent convoys back into Ukraine with humanitarian supplies.
The Hungarian church where my teammate Beth serves opened its doors, and the city loaned the pastor the local community center to house people. Daily the church team of volunteers shuttled people to and from the bus station, train station, and airport, often receiving calls late into the night.
My ABWE teammates in Bulgaria renovated a space next to their church that could sleep up to 17 people and daily met refugees at the bus and train stations, helping Ukrainians as they continued on to other regions of Bulgaria or other countries in Europe.
Our desire was to meet physical, immediate needs, but we sought to meet spiritual needs too.
Each ministry working with refugees wanted to offer them a Bible in their native language, but finding these outside Ukraine required creativity. The ABWE Romania team obtained Russian and Ukrainian Bibles to distribute to refugees coming through their doors, and sent some of these Bibles on to Bulgaria. Another teammate procured children’s Bibles in Russian and Ukrainian from the US. Still more Bibles arrived from a publishing company in Ukraine (still functioning despite the war) that shipped 300 children’s Bibles to southern Ukraine, where they were picked up by a convoy delivering supplies and transported across the border to Romania to distribute to Ukrainian refugees. Another network of ABWE teammates traveling between Central and Eastern European countries transported Bibles to Slovakia and Hungary as well.
Showing Christ’s love to refugees has involved a broad network of Christ’s body across Europe, each serving through different abilities and opportunities. Some drove convoys, some opened their homes, some received Ukrainians in centers, some sorted donated clothes, some coordinated the shipment of Bibles—each teammate, each national partner had a role to play, evidencing the Lord’s love and meeting physical and spiritual needs in his name.
A Network of God’s Compassion
While in Bulgaria, I met a Ukrainian family whose lives had been touched by ABWE teammates in multiple countries.
“Yulia and Lena’s family needs sandals,” Angela informed me. I had been living with Angela and her family in Bulgaria after leaving my home in Ukraine. She explained that our teammate Leah in Romania had connected Angela with these two sisters. The sisters were staying in a Bulgarian hotel, so Angela’s family drove down and brought them some clothes and school supplies. Soon after, they were able to find this family a more permanent living situation in the parsonage of one of their partner churches.
We met the ladies after church one Sunday, and I was introduced to Yulia, her son Dima, Lena, her son Maxim, and “Mama” (Yulia and Lena’s mom). In the shoe store, each family member excitedly evaluated sandals, and Yulia and Mama decided on matching pairs. We exchanged hugs and looked forward to the next time we could see each other.
A few weeks later, Yulia and Lena invited us over to their house for dinner. Sitting around the table, we listened to the sisters recount their time in Ukraine.
At the beginning of the war, their husbands had urged them to leave, but they wanted to stay. They huddled in the basement for days with shelling overhead. They risked a run to the grocery store when there seemed to be a break in the barrage. While they were there, a missile fell so close to them on the street that the store immediately shut back down, and they returned to the basement. Not long after, Yulia, Lena, Mama and the boys left to find somewhere safer while their husbands remained in the country—most men ages 18–60 are required to remain in Ukraine.
I felt like the Lord’s fingerprints could be seen all over their lives as I heard their story unfold. They had crossed over the border into Romania and met our teammate Leah. They were exhausted, hungry, and scared—and Leah was there with so much love to greet them and care for them.
“Leah showed us that we didn’t have to be afraid,” Yulia shared. Leah helped them connect with other Romanian teammates, and they stayed in one of the UBC22 churches for a few nights before traveling on to Bulgaria.
It was a beautiful thing to hear how members of the body of Christ in three countries had all been working together and used by the Lord to care for this family, but their story is not yet complete. Before the war began, this dear family had once attended the Orthodox church in Ukraine but had become disillusioned and stopped going. Upon arriving in Bulgaria, they began attending the evangelical church in their language in Varna, received Bibles, and have been reading the Word.
“Do you know of a church like yours that we could attend back in Ukraine when we return?” they asked us.
I was reminded of the verse from 1 Corinthians 3:6 (NASB) where Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” Even as they are displaced, even as the Russian military continues to pound their city and they fear for their husbands’ safety, the Lord is at work in their lives.
Sometimes watering looks like listening to someone’s heartache over a cup of tea, being there and sitting with them at church, or sending encouraging messages and praying. Love is often the small, steady things, pointing others to the hope found in the Word and in Jesus, a refuge when all seems very bleak and very black. He is causing the growth in the midst of it all. What joy it is to be a laborer in his field, displaying his love to those around us as his light shines in the darkness and his beautiful story of changed hearts continues to unfold.
Editor’s Note: The names of Ukrainians have been changed to protect their privacy.
Want to help our workers continue serving refugees and support local Ukrainian churches during this difficult time? Prayerfully consider donating to the Ukraine Crisis Fund.