By Rev. Charles L. Harrell
“Why did God let this happen to us?” That question is on the hearts and minds of many of her fellow Ukrainians since February, according to Pastor Alla of the Kamyanitsa UMC. Pastor Alla was one of seven United Methodist leaders from the war-torn eastern European country who shared about their experiences and their ministry during a webinar led by Bishop Christian Alsted (Nordic and Baltic Area) on September 10. For some who have been displaced by conflict with the loss of homes and livelihoods, and separation from loved ones, the fear and sense of powerlessness are overwhelming. Into this situation United Methodists are working – often sacrificially themselves – to bring a ministry of hope amid hopelessness, and to offer not only shelter, medicine, and food, but a feeling of protection amid the storm of conflict.
From the first days of the incursion by Russian forces into their country, United Methodist congregations and leaders, both in Ukraine and nearby countries such as Romania, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, have been organizing to bring relief, support, and hope. A UM-supported family shelter on the outskirts of Prague, for instance, has been adapted to care for an influx of Ukrainian refugees and to provide them with support in such matters as language classes to help them adapt to their surroundings, whether for a short or a long stay.
Western Ukraine has seen church buildings and schools transformed into shelters for those displaced by the fighting, many of whom have left the country, but others remain to help others and to start rebuilding as quickly as possible. United Methodists offer not only physical helps, but also emotional support to those who face the traumas of war. Leaders also report that there is a spiritual openness for many which creates opportunities for meaningful conversations and sharing directly about Christ’s love, even amid the pain of present experiences and anxiety about the future.
There are stories of great courage. Rev. Oleg Starodubets, Superintendent of the Ukraine District, told of one pastor in a city of the hotly-contested eastern region of the country, where the daily shelling has been relentless for the past six months, who has refused to leave town as long as he has any church members remaining there who need support. Another pastor, a trained physician, offers medical aid as well as spiritual leadership. Yet there are also heartbreaking aspects which have become a fact of daily life for many. Take, tor instance, the effort aimed at getting school underway again this fall to serve the children of displaced families, especially those served by one of the more than 300 school buildings destroyed since fighting began. Even in western Ukraine, many children were issued identification bracelets to wear, bearing critical information such as their blood type, in case their building is shelled in an attack. Many of these children are already separated from a parent who has joined in the defense of their country.
The coming winter this year promises to be a long and difficult one. With production of needed medicines such as insulin disrupted by the fighting, and with the interruption of gas supplies from the east that are used for heating and cooking, meeting even the most basic needs requires careful planning and support from friends outside Ukraine. As summer has turned to fall, preparations are underway to increase shelter space and to stockpile supplies that will be needed during the cold weather months.
For all this, Ukrainian Methodists are strong in their reliance on God, and look resolutely ahead to a time when they will be able to host workers from abroad to help rebuild their country. Until then, prayers for Ukraine and material support are desired and needed.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference, through its In Mission Together Eurasia outreach, has set aside funds for aid to the Ukrainian people through the United Methodists there. This is in addition to the special offering received at the 2022 Annual Conference session for this purpose. If you or your congregation would like to support this effort directly, you may do so through The Advance (umcmission.org / 458 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Building A, Suite 1, Atlanta, GA 30308), using Advance #14053A). One hundred percent (100%) of funds given through the Advance are used to directly support ministry..
God has not abandoned Ukraine and its people. As we offer help and support, we are part of a chain of caring and a witness of Christian love that crosses oceans and binds continents together, and which not even an invading army can stop.