“When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)
The sight of Russian tanks rolling into Ukraine will never be forgotten by many of us. Incredibly, Russian President Vladimir Putin, now a war criminal, asserted that Ukraine does not truly exist as a nation. The sense of entitlement and the implicit return to the mindset of the old USSR, dismantled 31 years ago, was and is stunning.
I am struck by how close to home the situation in the Ukraine is to many of us who are what seems a world away. One of our board members is part of a second family to a woman from the Ukraine who has eight close family members there. Another board member, a public high school teacher, says, “I have an 18-year-old exchange student from Ukraine. So he is here living with a host family while his actual family is all back in Ukraine.” A third board member said, “Broken hearted for all involved in oppression. I can’t believe it has gone this far already! I wasn’t expecting it.” One staff member told me, “I read lots of fiction set in WW2. Hard to believe it’s 2022, and war is in Europe.”
On hearing the news of the invasion, my own mind immediately went back to 1991, when my longtime friend and pastor Steve Keels and I spent two weeks in Russia and Ukraine. It was the very year Ukraine would assert its independence, just months after we were there. In my first report on our trip just after returning in May 1991 (How Can We Help Churches in the Soviet Union?) I told the story of how we freely passed out Bibles in public schools and shared the gospel in Ukrainian classrooms for what we were told was the first time ever in that city, Kamanets-Podolsky (alternately spelled Kamianets-Podilskyi), since 1920 when Ukraine became part of the original USSR. (When we were there it was sometimes known as “the Ukraine,” or “the Soviet Ukraine.”)
The photo below is of me speaking, with Bill Kapitaniuk translating, at a rally in a Ukrainian philharmonic auditorium formerly open only to card-carrying members of the Communist party. The whole community was invited, and thousands attended. We shared the gospel, and many came forward to receive Christ, with hundreds asking for Bibles. People literally pressed against us, a sea of humanity reaching to grab hold of God's Word. Forty-five minutes after the rally was over, people still crowded around us, asking us to sign their Bibles (as if we had written them!).
1991 was a unique and historic time in Ukraine. Change and the hope of freedom were in the air we were breathing. Just the previous year, Latvia and Estonia had declared their independence and other countries of the USSR were moving toward doing the same. It was becoming clear that USSR general secretary Gorbachev could not much longer control the territories beyond Russia.
Steve and I were in the Ukrainian city of Kamianets-Podilskyi on April 22, 1991. That was what was then one of the most prominent Soviet holidays, Lenin’s birthday. 121 years after Lenin was born, on the very day of, we were awoken by shouts and loud noises, and looked out our hotel window to the public square below, only to see hundreds of Ukrainian citizens. Some had ropes in hand, and all were attempting to tear down a huge statue of Lenin. It symbolized their rejection of the Russian control of what was once their country and in their hearts still was. We watched soldiers march out and point their weapons toward the protestors. For a few horrifying hours we thought we were going to witness a bloodbath. It seemed miraculous that it didn’t happen. This photo below shows the tearing down of a similar Lenin statue in a different Ukrainian city. Finally the statue came down and not a single shot was fired.
On August 24, 1991, only four months after we left, Ukraine officially declared itself an independent country. The parliament of Ukraine proclaimed that the nation would no longer follow the laws of USSR but only the laws of the Ukrainian SSR, thereby declaring Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union. That was made final when the USSR dissolved December 26, 1991, eight months after we left.
What hit me when I saw the invasion of the Ukraine is this: the vengeful bloodbath we thought we were about to see in 1991 is actually happening now, 31 years later.
Putin’s actions felt to me like the second coming of Stalin, who committed horrific crimes against the Ukrainian people, worst of all the enforced starvation that killed something like four million people. I mentioned in my letter just after returning home, that we shared the Gospel with a Ukrainian man on a train who a few hours later came to faith in Christ. What I didn’t mention in that letter was that Sergei, in the photo I took below, stunned us by saying that his mother was the only surviving member of her family—both her parents and all her siblings starved to death under Stalin’s horrific, even demonic, acts of murder. Both Steve and Bill appear taken aback by what Sergei was saying, which makes me think I took the photo when he was telling us the part of his story about Stalin starving the people of Ukraine and his mother being the only survivor in her family.
(Keep Sergei’s story in mind when you see the Ukrainians valiantly fighting Russian troops—nearly every Ukrainian family has a history of profound and terrible victimization and loss at the hands of Russian rulers like Putin.)
In the photo below, Pastor Steve Keels is sitting beside Bill Kapitaniuk. Note: the painting of Lenin could do nothing to stop the sharing of the gospel with the staff of a Ukrainian hospital.
While I entirely concur with the sweeping condemnations of Putin, remember that many Russian people completely oppose the war in Ukraine. On the day of the invasion, Russians in fifty cities went out on the streets protesting the invasion and shouting “No war.” Over 1,800 people were arrested that first day alone. (Having been arrested seven times in Portland for peaceful nonviolent civil disobedience intervening for unborn children in 1989, I can assure you that conditions in American jails are far better than in Russia—pray for those protestors who haven’t been released, some of them may never be.)
The same day of the invasion, 300 Russian journalists signed a letter of protest about the declaration of war against the Ukraine. There have been reprisals from the government, including journalists being excluded from access and a popular talk show host who posted “No to War” having his program taken off the air. Some have quit their state jobs in protest.
Just as we wouldn’t want all Americans blamed for what our political leaders do (God forbid, it includes defending the slaughter of preborn children), we should “do unto others” by not throwing all Russians under the bus for Putin’s madness and cruelty. I’m certain that even many Russian soldiers believe this war is wrong and feel they are in an impossible situation. If they refuse to fight, they can be imprisoned and likely executed for it, and know their wives and children will suffer as a result.
There are many wonderful Russian believers, some of whom I know. A Russian pastor has become a good friend over the years, and has been at odds with the government a number of times, with his family and church at risk. On Sunday February 27 as I write this, I reached out to him an hour ago, and he wrote this back (for obvious reasons I’m not sharing his name):
Our whole church was praying for Ukraine today, had a special meeting. We have lots of dear friends there and are horrified by what is happening.
It IS dangerous to say anything pro-Ukraine, for it is considered extremism and is punishable by law, or better say the lawlessness of Russia’s corrupt government.
Please, pray for us. We are going to get what is coming to Russia, and already experience the pressure of sanctions, the load of which will press on regular people, while * [pejorative nickname for Putin] will lead a good life in his bunker. However, we welcome those things, because one way or the other they will serve the overall purpose of ending these atrocities.
Please do pray for this good brother and his church.
To this day I have vivid memories of the warm and memorable times with families of Ukrainian believers, holding hands with them and their children as they sang Christian hymns powerfully and beautifully, tears streaming down their faces. (We found out later they had put on their tables their entire monthly ration of butter for the sake of their Christian guests from America.) But we also met many fine Christ-followers in Russia. They deserve our love, respect, and prayers for their welfare and courage to stand up against a tyrant and those who defend that tyrant. Make no mistake how God views Putin and what he is doing:
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless. (Isaiah 10:1-2)
Let me tell one last story about our time in the Ukraine 31 years ago, which I think speaks to what is going on right now. After a powerful church service in which many had come to Christ, we sat in the church basement enjoying a wonderful Ukrainian meal. Suddenly the door opened and in walked a young man, weary from long travel. As his story unfolded, we learned he was from a remote part of Siberia, where his church had heard that Bibles had come into Ukraine, somewhere near the city of Kiev. His church had laid hands on him and sent him as their ambassador in search for Bibles.
This young man, a Siberian Russian, had traveled seven days on boat from his village—where the only land travel is by dog sled—to the nearest city with an airport. From there he traveled by plane, train, and bus in search of Bibles, but after traveling 2,600 miles he still had none to take home with him. The Lord led him to the Ukrainian church where we had just shared.
The brothers of this church were moved by his story, and promised to give him a suitcase full of their precious Bibles, which we had brought to them, to take back to his people. Steve and I were thrilled to know that this young man, our brother in Jesus, was headed back to cover that 2,600 miles again, bringing Bibles to his church! The moral of the story? A Russian from Siberia found Bibles in the Ukraine, brought in from France by a Canadian (Bill) and two Americans. This is the body of Christ. Nothing—not even a war started by a godless madman—should divide the body of Christ in Ukraine, Russia, America, or anywhere else.
Below are the first five ministries EPM has given to since the invasion of the Ukraine three days ago. We believe in each of them, but there will certainly be many other worthy ministries that we will also recommend and some of which we will support. I’m giving contact info in case you wish to support one or more of these.
In the initial days since the invasion of Ukraine, EPM has sent $26,000 to five different organizations at work there, $16,000 from our general fund plus one special fund gift of $10,000. These ministries are quite different; a few are large, some are much smaller, but they have in common big hearts for God and for people, and they believe God’s Word. Their works complement and supplement each other. These ministries each believe in meeting both physical needs and spiritual needs, not one instead of the other. Here are those five ministries, and again we realize there are many other good ones as well:
Water Mission, a vital ministry EPM loves and supports (see our recent blog), has sent Disaster Assistance Response (DART) teams to Poland and Moldova, which border Ukraine, to assess the needs and implement their response to provide urgent water, sanitation, and hygiene to refugees from Ukraine fleeing the war.
These will primarily be women and children since the Ukrainian government is banning all male citizens ages 18-60 from leaving the country, so they may join in the armed resistance.
They say the following:
Cru® has over 120 national staff members in Ukraine right now, some with small children. Some families have moved closer to neighboring borders. Others have left the country. Still others have decided to stay and continue ministry. …Some families have been separated as the husband has been called up for military service. As you might imagine, being uprooted and fleeing an active conflict is expensive.
We are raising emergency funds to relocate and house Ukrainian missionary families. As we don’t know how long this crisis will last, finding safe housing for the coming months is absolutely critical.
In addition, we expect many thousands of Ukrainian families will flee to neighboring countries and become refugees. Many will lack basic supplies, and with your help, Cru will provide survival kits for them through Unto®, Cru’s humanitarian aid ministry.
…if you feel God leading you to make an immediate difference, would you consider giving today to help the Ukrainian Cru staff and refugees?
This is a quick and enlightening read from a ministry we really believe in that is active in Ukraine.
Paul Hughes, ACTION UK Director, says this:
Over recent weeks we have been preparing the way to accommodate 300 to 500 internally displaced peoples in Ukraine within a safe network of churches, in conjunction with national, regional and local church leaders. We have a history of many years of fruitful and accountable Gospel partnership with these networks. It breaks our hearts to see what our precious friends are going through.
Our ﬁrst phase of help sought to mobilize and evacuate many Gospel and mission workers to safety, sometimes out of the country. Many of these workers had with them adopted children from orphanage and trauma backgrounds, or vulnerable adults with severe disabilities. We praise God that this phase is now complete, but for many who remain in Ukraine to help in such ministries, there is now no realistic possibility of immediate evacuation.
We are therefore doing all we can to support those who remain to administer aid and share the Gospel. We are currently providing a core network of five strategic “safe” or holding centers, all of which have witnessed dramatic, lifesaving testimonies over the last 48 hours.
What are we providing? Water, blankets, beds, food, essential communications with loved ones, pastoral counselling, Bibles, and loving care to seek a way forward.
In a context of devastation caused by hatred, our weapons are love and compassion. This is having a profound eﬀect on others (John 13:35).
ACTION USA: PO Box 398, Mountlake Terrace WA, 98043
ACTION Canada: 3015A 21st Street NE, Calgary, Alberta T2E 7T1
ACTION UK: PO Box 144, Wallasey, Wirral CH44 5WE
They say, “Samaritan’s Purse has deployed disaster response specialists to Poland and Romania. These teams are conducting rapid needs assessments in multiple countries neighboring Ukraine to determine how we can meet emergency needs.”
Though this is already a long article, you might want to take a break and then come back. Sometimes we need a reminder about how important it is to God that we intervene for the needy. (Some people see this as a distraction from spreading the gospel, when in fact it’s a vital part of following Jesus.) When you see the word “poor” in the Bible, realize that the poor are not simply those with little money; most often they are those who are also oppressed and victimized by powerful forces, sometimes within their own nation, and sometimes by invading nations. God has a special place in His heart for such people.
But Yahweh reigns forever, executing judgment from his throne. He will judge the world with justice and rule the nations with fairness. Yahweh is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Yahweh, do not abandon those who search for you. (Psalm 9:7-10)
Yahweh executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. (Psalm 103:6)
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in Yahweh their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. Yahweh frees the prisoners. (Psalm 146:5-7)
The wicked frustrate the plans of the oppressed, but Yahweh will protect his people. (Psalm 14:6)
He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are Yahweh’s, and on them he has set the world. (1 Samuel 2:8)
For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever. (Psalm 9:18)
All my bones shall say, “O Yahweh, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?” (Psalm 35:10)
As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God! (Psalm 40:17)
Blessed [happy] is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him. (Psalm 41:1)
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. (Psalm 72:12)
“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.” (Zechariah 7:9-10)
Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors Him. (Proverbs 14:31)
A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty. (Proverbs 22:16)
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed. (Proverbs 19:17)
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)
The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I Yahweh will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. (Isaiah 41:17)