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MTW’s Ukraine Teams Pivot to Humanitarian Relief

Jon Eide, Mission to the World’s director for Eastern Europe, describes his work in Krakow, Poland as, “crying over a spreadsheet.” The crying part is easy to understand for someone who has spent years serving in Ukraine. The humanitarian shelter MTW set up in Krakow welcomes Ukrainians fleeing west in hopes of connecting with family or contacts in Europe. Ukrainian men have mostly stayed in the country to assist with the war, so most of those coming to Krakow are women and children with stories of loss and harrowing escapes.

The spreadsheet Eide weeps over is a database MTW missionaries set up to track supplies going into Ukraine and evacuees fleeing west. It helps coordinate the countless offers of shelter and supplies they have received from churches in Western Europe, and ensures that those who pass through the shelter make it to their final destinations.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine (EPCU), MTW’s partner denomination, has 15 churches throughout the country. Before Russia’s invasion, MTW had teams based in Lviv, Odessa, and Kyiv. As of March 24, the Odessa and Kyiv teams had repositioned themselves in Europe to continue relief work while the Lviv teams continue their crisis work in Ukraine.

Of the 15 churches in Ukraine, some are safe; others remain in harm’s way, including the church in Kherson, which is now behind Russian lines. Getting supplies there is now nearly impossible. Eide worries about any churches behind enemy lines. The way Russia treated pastors and Christians when it invaded Ukraine’s Donbas region eight years ago indicates Christians will be subject to intense persecution now.

Despite fears for their fellow laborers, missionaries focus on getting people out and supplies in. In Krakow, the database — created by Beth and Dal Stanton, MTW veterans who have served in Bulgaria, Spain, and Ukraine — keeps track of everything.

After evacuees have a few days to rest in Krakow, they let the MTW team know where in Europe they want to go. Dal Stanton plugs the information into his database, and the team coordinates getting the evacuees to their final destinations. When an Associate Reformed Presbyterian denomination in Spain sent two vans full of medical supplies to the Krakow center, it returned with evacuees headed for Spain, including the wife and children of an Odessa pastor.

Beth said working with displaced people feels like her previous ministry, working with sex-trafficking survivors.

“In God’s providence, having worked in the anti-trafficking world, [this crisis] feels familiar,” Beth said — the psychological paralysis, trouble thinking straight and making basic decisions … . “God puts in our toolbox the things He’s going to use someday, somewhere.”

The spreadsheet helps manage the logistics, but it doesn’t ease the emotional part of the work. The missionaries have lived in Ukraine for years and invested in the churches, people, and country. Eide described the work as “overwhelming,” but he noted that “we’re not the ones with bombs dropping on us, or sending our loved ones away.”

And though the work is draining, the personal nature of it keeps team moving forward. “These are people we know and have worked with,” Beth said. “It’s very familiar. And very personal.

Ukrainian Pastors Put a Face to the Crisis

MTW has kept the conflict personal for MTW supporters around the world, too. On Wednesdays and Sundays throughout March, MTW hosted a Zoom call with Ukrainian pastors. The Wednesday calls concluded at the end of March, but the Sunday calls have continued.

The pastors share what they are seeing and hearing, how their church members are coping, and how the Western church can pray for them.

In a March 23 video call, Ivan, a pastor in Kyiv, reported that his church members who have stayed are working to buy food and medicine for fellow believers who are homebound or bedridden. One of his church members recently had a stroke and cannot make it to bomb shelters when the city is shelled.

He said that he senses a tension developing between those who chose to stay in Kyiv and those who fled.

“I understand the nature of sinful people to have this tension, but we need to learn to respect the choices people make,” the pastor said. “Some decide to stay under risk, and some flee to safety. We pray that God will remove that tension.”

The endless needs and anxiety are exhausting, and the air raid sirens make it worse. Ivan said that when church members have the chance to sleep, they find it hard to rest. Ivan provides spiritual support for his congregation by holding weekly Bible studies and daily prayer meetings. He encourages members to spend time each day in prayer and God’s Word, and to resist the temptation to keep checking the news for the latest updates. The constant barrage of bad news does not help believers be faithful in the work they have before them, he said.

And he asks Christians around the world to pray for the Lord’s intervention in Ukraine for the sake of God’s glory.

“It is vital that our sovereign God intervenes in this situation. If Ukraine wins, it will be a great manifestation of the power of the Lord,” he said. “We are a small army and small in numbers; the only reason we could win is direct intervention of the Lord, so God’s glory will be manifested in the victory of Ukraine.”

MTW has set up a fund to provide relief to Ukrainian evacuees. As of this writing, the fund has raised more than $4 million for relief supplies, support staff, transportation, repairs for church buildings, and church-planting efforts. The agency is also looking for believers who can offer other resources such as trauma counseling and housing in Europe. The Voice of Ukraine website provides updates on the situation on the ground as well as links to offer assistance and detailed prayer guides.

“We feel isolated, but as we feel support, as we hear your prayers, we feel encouraged,” Ivan said. “We feel like we can carry on our ministry.

Terrifying Flight From Belgorod

Bob and Andrea Burnham are MTW missionaries who worked with church planters in southern Ukraine, including Odessa, Belgorod-Dnestrovsky, and Izmail. When the Russian attack began, they relocated to Romania.

On the March 30 Zoom call, they interviewed their friend Katya Betina who fled Belgorod-Dnestrovsky earlier in March with her three young children. Betina’s father, Sergei, is the pastor of an EPCU church in Belgorod-Dnestrovsky.

Betina said she felt unsure about whether the situation was bad enough to flee, until March 4 when she was driving through Belgorod and watched a Russian bomb hit a military vehicle in front of her. She and other motorists saw the dead and dying but could not stop to help because they did not know if the shelling would continue. That night she packed her family to flee the next morning.

She fled first to Moldova, a drive that normally takes less than two hours. It took 12. From Moldova, she connected with the Burnhams and drove another 12 hours, including hairpin turns through heavy snow, to meet them in Romania.

“God saved us,” Betina said. Now she and her three children are settled into an apartment in Romania where volunteers have brought them food and clothing.

She keeps in touch with her parents in Belgorod and grieves for what they are suffering. She said high prices and shortages mean her parents aren’t always able to get the food or fuel they need. Her mother helps by making nets for military forces. Her father uses the church basement to cook for the elderly. They also work with an Odessa counseling center.

From their base in Brasov, Romania, the Burnhams pray that God will use them to help others. They’ve organized weekly church services and stream a sermon from a church in Odessa. “We’re letting God’s Word and worship heal us,” Andrea said. “It’s a slow process, and we want to bring it to this community.”

For more information on how you can help MTW missionaries and our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, visit the MTW Ukraine crisis page.

This article was originally published on byfaithonline.com. It is republished with permission. 

Megan Fowler, Ukraine Jul 19, 2022
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Pray for the new believers God is drawing to Himself in Ukraine, and for those returning to faith in the wake of war.

Pray for Ukrainian pastors and church members who remain in dangerous areas, and for those transporting supplies across enemy lines. 

Give thanks for and pray for the Krakow crisis team, the distribution of aid, and the shelter ministry as the team cares for displaced Ukrainians.

Pray for MTW Ukraine's publishing ministry, translating and publishing Reformed materials in Ukrainian to equip pastors and laypeople in the Church.

Pray for the church-planting team in L'viv, Ukraine, and the Ukrainians they serve. 

Thank God for bringing Ukrainians to faith in Him and giving them the vision to reach their own country for Christ. Pray for many more to be transformed.

Pray for Ukraine refugees who have had to abandon their homes due to the fighting. Pray for God to use their displacement to draw them to Himself.

Pray today for the unreached living in Central Asia, as well as for the local believers and missionaries hoping to reach them. Pray for relationships and conversations of faith. 

Pray that the church would respond to the Crates for Ukraine effort. Pray also that supplies will get safely to those in the most dangerous parts of Ukraine.

Pray against rape, murder, and capture of men, women, and children in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Pray for protection for the vulnerable.

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