Spontaneous Love: Ukrainian Church Plant Reaches Out to Refugees

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jun 6, 2017
In 2014 eastern Ukraine was engulfed in conflict. Hundreds of thousands fled the fighting, but some could not. Many of the elderly and disabled took shelter in their basements—and there they were trapped in the dark for over a month, with barely enough food to survive. When the food ran out, they decided to make a run for it.

Many who escaped their cities found their way to the province of Odessa, where the government housed them in sanatoriums, large vacation complexes along the Black Sea coast.

Just southwest of Odessa is the town of Belgorod. It is here, in a little Ukrainian church planted by MTW missionaries, that a story of mercy began.

The pastor of the church in Belgorod saw that, though the refugees had been given basic supplies and a place to stay by the government, they needed more food, clothing, medical care, and counseling. Many were elderly or disabled.

With no Red Cross or similar organization providing aid, it was the local church that began reaching out and helping, embracing the displaced like family. 

We’ve got to do something
Bob and Andrea Burnham have been serving in Ukraine as church planters with MTW since 1995. “That church was one of the first churches we helped plant when we came to Ukraine,” said Bob, who now works with a church plant in Odessa. “They called us and said: ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Churches in Odessa and Belgorod began bringing food, clothing, and medicine to the sanatoriums. They sent pastors and a team of counselors specially trained to minister to those affected by trauma and PTSD. Churches in the U.S. helped purchase medical supplies. Though the Burnhams and MTW were instrumental in starting these churches, now the Ukrainian church members and leadership were taking initiative and leading the charge to help their hurting countrymen.

When the Burnhams, other MTW missionaries, and national partners first started the Presbyterian denomination in Odessa, “We all wanted a church that would not only preach the truth, but would also transform and bring healing to communities,” Bob said. “And that’s exactly what they’re doing.

“It’s almost as if the closer they get to God, the more they can see the needs,” he added. “They love these people and care for them, and it’s a great testimony.

“It’s the same passion that God has for widows and orphans and the homeless, those who are in need. You look at the Old Testament and it’s peppered with God’s love for the outsider, the foreigner, the refugee. I believe God’s Holy Spirit has given a new heart and the love of Christ to these people.”

Is God calling you to serve in Ukraine? Visit to explore opportunities. 


This year’s pre-conference to the PCA Global Missions Conference is “Welcoming the Refugee.” Join us in Dallas November 9–10 to learn about refugee and immigration issues from ministry experts. You’ll hear powerful stories of changed lives and find out how you can be part of a worldwide kingdom movement to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the displaced. Learn more at
Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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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.

Please pray for the Crates for Ukraine 3.0 effort, and for the med kits, tourniquets, vitamins, winter wear, and other critical supplies to meet the physical needs of Ukrainians in the areas that need it most.

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

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 courage for Christ’s followers in and around Ukraine.

Pray for families who have evacuated, leaving behind the only place they have ever known. Pray for transition and provision. 

Pray for pastors who have stayed behind in Ukraine as they minister to their congregations and the surrounding communities in a time of war.

Pray for the health, rest, and ability to continue for those who are working with and making arrangements for refugees. It can feel like the future of each one of them is in your hands.

Pray that our brothers and sisters who have lost everything will cling to the community of believers and ultimate hope in Christ, and for the massive movement of people and the refugee work our teams are involved in focusing on Lviv and Krakow.

Pray for Ukraine to trust what is not changeable and to hope in what cannot be lost. May the Church in Ukraine be strengthened through this war.


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