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UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965
Four generations gathered to pack over 20 crates. Several then couriered the crates to Krakow.

We're In This Together: A Crates for Ukraine Update

By Andrew Hess, Oct 25, 2022

As the people of Ukraine initially faced the prospect of war in their country, offers of help poured in to missionary Doug Shepherd in L’viv, Ukraine. Trouble was, the supplies offered, while well-intentioned, weren’t always matching the specific needs they were seeing.

Even if they requested exactly what they needed, shipping was another challenge: customs, high freight costs, and long transit times made shipping impractical. People were suffering from lack of medical supplies such as suture material, bandages, and tracheotomy kits, and couldn’t wait three to six months for red tape and slow freight.

After much prayer and discussion, an idea grew for which there was no model. Most people check just one bag when flying, but experienced travelers like missionaries, who have to move homes and families much more frequently than your average U.S. traveler, understood you could bring more. Much more. Why not fly in supplies as checked baggage on commercial flights? Six months of waiting would be reduced to 14 hours.

One of Doug’s first calls as the idea was forming was to long-time friend Cindy Rhea who had recently retired from her role as coordinator for missionary care at Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. PCPC and the Shepherds have been partners in ministry for a long time, and Doug had worked with Cindy on previous projects and knew the coordination piece was critical.

Cindy

In the early days, Dr. Wiley Smith, a former MTW missionary and seasoned volunteer, helped decipher the medical supply lists, and continued throughout the summer collecting supplies for churches across the U.S. As the project took shape, the team created three specific packing lists of materials that were most needed across the country and began talking to interested people and churches around the U.S. about recruiting people at their churches: people who would purchase materials, people who would pack the materials in crates, and people who would courier the crates to Krakow, Poland, for distribution in Ukraine.

Will It Work?

In May, the team began testing the concept with Park Cities Presbyterian Church and the North Texas Presbytery. Cindy worked with Emily Leonard, who currently serves as the coordinator for missionary care at PCPC, to help recruit people. One of Emily’s first calls was to seasoned traveler Tommy Obenchain.

Within days Tommy was on a plane to Europe, bringing six crates with him. As the team had hoped, the detailed packing lists and clear labels on the crates allowed him to move through customs very quickly. When Tommy arrived in Krakow, a team picked him up at the airport and delivered the crates to a Krakow warehouse. From there a team was ready to transport the crates to a warehouse in L’viv, Ukraine, where they were processed and quickly sent to the places with the greatest need across the country.

Crates for Ukraine was born. Tommy made a video of his experience as a courier and returned eager to share about CFU and encourage others to get involved. In July, Tommy and another courier spoke in a PCPC worship service, asking for additional help.

Key to the success of the project was rapid communication and the ease of sharing information: MTW missionary to Ukraine Bradley Cordell built a website (www. cratesforukraine.com) and automated the process for those wanting information on how to get involved. The website was a game changer. It featured video clips from Tommy’s first trip and a verse that has become a theme of CFU, Acts 11:29-30: “So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.”

Kids and Crates

Doug began talking about Crates for Ukraine on his weekly update calls, which were attended by about 350 people per week. The word spread, sparking more interest at PCPC and in PCA and non-PCA churches across the country.

"What Can I Do?"

One of the unique aspects of the CFU effort is the many ways people found to be involved. Some people helped by providing materials, either from local stores or from online retailers, and others volunteered to pay for or donate airline miles for airline tickets, which ranged from $1,500 to $3,500 per ticket plus checked baggage fees (which was still a bargain compared to other methods of getting the supplies). Others volunteered to help pack or transport the crates. Emily estimated that within PCPC alone, over 200 people were involved.

One young mom at PCPC was looking for someone who would be a courier along with her. She struggled to find anyone who was able to go and shared her disappointment with her 70-year-old mother. Her mother said, “I’ll go,” and her two brothers also agreed to be couriers. In this one family, 11 people spanning four generations (ages 3 to 93) were involved in providing for, packing, and acting as courier for over 20 crates to Ukraine. A family member said, “Our family believes there isn’t a better return on our money than giving it to God’s purposes in the places where people are suffering the most. Nothing gets people’s attention better than helping them in their time of greatest need.

Going National

Crates for Ukraine quickly became a national effort as churches and individuals across the country heard about the need and answered the simple question, “What can I do?” Cliff and Carolyn Tuttle, from Trinity Presbyterian in Boerne, Texas, were able to gather crate supplies, but no one could pack and courier the crates. So Bowman Williams, a member of Redeemer in San Antonio who owns a shipping company, had his truck pick up the supplies and take them to Dallas to the PCA’s Mission to North America Disaster Response warehouse. Seven churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area with couriers went to pick up supplies that they were able to pack and take over to Poland. Many other churches across the country have worked together in the same way.

Crates Stats

Through the entire CFU effort, the team has seen God provide in very tangible ways. Cindy said, “God has provided for so many of the details. It has been a beautiful picture of the body of Christ. Everyone pitching in and doing what they can to make this work.” Emily remembered wondering how everything was going to get done. She said, “We just focused on one crate at a time and have seen God provide each step of the way.

A Massive Success

Doug recently shared on a Zoom update, “Crates for Ukraine has been a massive success as we’ve delivered aid in Jesus’ name to the neediest churches and places in Ukraine.” Later this fall, Doug and the MTW team plan to reassess the needs in Ukraine and determine the best ways to meet those needs moving forward.

Cindy reflected, “One of the surprising blessings of Crates for Ukraine was how many churches got involved. Many churches who hadn’t previously been involved in missions have rallied to help pack and send crates.” Another blessing has been the work that this effort has provided to people in L’viv. “It’s been a blessing to be able to do something amid such horrible news,” Cindy said.

The one who proved the concept, Tommy Obenchain, said, “I got involved in Crates for Ukraine because I believe this is work Christ has called us to do. Through this work, we are supporting our brothers and sisters serving as missionaries in Ukraine—supporting them in their work of sharing the gospel.”

The MTW team plans to continue finding ways to meet the ongoing needs. Many who have been involved in this effort are determined to help Ukrainian Christians long-term. Cindy said, “We are building relationships that will continue as we pray that our Ukrainian brothers and sisters will one day be able to start rebuilding. The Lord seems to be encouraging His people in the United States to be a great blessing to the people in Ukraine.”

For more information on how you can give and pray and to read recent updates visit mtw.org/Ukraine-crisis.

Andrew Hess

Andrew Hess is content strategy lead at Compassion International. He holds an M.Div. from Denver Seminary and is a ruling elder at Village Seven Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

UA Ukraine Crisis Church Fund
Project # 90965
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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 against rape, murder, and capture of men, women, and children in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Pray for protection for the vulnerable.

Pray for courage for Christ’s followers in and around Ukraine. mtw.org/ukraine-crisis

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. mtw.org/ukraine-crisis

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. mtw.org/ukraine-crisis

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. mtw.org/ukraine-crisis

Pray for Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed by the church in Belgorod to be drawn to Christ. 

Pray for MTW's ministry to refugees in Greece, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Panama, and the U.S.

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