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FIRST-PERSON: Hope before, during and after travesty in Ukraine

IMB President Paul Chitwood, center, talks with national partners and refugees crossing the Ukraine-Poland border. Baptists put immediate ministry plans into action to best serve those fleeing the war. IMB photo

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – Seeing firsthand the tragedy happening in the Ukraine was sobering. So much has changed since I first visited the border less than a week after the Russian invasion, but one thing remains the same: Southern Baptists are there.

Through the International Mission Board, Southern Baptists already were there from the very first day of this conflict – because the IMB has been sharing help and hope in Eastern Europe for decades. Because you give, not only were we already there, but we’ll also be there long after others have come and gone. As the war rages on and the humanitarian travesty grows, so does the presence and efforts of Southern Baptists. When the crisis is at its worst, we can show the witness of our churches’ best.

While many may have assumed the IMB is responding to the needs of Ukrainian refugees, here’s a few things you may not know.

First, every penny of every dollar given to this overseas relief effort through IMB and Send Relief is used overseas to meet the needs on the ground. Unlike relief agencies such as Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International or the Red Cross, no gift or part of a gift is used for the administrative or promotional costs of the IMB or our compassion ministry arm called Send Relief.

How is that possible? It’s possible because the Cooperative Program covers ALL administration and promotion costs of Southern Baptist international relief efforts through IMB and Send Relief. In fact, the CP not only funds those administrative costs, but because of the growing generosity of Southern Baptists through the CP and the careful stewardship of the IMB, most CP funds also get directly to those people most in need overseas.

How are the CP funds and donations for Ukraine to the IMB and IMB’s Send Relief being used? Through Send Relief, we began responding with food relief even before the invasion. Russia’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border created a disruption to the Ukrainian economy before the war. When economic disruption takes place, the most vulnerable members of the community suffer first and worst. Thankfully, we were there.

As the war rages on, our ongoing relief with national partners provides food, shelter, transportation, medical supplies, clothing and trauma ministry to those displaced and impacted by the crisis. We have expanded the response to Ukrainians displaced to Poland, Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Much of this work also includes Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams.

Plans are also unfolding to utilize volunteers. We are currently recruiting volunteer medical teams and will soon have need for evangelism teams and construction teams.

Second, since so many IMB missionaries are already immersed in the language and culture of Ukrainian peoples, including the dozens of IMB missionaries who have called Ukraine home for decades, Southern Baptists have been prepared, from the first day of the war, to care for the refugees. I saw an article just this morning reporting the unprecedented surge in demand for Ukrainian-language learning resources as aid workers and others struggle to communicate with the refugees. While not every Southern Baptist knows the language of these refugees we’ve been called to help, because of the IMB, we have many who do.

Third, the 177-year legacy of Southern Baptists’ mission work through the IMB has resulted in a vast global network of like-minded ministry partners. With these partners, your investment in international missions through the Cooperative Program is making an exponential impact. Many of those ministry partners are in Ukraine, and many more are spread across Eastern Europe and the entirety of the European continent. In fact, today we can count colleagues in at least 140 Baptist conventions and unions of Baptist churches around the world. This is truly the “fruit that remains” from the Southern Baptist model of cooperative missions fueled by the CP. As the world watches the fastest, largest displacement of European peoples since World War II, we are working with churches, dozens of European Baptist groups, and a host of evangelical organizations to ensure the best stewardship and most immediate impact of the resources Southern Baptists are providing.

Fourth, unlike the work of most relief agencies, the priority of the IMB and Send Relief is the propagation of the Gospel. While Southern Baptists are fully committed to help the “least of these” who are suffering during this war, we also realize that a refugee who has been provided a warm bed and a hot meal will still spend eternity in hell apart from Christ. A person’s greatest problem has not changed even when they have escaped from a warzone. The greatest problem of every person and of the entire world is lostness. The Gospel is the only solution to that problem, and the highest priority of the IMB and Send Relief is to share the Gospel.

One of the creative ways the IMB is sharing the Gospel and offering hope to Ukrainian refugees is through social media. Less than one week into the war, the IMB launched a digital engagement evangelism strategy which reaches Ukrainians using Facebook advertisements and a website we’ve just launched. From the site, Ukrainians can hear the Gospel in their language; message a believer if they want to know more; read the Bible; and access evangelism resources to assist anyone in sharing the Gospel with the Ukrainian people.

Plans are now underway to bring this digital engagement strategy into real-life action at the border and beyond. Cards, flyers and stickers with QR codes containing links to the Hope for Ukraine website will be printed and made available for anyone to hand out. This is another opportunity for us to maximize the chances of many hearing the Gospel, even from brief encounters at aid stations, border crossings and refugee camps.

The early results of this effort have been staggering as more than 5.6 million people have seen one of the two ads running on Facebook, resulting in 33,550 clicks to private message and 274,660 clicks to the website link. Currently, 22 Ukrainians are helping respond to these Gospel-centric messages.

While we celebrate the impact Southern Baptists are making in this war, we continue to grieve the devastation and loss of life impacting the people of Ukraine. Continue to pray for peace and for those who are suffering. And let us be reminded of the sense of urgency that accompanies Gospel proclamation. Among the thousands who have died, those who died lost represent the greatest tragedy of this war.

How can you help ensure that more Ukrainians are helped and have the opportunity to hear the gospel? In addition to your church’s CP gifts, you can give directly to the IMB’s work in Ukraine through the Send Relief website at sendrelief.org.

    About the Author

  • Paul Chitwood