MINNEAPOLIS (BP) — “Praise God, He left me my right leg,” Ukrainian soldier Stanislav exclaimed at First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Minneapolis during the church’s annual harvest celebration of thanksgiving.
Stanislav lost his left leg in battle protecting Ukraine from a Russian attack. With his right leg intact, he transitioned to volunteer status, driving Ukrainian civilians to safety and delivering supplies to those in need.
Stanislav is in Minnesota receiving a prosthetic and counseling through the Protez Foundation’s Prosthetics for Ukraine humanitarian outreach the church supports. He shared his story with Victor Soro, a First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church bilingual pastor.
“He was a full-time soldier until his injury, and now he works as a volunteer,” Soro told Baptist Press. “I think his exact words were, ‘Praise God, He left me my right leg,’ which is what he drives with, so he’s able to do that. And hopefully with this prosthetic, (he’ll) be able to do even better. He’ll be more physically able to help.”
Protez has provided prosthetics for 14 Ukrainians injured in the war, the foundation said on Facebook. Stanislav was one of at least three prosthesis recipients who attended the harvest festival, including two civilian children who lost limbs and were accompanied by family members.
The war is very personal to First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation of about 150 members, Soro said.
“Obviously our people are Ukrainian and the war in Ukraine is really personal,” Soro said. “And just to honor those soldiers that are fighting over there when we can’t do that living over here, it means a lot to us, their sacrifice, their service in the military over there.”
Leo Endel, executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention (MWBC), was among the speakers at the event, assisted by interpreter Alexander Fartushniy. First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church is among 200 MWBC churches.
“I have known the Ukrainian pastors for a number of years, but the war in Ukraine has given us the opportunity to partner at a deeper level as they minister to refugees and wounded soldiers here in Minnesota,” Endel told Baptist Press. “I asked NAMB to partner with the MWBC and together we helped two of these churches with funding to care for, and to share the Gospel with, those refugees who have come to Minneapolis.
“Moments like these are where we see the power of Southern Baptists working together,” Endel said. “The MWBC is a microcosm of the world. We have been enriched to join a number of these people groups as they have engaged in missions in their former homelands.”
First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church is supporting the Protez Foundation by housing soldiers, and providing food, transportation and other services. Additionally, the church sends financial support to Baptist churches persevering in ministry in Ukraine during the war. Many of the churches the congregation supports are the former membership churches of the Minnesota congregants.
“We’re still affiliated with a lot of the churches,” he said. “Most of our members have come from Ukraine. They’re immigrants, directly from over there. They’re getting letters or communication from churches they were members of when they were still over there, so we’re getting very good word-of-mouth of what the churches are doing, what they might need help for. And so we work with those churches mostly where our members have come from.”
All donations to the church’s Help Ukraine are sent directly to partnering churches there.
“From what we have heard the churches have gotten a reputation of where the people can find help,” Soro said. “When the government doesn’t have the resources, it’s like, ‘go to this church; they can help you.’”
While the war has scattered more than 400 Ukrainian Baptist churches, others are still serving as the war allows. Churches still active are growing in members and are more on mission than ever, he said.
“Pastors are becoming chaplains. Things have changed in what they’re doing, but their mission is the same,” Soro said. Through churches, “refugees are finding a place to stay. They’re finding food, clothing, and all the stuff they need as they’re escaping the war.”
First Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church is especially thankful for God’s protection and provision during the war, Soro said.
“We’re just thankful for the little things these days, the fact that we can be living and breathing, and be in this country and safe,” he said, “those are the things we’re thankful for.”
Soro is thankful for the support of fellow believers and encourages Southern Baptists to continue praying for Ukraine, as conditions have not improved there.
“Some of the pastors are being taken … and sometimes never seen again,” he said. “Don’t’ forget. Just hearing from the direct lines of communication we have, it has not gotten much better. Even though the news says we’ve started to get back some territory and all of that, which is good news, but it’s definitely not over and the people there need our support.
“The churches continue to be working and preaching and spreading the Gospel even in these times, which is probably more necessary than ever, giving people the true peace that they’re looking for, which is Jesus Christ,” Soro said. “They continue to work and they continue to need our support.”