In 2021 and early 2022, International Mission Board missionaries serving in Ukraine heard rumors of war, which led to an overland evacuation. Looking today in the rearview mirror, they realize they couldn’t have guessed the trauma about to mushroom from the east.
Less than one month after the missionaries’ exodus, war made a forceful entry into the country they’d come to call home. The war ripped the life from the bodies of more than 7,100 civilians, tore husbands from wives and fathers from children, decimated towns and cities, stole childhoods and livelihoods, and wrought immeasurable havoc on the eastern European nation.
That the war continues one year after the invasion comes as a surprise to many and is a testament to the interminable resolve and resilience of Ukrainians. That the Ukrainian church has grown, despite the upheaval and chaos, is a testament to the power of the gospel and the perseverance of the church. The church’s growth ballooned out from the country’s borders, following like a parachute to the cities and towns where refugees found welcoming hearts and arms.
Ukrainian Christian refugees brought the light that could not and would not be extinguished to countries with significantly lower populations of evangelicals. Ukraine is home to the highest percentage of evangelicals in Europe. Their dispersion meant the gospel was also dispersed.
IMB ministry to and among Ukrainians has not halted in the year since the war began. Although IMB missionaries cannot currently live in Ukraine, they remain emotionally and relationally present with Ukrainians. Through Send Relief and IMB missionary presence, Southern Baptists continue to respond to the needs of Ukrainians.
What does it mean for IMB missionaries to be steadfastly present in a time of war and exile? It means loading a truck and trailer with provisions to take to physically and mentally disabled people in Ukraine, singing praise songs in a community center-turned-church and leading small group Bible studies in church basements. It means driving a van across the countryside to host mobile medical clinics, continuing to provide theological education for Ukrainian pastors, and making daring trips into Ukraine to oversee disaster relief projects.
The world’s greatest problem is still lostness. IMB missionaries and their national partners are still running the race the Lord has set before them — a race to share the promise of the gospel with Ukrainians in their hour of greatest need.
In the first few months of the war, IMB and Send Relief efforts centered around providing food, supplies, access to shelter and emotional and spiritual care. IMB missionaries, European Baptists and Southern Baptist volunteers met refugees fleeing across the border and met them in the cities where they landed.
As the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, churches in multiple countries continued to take in refugees and welcome them into their congregations. New congregations of war-weary refugees formed. Refugee children attended Christian camps and reclaimed some of the childhood they had lost. IMB missionaries invested their lives in the refugees living in their cities and made trips back into the country to visit national partners. Missionaries and their national partners hosted Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas parties, which provided much-needed time for community and celebration.
The poignancy of the gospel and the generosity of Christians led to changed lives.
Send Relief has facilitated 98 Ukrainian relief projects since February 2022. These projects centered in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova. Volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief made the trans-Atlantic journey to serve on the border of Ukraine. While there, they provided relief in many forms.
Southern Baptist generosity knew no bounds. Gifts to Ukraine relief thus far have totaled $12.9 million, with $10 million given to Send Relief and $2.9 million given to the IMB.
IMB missionaries developed digital engagement strategies to reach Ukrainians both inside and outside the country. The reach has been astronomical — 22.5 million people visited a website created as an outreach tool.
Dan and Lori Upchurch served with the IMB in Lviv, Ukraine, before evacuating ahead of the Russian invasion. They now serve Ukrainian refugees in Poland with their teammates, Sarah and Kanoot Midkiff. They helped facilitate a relief center to meet the physical needs of refugees and planted a church with their national partner. They lead small-group Bible studies and partner with Ukrainian church planters. Dan continues to teach classes at the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, first online and now by traveling back to Ukraine.
After evacuating Kharkiv, Ross and Kasey Lewis and Linda Gray, joined later by Journeyman Harrison Martin have invested their lives ministering to Ukrainian refugees in Romania. They minister in refugee centers and now host mobile medical clinics throughout the region. They recently purchased a van and ultrasound machines.
Mike and JuliAn Domke took up temporary residence in Hungary, where they minister to Ukrainian refugees. Mike also oversees 20 Send Relief projects in Ukraine and makes frequent trips there.
IMB missionaries who serve across Europe have added ministry to Ukrainians to their ministry routines.
David and Shannon Brown and Ayden and Lorelei Klarke serve in Moldova and partner with the Moldovan Baptist Union to serve the many Ukrainian refugees who crossed the country’s eastern border.
Only the Lord knows how long the war will last. Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, but there’s something about Jesus’ name — the name that extends past rumors of war.