Alabama church practices ministry of presence in rural Ukraine
By Lanell Downs Smith/The Alabama Baptist
Well before Russia invaded Ukraine, John Stone, associate pastor of Willowbrook Church in Huntsville, sensed God calling him to minister there.
In early July, he and other Willowbrook members answered that call, going to love, support and provide supplies to hurting, war-torn Ukrainians.
“God began dealing in my heart before the war ever began,” Stone said. “We had a prayer night for Ukraine at Willowbrook, and [God] asked me if I cared [for Him enough] to sacrifice for Ukraine. Did I care enough to go?”
Stone said “yes” and the trip began to take shape after a Ukrainian connection contacted him to suggest the church consider ways to support the Ukrainian people.
Stone shared his calling with pastor Mark McClelland, and soon church members Matt Adams, James Ward and “Oksana” all agreed God was leading them to partner with Ukrainian believers too.
Many didn’t understand how Stone could hear God calling him into a war zone and ask others to join, he said. At first, he questioned it too.
“And then that call became very powerful inside my heart,” Stone recalled. “I realized that when God calls us to do something, there are going to be obstacles. There are going to be roadblocks to our plans, and we had to take into account a little bit of a roadblock called war.
“But Jesus wants us to take time for individuals. He wants us to hear the cries of hurting people.”
During the next few weeks, the church hosted a fundraising drive and plans began to solidify. The congregation purchased and shipped more than 1,300 pounds of aid supplies: nonperishable food, ready-to-eat meals, clothes, sleeping bags, boots, tourniquets, chests seals, pressure bandages and general medical supplies.
The team prepared to enter a war zone, acquiring body armor and helmets and learning how to apply tourniquets and pressure bandages correctly. During the trip, they would witness missiles flying overhead and encounter Russian spies and drones watching the compound where they slept.
“People asked our team time and time again [if we were] afraid to be there because of the war,” Stone said. “And the only answer that we could give them is that ‘the Lord is my shield and my protector. Whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?’” Stone said, paraphrasing Psalm 27.
According to Adams, the team connected with local Ukrainian churches, making nearly 50 house visits in rural communities. Team members preached in two local churches and Adams, an illusionist, conducted impromptu magic shows with a Gospel message for children, students and soldiers.
One man they met had lost his leg and his livelihood from injuries sustained during a missile attack. Insurance denied the claim as a war injury, and the government rejected his appeal for war injury benefits. The Willowbrook team were the first people he had allowed to visit since his injury.
“We took him a basket of food so that he could feed his family,” Stone said. “He looked at us and he said, ‘My life is now over.’ And we were able to say to him, ‘Your life is not over. Jesus still has a plan and a purpose for your life. He has a future for you if you’ll just put your trust in Him.’
“We saw so many people that needed encouragement and help,” Adams said. “The most important thing for them was not the supplies, it was literally our presence there.”
Louisiana DR team serves on short notice in Romania
By Baptist Message Staff
SUCEAVE, Romania (LBM) – A Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief team responded to a “last-minute” call to Romania, July 11-22, and was rewarded by seeing many Gospel seeds planted among Ukrainian refugees and relief workers through food and Bible distribution.
Tommy Middleton, associational mission strategist for Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge, led the team of six individuals who spent time in Suceave, Romania, on the border with Ukraine. The team had been scheduled to travel to Poland to work with Ukrainian refugees but changed plans at the request of Send Relief.
While there, the team handed out bottled water, power bars, cookies, chips and Bibles that were in both the Ukrainian and Romanian languages to refugees and relief workers. The Bibles and bottled water had a QR code attached to them, which directed individuals to a website that has a Gospel presentation.
While the team did not see anyone come to accept Christ, the group was able to share the Gospel with countless individuals.
“While these people were not on the level of the Ukrainian refugees three months ago, they were open to hearing the Gospel,” Middleton told the Baptist Message. “This was not only an opportunity to share the Gospel and plant seeds with the Romanians and Ukrainians, but also to engage those with the relief organizations and other workers. My prayer is there would be seeds sown in the hearts of people and there would receive compassion. We had no agenda but to give them Jesus.”
Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief Strategist Stan Statham said he was proud of the team’s willingness and flexibility.
“I’m grateful for disaster relief volunteers who are willing to do whatever is needed and are willing to deploy on short notice,” he said.