NEW ALBANY, Ind. (BP) — When Becky Dorman sees Ukraine in the news — the violence, the bombs, the downed aircraft — she thinks of Marina.
Dorman, a member at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., met the young Ukrainian woman in 2009 when Dorman’s mission team traveled to Ukraine. Marina was a translator for the team.
“I continue to pray for her, especially for her safety,” Dorman said. “Having never been to Ukraine before, she really took my heart.”
A number of churches in the United States have postponed or canceled their plans to do ministry in Ukraine this year because of the unrest. But Christian workers in that region of the world say there is still much that churches “back home” in the United States can do.
Tim Johnson,* an IMB representative in Ukraine, said the U.S. church has a “great role” in reaching out to Ukraine during these difficult times by creating awareness, continuing to pray and being a part of outreach efforts.
“Those are great ways for the church to continue to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters,” he said.
“It’s just hard when you know that there’s church-planting efforts going on, there’s desire to see new work take place, but at the same time there’s that cloud of fear that hangs in the air,” he said. “So we pray for that to dissipate and that we could have a chance to move forward with clear skies.”
Marina’s home is in the Luhansk region, a section of eastern Ukraine torn by conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army. Her home couldn’t have been farther away from war — or from Dorman’s radar — a few years ago.
“I remember hearing our pastor say from the pulpit that we needed to have a people group on our heart, and I remember thinking that I didn’t even know what a people group was,” Dorman, who serves as worship ministry administrative assistant at Graceland Baptist Church, said.
Then Dorman’s daughter, a junior in college, announced she was going to Ukraine to serve for a summer.
Suddenly the needs in Ukraine came to life for Dorman.
“I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll have Ukrainians in my heart,” she said.
Since Dorman’s initial trip to Ukraine in 2009 she has been twice more. The church partners with Joel*, a former worship pastor of Graceland Baptist. He is co-director of the church-planting program at Kiev Theological Seminary. He served 35 years as worship pastor at Graceland Baptist before he and his wife Mary Ellen* began work with the International Mission Board in Ukraine in 2003.
Since then, he’s partnered with Graceland Baptist to link them with the church planters he trains.
Church planters include Sergei, who formed a deep connection with Dorman’s team.
“By being involved directly with the indigenous church planter, we know their vision and can work alongside them,” Dorman said. “Then when we leave, hopefully they don’t feel the Americans just came for a glorified vacation. They can make a stronger impact.”
In 2012, Sergei drove Dorman and her team into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains where they met people with many physical needs and even greater spiritual ones.
She gave food to a hungry family, a hug to a wheelchair-bound girl — and she shared her hope in Christ with all of them.
“Every trip I made was just really impactful,” she said. “I was really brokenhearted we couldn’t go back this year.”
Though Graceland Baptist has been unable to send a team back to Ukraine this year, the crisis has opened new doors of ministry for other churches.
Among those congregations is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. Following up their trip in 2013, the church sent another missions team this year to continue training and equipping ministry leaders in Ukraine.
“Yes, we watched news events and wondered if we should go,” John Herzer, a member of the Johnson Ferry team, said. “But … we never felt unsafe in any of our travels. If anything, we found people appreciated us even more than in past years when there was no conflict.”
The team continued their equipping ministry, but they also touched the lives of those impacted by war, meeting urgent physical needs.
“This year we added the ministry of food distribution directed toward the poor, widows, handicapped children and refugees who fled from the conflict in Crimea,” Herzer said. He noted they handed out 500 boxes of basic staple foods in villages.
“In some villages they would gather in a group,” he said. “In other villages we would go door to door.”
With each village the method changed, but the team’s impressions of the people didn’t.
“When we visited refugees we realized how little we offered in providing food when they had left everything — their careers, their friends, their possessions,” Herzer said. “Yet they were so grateful that we took the time to care and allow them to share their stories. We truly saw how important the love of Christ is. We were blessed immeasurably.”
And they saw people decide to follow Christ.
One was the alcoholic son of a widow — a man who had never previously been open to the Gospel.
“The pastor of the local church had shared Jesus with this man many times but he would not believe and trust in Jesus,” Herzer says. “Yet during our visit he did. … He was in tears over the joy he experienced the moment he trusted Jesus.”
Herzer’s challenge to other churches: If you can go, go. If you can pray, pray.
“We can all participate,” Herzer said. “The bottom line is they all want to see the love of Christ. Because we went, we saw Jesus at work in the lives of everyone we [met].”
For more information about the crisis in Ukraine and how you can help, visit commissionstories.com/Eurasia.
*Name changed or last name withheld.
Ava Thomas is an IMB writer/editor based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).