by Jayna Richardson
February 24, 2022 was a day Ukrainians will never forget. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought fear and uncertainty to much of the world, but especially to those who have been displaced from their homes and their country. As tensions and warfare between Russia and Ukraine drag on, the crisis has led many to lose hope. But in the midst of the darkness of war, light shines through. FamilyLife teams in several neighboring countries are serving and caring for refugees physically and spiritually and are reminding those affected by war that God cares for them.
In Romania, the FamilyLife team has begun a ministry to refugees in their office. One FamilyLife staff member in Romania shared, “Many of them cried at the borders when they saw so many people who waited for them with water, food, places to stay over, words of encouragement, hugs, and translators.”
Working in partnership with local Romanian churches, they opened a day camp for kids and are sharing the gospel with refugee kids and their moms. One Ukrainian man received Christ because he saw the love of God shown to the refugees.
Immediately after the war started, FamilyLife and Cru staff leaders in Moldova began turning their office space into a transit center. One FamilyLife couple shared, “The lines at the borders are huge, it may take more than ten hours to go through customs. Many are walking because they don’t have a car.” Once the refugees reach the transit center, they’re able to rest, shower, eat, and receive practical help for their next steps as they prepare to move to somewhere more permanent.
Moldovan staff families are opening their own homes too. This has given them opportunities to hear the stories of those who are fleeing Ukraine and pray for their many needs.
The FamilyLife team in Hungary also sprang into action quickly and partnered with a Hungarian Baptist ministry to help get supplies to those in need.
Jeremy Merillat, FamilyLife leader in Hungary, said, “We took turns with our co-workers driving to the border and working twelve-hour shifts helping refugees as they crossed into Hungary. While there, we greeted people as they arrived and brought them to a nearby elementary school where they could find food and drinks, beds to sleep on, clothes, or any other essentials they might need. Then we helped coordinate rides to nearby cities where they could find longer-term housing. While there we heard heartbreaking stories of families who were fleeing the war. A man named Ivan, who was blind, got off a bus with all of his belongings in an Ikea bag that had broken in his flight to the border. He asked apologetically if we could find another bag for him. We brought him a suitcase with wheels instead. He ran his hands over the object, and his face lit up as he realized what he had received. He thrust the empty suitcase over his head and shook it triumphantly. He wept openly and said, ‘God bless you!’”
The FamilyLife team in Croatia has also been welcoming refugees into a center they set up to provide protection and supplies. In addition, they’ve endured miles-long lines at the Ukrainian border to bring food and medicine into Ukraine and rescue families (mostly women and children) out of war-torn areas. They’ve grieved and prayed alongside the women and children who have had to face the difficult decision of leaving behind husbands and fathers, who must stay in Ukraine and fight.
Perhaps most encouraging is knowing that ministry is continuing even within the heart of Ukraine. Ukrainian FamilyLife leader Olexiy Travnikov has continued serving and reaching out to fellow Ukrainian families in these hard times. He and some volunteers have not only provided humanitarian aid and food packages, but Olexiy has also taken opportunities to counsel families through the strain of war, share encouraging biblical messages on the radio every week, comfort people living with PTSD, and have many conversations with people about the importance of having a relationship with Christ. Through these efforts, hundreds of Ukrainians have heard the gospel in recent weeks.
The situation in Ukraine continues to be an ever-changing challenge and a constant reminder that we live in a broken, fallen world. But God is still at work in the hearts and lives of those who are hurting and in despair, and He is using His people in Ukraine and nearby countries to shine the light and love of Christ through the darkness.