In the summer of 1993, I was in my first year of seminary and pastoring Bethel Acres, Hopewell. At the time, I was dating Jamy (my wife), and she was about to leave on a mission trip through the student ministry at Oklahoma Baptist University to a country that had just become accessible due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It was a country I had barely heard of—Ukraine. I was asked to join the mission team to preach at certain points where the team would be travelling. The trip, my first time to ever leave the North American continent, was one of the most memorable I have ever taken. Ukraine will always be special to Jamy and me. On this mission trip, we first talked about the possibility of getting married while we stood amidst boxes and boxes of contraband Bibles the Ukrainian churches had been hiding during the rule of the Soviet Union.
I recall how wonderful the people were in Ukraine and the rich fellowship of the Ukrainian Christians. On more than one occasion, I preached in a building formerly used for communist propaganda. I stood in front of huge statues of Lenin and began each sermon with the phrase, “The man behind me told you there was no God. I have come to tell you differently…” I still remember names, faces and places of Ukraine on that trip.
Fast forward to the events of today and I find myself thinking about those same people, places and churches and praying for them. As I write this at the end of February, I have been in contact over the last few days with leaders working with the Baptist Unions (like the state convention) of both Ukraine and Poland. These leaders told me firsthand accounts of Ukrainian pastors taking their families to safety and saying goodbye to them at a packed, chaotic border. These pastors then returned to either volunteer as chaplains in military units or open their churches to house those who have been displaced.
Churches and individuals are using all of their resources to help others. One church in Ukraine removed all the pews from the worship center as well as seating in the basement and have wall-to-wall people staying in the church. Such amazing stories of courage, heartbreak, compassion and deep faith!
A number of our sister Baptist churches in Poland are going above and beyond to receive and care for the refugees coming out of Ukraine. They are housing them in church buildings and in their homes. Churches in other bordering countries are doing the same.
As you can imagine, all of this creates a great need for housing, food, clothing, medicine, etc., and many of you have asked me how you can help with the needs for the Ukrainians. We are working diligently on ways Oklahoma Baptists can directly aid the churches and the work they are doing to aid refugees.
In addition, I am grateful for the work of Send Relief to assist in this crisis. You may be interested to know that the regional directors for Send Relief in this part of the world are a couple of Okies! You can make a donation to specifically help with the Ukraine crisis at sendrelief.org.
In all of these situations, we need to fervently pray for safety and needs to be met. Pray for an immediate end to the fighting and loss of life. Pray for families to be reunited. Pray that even in the midst of such terrible circumstances, the Gospel will be advanced and God will do amazing things through His people and church.