'A land of heroes of the faith'
I am convinced that were it not for the presence of heroic yet ordinary Christians in this region, the whole of Eastern Ukraine would descend into complete chaos, says Joshua Searle as he reflects on the latest mission trip to Ukraine
I’m returning from this mission trip to Ukraine with an overwhelming number of impressions. I have gained a new appreciation for Eastern Ukraine as a land of heroes of the faith. There are heroic people doing essential gospel work in Ukraine. I was so impressed by the quiet and unassuming manner in which ordinary Christians go about their work on behalf of the gospel.
We never hear about these people in the news or read about them in the papers, but these are the people who are building God’s Kingdom of compassion in Ukraine. They are the faithful labourers who are planting gospel seeds of faith, hope and compassion in the way that they serve their communities. It was a privilege to serve alongside these faithful servants and to learn from them about what it means to minister in Christ’s name to the poorest and most marginalised people – the people that the world has forgotten about, but who are especially close to God’s heart.
God certainly hasn’t forgotten about these precious ones and it was a privilege to be able to remind people of this during our visit. The trip has therefore reinforced my conviction that the whole earth belongs to God and that He loves and cherishes every human being upon it. To have compassion, pity and mercy on those who suffer is an absolute, non-negotiable gospel imperative. It’s an integral part of our discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ. And we actually discover that in loving others we come face to face with God in the face of the other.
The Revd Rob May, Minister at Herne Hill Baptist Church, with Valentina, one of the residents of Tsarychanka Disabled Home
In Ukraine this kind of compassionate ministry is particularly essential. It is important to understand that Eastern Ukraine is quite a chaotic and lawless region at the best of times. At the present time, in the midst of a war following Russian army incursions into the Crimea and the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the infrastructure of healthcare and social support has almost completely collapsed. Thousands of people have been left without any support from the state, which cannot cope with the overwhelming extent of human need. As a result, many people, particularly the elderly who cannot afford to pay their fuel bills, are literally freezing to death (in temperatures of -18 degrees) in their own homes.
Two members of the UK group, Tolleiv Oseland, a student of Spurgeon’s College, and the Revd Simon Jones, Minister at Bromley Baptist Church, with Denys, one of the residents of the care home that we visited
Aiming to respond to this suffering, a group of friends and I recently established a new organisation, Dnipro Hope Mission, as a means of providing support to local churches in Eastern Ukraine. It is essential to support the Baptist communities in Eastern Ukraine and they urgently need our prayers, encouragement and solidarity.
The UK group participated in a homeless outreach ministry, organised by the Revd Roman Rakhuba (on the left), who is Pastor of Zaporizhe Mennonite Church
I am convinced that were it not for the presence of heroic yet ordinary Christians in this region, the whole of Eastern Ukraine would descend into complete chaos. The work that Christians (particularly the Baptist churches) are doing, such as delivering insulin medicine for diabetics in war-torn regions of Eastern Ukraine, is literally saving lives, even while these Christians sometimes risk their own lives in the process. We were privileged to meet many of these Christians in Ukraine.
The Revd Sasha Boyko (front row, on the right), Pastor of Vasilkivka Baptist Church, with the UK group at the Disabled Home. We presented one of the residents, Grygory (centre), with a hearing aid
Our main host in Ukraine, Pastor Sasha of Vasilkivka Baptist Church, is one of these unsung heroes. Under the most adverse circumstances of poverty and deprivation, he carries on his apostolic ministry with a skill, determination and single-minded devotion to Christ that reminds me of the Apostle Paul.
Although based in his church in Vasilkivka, he has become something of a ‘roving pastor’, travelling throughout the region, offering prayer, material help and encouragement and support for the ‘forgotten people’, such as those with disabilities or diseases, the elderly, the orphans and refugees, etc. Dnipro Hope Mission is planning to launch a fundraising appeal for a minibus for pastor Sasha, in order to assist him in this apostolic and compassionate ministry. Please visit our website for more details: www.dniprohopemission.org
The UK group with our hosts at Tsarychanka Baptist Church
The UK group led a service at Vasilkivka Baptist Church, in Eastern Ukraine
In recent years, Pastor Sasha has built up a relationship with the carers and residents in a home for people with disabilities in the town of Tsarychanka in the Dnipro region. Despite the extremely difficult conditions, it was a great privilege to have visited this community last week. The suffering of the residents was very tangible. Some people were visibly unwell. We heard tragic stories about how people lost their limbs or were paralysed as a result of disease or accidents.
Thanks to the generosity of those who supported the DHM trip with donations, we were able to purchase thousands of pounds worth of medicines, mattresses, hearing aids, adult nappies, hygiene packs and other essential items of humanitarian aid for the residents of the disabled home.
At the home I was delighted to see some familiar faces of those I had met during my visit last year. I was able to catch up briefly with Sergey, one of the residents whose tragic story I narrated in my previous post. He was doing quite well and was really pleased to see us. His beaming smile and open arms as he greeted us is one of my abiding memories from the trip. I asked him if he remembered me. “Da, Da! Konechno pomnyu tebya!” (“Yes, Yes! Of course, I remember you!”), he exclaimed.
Joshua with Sergey, one of the residents of Tsarychanka Disabled Home
While we were in Ukraine, we also received joyful news about Sasha’s wife, Irina. Two years ago, Irina, who is in her mid 40s, was diagnosed with stomach cancer and was told by her doctor that she had ‘about three or four months’ to live. Remarkably, and to the shock of her doctors, Irina responded very well to her treatment and was able to undergo a major operation a few months ago.
While we were in Ukraine, Irina received the news from the hospital that she had been given the ‘all clear’ and that there was no cancer in her stomach. She is still weak as a result of a gruelling course of treatment and she will need to keep going to hospital for regular check-ups, but this was wonderful news for which we give thanks to God.
Joshua with Pastor Sasha and his wife, Irina
As was the case last year, I’m sure that, on balance, we ended up being served by those we met in Ukraine even more than we were able to serve them. With the prayers and support of people back home, we felt the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit accompanying us throughout our trip. It is surely a sign that God was with us during the trip, considering that outcomes and the blessings that we were able to impart far exceeded our abilities and resources.
We were also offered hospitality by the community at an Orthodox Monastery near Vasilkivka
Finally, I’d like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to all of you who have supported the work of Dnipro Hope Mission through your prayers and donations. We would not be able to do what we do without the support of the generous churches and individuals who donated to our trip. We are very grateful to you for all your support and encouragement and we hope you will stay in contact with us.
Perhaps you’ll even consider joining us on one of our subsequent trips to Ukraine! More information, including an application form, is available at www.dniprohopemission.org
The 2017 Dnipro Hope Mission Trip to Ukraine took place 9-16 February, and involved a group from Spurgeon’s College were in Ukraine. The group was hosted by local Baptist and Mennonite churches in Eastern Ukraine, and led by Joshua Searle, Tutor in Theology and Public Thought, at Spurgeon's College.