By Jonathon Van Maren
Iarrived in Ukraine in late August, six months after the Russian invasion began. For a week, a journalist colleague and I visited liberated areas and conducted interviews. The war still rages in eastern Ukraine, and despite encouraging signs, it is far too soon to know how it will conclude. But everywhere we went, we met Christians who are leading the difficult work of recovery and reconstruction.
In Lviv, we met Pastor Yuriy Tsimura of the Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith. He told us he has been helping with refugee relief at the border since the first day of the war, bringing tea, borscht, and sandwiches as well as New Testaments. He sent his wife and children out of the country as soon as the conflict began. “They cried, worried, prayed, did not know if we could meet again,” he told me. “I did not sleep or eat for three days.” But as the pastor, he had a responsibility to stay and prepare his church for the conditions of war. “We immediately started fasting and praying. We have a prayer group that has been fasting every day for eleven years—this is a chain of fasts where people constantly fast and pray. We have been praying for Ukraine since 2013, and when full-scale war broke out, very serious fasting and prayer began.”
Tsimura and his church members collected supplies for refugees such as sleeping bags, inflatable mattresses, toilet paper, and gasoline for generators. They started a Telegram group to centralize their efforts. The crisis came with a spiritual opportunity. “We shared the gospel as we went to the border to bring food and beverages to people,” he said. “We handed out magazines, New Testaments, and prayed with people. Only one woman gave us back the Bible. People are very open to the gospel—they prayed with tears. We preached Jesus Christ to thousands of people during this time.” A Bible verse was written on each jar of stew that Tsimura’s church distributed. Now, the pastor and his parishioners are focused on sending supplies to eastern Ukraine, where help is desperately needed. The Sunday school children write cards for soldiers.