Here is a story from our most recent Challenger publication.
A deadly military conflict continues in Eastern Ukraine. Like many pastors in that land, BIEM's Vitaly Bilyak asked himself how he should respond. Here's a condensed version of his report.
What do you do when there's war in your country? As you know, there's a war in Eastern Ukraine. In our nation, for political reasons it's called an Anti-Terrorist Operation. But that doesn't alter the fact that people perish regularly.
Our church considered: what did we have to offer? We had received humanitarian aid from BIEM. Some of that aid we had distributed locally, but a portion remained. We could send one small load. Next, I contacted churches and BIEM about our idea. BIEM responded and named a dollar amount they could contribute, which was a clear sign form God. Next, two churches got on board.
But where should we go? The president of our brotherhood of churches recommended a congregation in Dobropolye that's actively rendering aid. We decided to give them part of the funds we'd collected. Also, even though visiting Avdeevka was dangerous, we wanted to minister there, on the front line.
We set out very early. Our cargo van drove ahead, and we followed. With me went Volodya, Andrei, and Roman. By evening we reached Dobropolye.
Ministry in Dobropolye
First, we unloaded our van into the church warehouse. Then we got acquainted with the church.
The population of Dobropolye is 30,000 and about 15,000 refugees settled here. People are everywhere—in vacant rooms of businesses, dormitories, private houses, and apartments.
On Sunday, the church auditorium was filled with 120 people. Some arrived early to talk. Several arrived during the second half, obviously for the aid. The service wasn't long, but was uplifting. When Andrei shared how the Lord had saved him from addiction to drugs, people cried.
After the service, people lined up as if on cue. Sisters from the church registered first-timers. Others showed ID's to receive about 10 lbs. of food, which was purchased with funds we'd provided. Each package included Christian tracts. Anyone who didn't own a New Testament received one. Some people were grateful and open to conversation; others expressed no emotion and simply left.
Meeting with refugees in Rodynske
After a quick lunch, we climbed into cars and tortured ourselves on the roads as we drove to a neighboring city 21 miles away. There, 50 people gathered in a dim corridor for a service. Everyone stood. When we sang a song about home, many quietly wiped away tears.
I often preach, but never before had anyone listened so intently. I spoke about everyone's most important need—a meeting with the Savior. Afterward, they gave me a letter of appreciation singed by everyone who attended.
In the evening, a friend from Donetsk visited. He's a pastor. His church ended up on the other side, under occupation. Every Saturday he loads his old car with groceries on the Ukrainian side, then drives back. After a two-hour church service, he leads a Bible class for adults. To me, he and his wife are heroes, people who risk their lives crossing the front twice a week to help believers on that side of the war. We handed him funds to buy food. After prayer, he departed to his reality.
In the line of fire
The next day we were to visit Avdeevka, a city that's been hit by artillery for nearly a month. A feeling of anxiety rose at the first block-post checkpoint. Armed men examined our ID's and cargo. When they learned we're from Western Ukraine and that we were delivering aid, they let us proceed. There are five checkpoints manned by soldiers along the 37-mile road. Closer to Avdeevka, there were practically no other civilian cars, only military vehicles. On the approach to the city, road signs, fences, and houses have been riddled with shrapnel. Many homes have plastic sheeting over the windows instead of glass. There were houses where blown-out windows don't even have plastic over them.
After a final checkpoint, we entered Avdeevka. First, we visited the church. People expected us. They shared the latest news: that morning men from the church had rescued an elderly couple from a house where a shell had hit. The couple was brought to the church and fed while considering where they might live now.
In the church, we heard explosions, but no locals made a fuss, so why worry? We gave them cartons of humanitarian aid and finances for ministry.
Local brethren suggested we visit buildings that were shelled during the night. When we reached that street, we saw broken wires, ruined houses, sheds, and fences... Plywood covered windows.
Shots were fired. The locals didn't react. But everyone wonders the same thing: "When will it end?" They don't care who wins, just so as the shooting stops.
The pastor of Revival Baptist Church in Avdeevka says, "Fifty precent of the church's members have left the city, but despite the situation and the danger to life, ministries have not ceased. God has filled the church with new members and newcomers. God has opened new ministries for us: children's work, feeding the elderly and invalids, aid to residents of the city by repairing windows after shelling, and aid to families with many children."
We left with mixed emotions. When we returned home, we read in the news that several hours after our departure Avdeevka was heavily bombarded. Apartments were hit, and people died.
Please pray for Ukraine! Pray especially for churches on both sides of the conflict line. Pray that each of us will understand what is his role in serving suffering people in this senseless war.
If you would like to help, mark your donation "Ukraine Aid." Gifts will go to churches that are actively rendering aid along with the Gospel in the same spirit as Jesus, who met physical needs while sharing spiritual truths.