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Okay, so I realize that I’m in Ukraine, as an English speaker, so perhaps a title in Spanish is out of place. I promise I’m not trying to impress you with my vast knowledge of other languages (but I do know how to say, “I’m hungry” in at least four).
“Solo Dios basta” is the last line of a poem by St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) that has hung on my walls, been the subject of absent-minded doodling, and concluded countless letters of encouragement to friends. Since it’s so dear to my heart, I’ll share it with you in English with the original Spanish in parentheses.
Let nothing frighten you (Nada te turbe)
Let nothing disturb you (Nada te espante)
All things are passing (Todo se pasa)
God cannot be moved (Dios no se muda)
Patient endurance attains all things (La paciencia todo lo alcanza)
He who has God lacks nothing (Quien a Dios tiene nada le falta)
God is enough (Solo Dios basta)
I just love that: “He who has God lacks nothing; God is enough.” So what if everything you held dear was taken away from you tomorrow? What if everything you placed your hope in (because we all place our hope in something) suddenly vanished? What if the peace you currently enjoy was replaced by violence, destruction, and death?
Ukraine in Turmoil
A little background on Ukraine might be helpful to give this current war in Eastern Ukraine (and subsequent blog post) some context. Ukraine (previously the Ukraine) became an independent country when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Ukraine not only gained independence and dropped the the, but it became a country in a unique position, with overlapping spheres of influence.
Approximately three-fourths of Ukraine favors a closer relationship with the European Union, while the other fourth in the east is overwhelmingly pro-Russian. In late 2013 and into the beginning of 2014, major protests erupted throughout the country, as then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych declined a trade deal with the EU. Peaceful student protests in the capital of Kiev were met with violence from riot police, which escalated into thousands of Ukrainians protesting in the capital city. Over one hundred protesters were killed, and are now referred to as “The Heavenly Hundred.”
In the midst of all of this violence, Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea away from Ukraine, and we have seen increased fighting in the eastern region since the summer. The UN estimates that over 2,200 people have been killed since the war began.
Ukraine is at a pivotal point in its history. Many here wonder what Putin’s endgame is, and fear he is only pacifying the West with his most recent withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border. Elections will be held on October 26th to vote in a new parliament, and the hope is that a fresh perspective from those in power will put an end to (or at the very least curb) the corruption.
Mission to Ukraine’s Response
Mission to Ukraine feels a heavy burden to support, encourage, and pray for their fellow countrymen who are serving their country in the far eastern regions. Last week, Oksana and Olya (two staff from MTU), Barry, and I had the privilege of visiting a military hospital here in Zhytomyr. The facility itself is dated – it seems to be a throwback to the old Soviet days, and it was like stepping back in time as we walked up wooden staircases, past single-paned glass windows. Walking into the recovery rooms, the beds were the kind you see in old war movies: rickety, small, metal, uncomfortable.
Olya, an occupational therapist (possibly the only occupational therapist in all of Ukraine), was appalled to learn that there is no opportunity for rehabilitation for these soldiers after they have been injured. Neither physical nor occupational therapy are standard practice within the country, so not only are men and women risking their lives by engaging in war, but if they are indeed injured, they risk losing mobility and any chance of long-term recovery once they return from the front lines.
When we asked the wounded soldiers the question, “What do you want people around the world to know about what is happening in Ukraine?” they answered with a simple statement: “We want people to know the truth.”
The mood was heavy as we wandered back onto the street outside of the hospital. Olya pondered for a moment and then said, “It’s hard to translate the sense of desperation from these men.” They have seen their friends killed, decent medical care is lacking, and their resources on the front lines are limited. Many have served longer than what is required, and they are weary and aching for their homes and families.
Oksana, an incredible teacher/mentor/friend to kids with special needs will take some of her students back to the hospital this week to offer support and encouragement to these brave patriots.
A Beacon of Hope
When Ira, the director of MTU, asked if we wanted to sit down with an ex-military volunteer chaplain serving in the war zone, but who was currently in Zhytomyr, we jumped at the chance. I’m not sure what kind of person I was expecting to meet, but whatever I had in my mind, this guy wasn’t it. He was amiable, quick to laugh, and his eyes had a spark I wouldn’t expect from someone who had experienced so much pain and suffering.
Vasiliy has been serving as a volunteer chaplain in Eastern Ukraine since May. It was difficult for him to even be allowed in the areas where fighting was occurring, but with the permission of a city deputy, and the promise that Vasiliy would not hold the government responsible to protect him, he was given a place within the unit.
As an ex-military man, Vasiliy was someone the soldiers trusted. Around the campfire in the evenings, he had the opportunity to share the gospel. He passed out Bibles, and was faithful to bathe the battlegrounds in prayer. One afternoon, a man returned to him, a Bible in his hands, and said, “I read half of this book in two days.”
I Have Peace
As we wound down our interview with Vasiliy, his mood turned serious and his eyebrows knit together in a thoughtful frown. “This is not a conflict – this is a war. There are tanks; Russian, Chechen, and Georgian troops on the ground. If Russia weren’t involved, this all would not have happened.
“Most Ukrainian citizens are against war, but they have a slave mentality. They are unable to live independently. They need a strong leader who will tell them what to do and to guide them and direct them.” So it’s not that these citizens in the east are necessarily pro-Russian – they simply wish to be able to go back to how life was under the strong hand of the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, Vasiliy remains hopeful. “I have peace,” he said as his eyes lit up once more. He is determined to stay connected with the men that he met in battle and he will continue to pray that more of them will come to know the peace and hope that Christ offers.
As I reflected on our time with this brave and sacrificial man, I was left wondering to what lengths I would go to share the hope I myself have. Would I be willing to go to the front lines and risk my life? Would you? In my most honest moments, I have to say I’m not sure I would. But I left feeling encouraged that it is possible to have that level of faith and courage that would take me to enemy lines, knowing that being in the will of God is the safest place to be.
God is enough
The world is an uncertain, unpredictable, and often times scary place. The future of Ukraine is, without a doubt, all of these things. And around town, those emotions are palpable. Does that mean we become paralyzed by fear? Certainly not. As for us, we can be confident. Psalm 55:22 is where I will leave you for today: “Cast all of your cares on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”
The status quo that we cling to may be turned on its head tomorrow. I have no idea what the future holds. But I assure you of this: God is enough.
About the Author: Sarah is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She has her undergraduate degree in Business Communication from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California and is currently working on her Masters degree in Organizational Leadership. Sarah recently finished a two and a half year assignment working for an anti-trafficking NGO in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she had the opportunity to mentor and lead college students in ministry abroad. She is mildly obsessed with Jeopardy, coffee, running, and the Atlanta Falcons.