I walked quickly to the Mission to Ukraine office this morning, having taken a little too much time finishing my coffee, feeling the bitter cold on my cheeks as winter slowly descends on this small city in central Ukraine.

There is a solemnness throughout town – I think it’s partly the weather, but mostly it’s the ongoing war in the east.  It has not reached their doorstep (yet), but it is surely on everyone’s mind and as my friend put it the other day, everyone knows someone who has been directly affected by it in one way or another.

Teaching children the alphabet

Teaching children the alphabet at Mission to Ukraine

Last week, Barry and I were invited to a nearby church to have dinner with a group of internally displaced Ukrainian citizens (IDPs) from the Donetsk region. Donetsk continues to be one of the most battle torn regions in the country, and tens of thousands have fled the city for safety.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are nearly five thousand IDPs in the Zhytomyr province alone. So whose job is it to care for these people who have been forced to leave their homes, jobs, and livelihoods behind?

The Response

Here in Zhytomyr, the government has given these internally displaced people temporary housing in a nearby hotel. The conditions are less than ideal and only one meal is given per day. As they have left their homes behind, not much awaits them here – no jobs, no extended family, and limited opportunities.

I have long believed that it is not so much the job of the government to care for IDPs or refugees, but the Church’s. Not that the government is entirely free from responsibility – certainly not – but the Church should play a significant role in caring for those who are facing immediate and pressing distress. We are called to show hospitality to believers and unbelievers alike. Do you know what the Greek word for “hospitality” actually means? It means: the love of strangers.

Lena is so encouraging!

Lena is so encouraging!

It’s easy to love our friends, open our homes to them, offer them a cup of coffee, and pat ourselves on the back for being so hospitable. But how often do we open up our homes to strangers who are in real need? Like, actually? Lest you think I’m trying to send you on some sort of guilt trip, let me reassure you, I’m not.

I have never opened up my home to a stranger. But what I have done is talked about the importance of it a lot.

It’s hypocritical, I realize.

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Seven displaced men and women joined us for dinner and as we sat before what could only be described as a feast, listening to these fellow believers share about their present situation, I was nearly overwhelmed with emotion. Their future is bleak, to say the least. I have seen a lot of brokenness – physical, spiritual, and emotional – as I have traveled the world. But there was something deeply tragic about looking into those weary faces that find themselves, for all intents and purposes, homeless, perhaps for a very long time.

We spent over two hours talking, eating, laughing, and listening. The mood of the place was generally somber, but also laced with a hint of faithful expectancy. I can’t really explain it, and I wish you all could have been flies on the wall and experienced it with me. It was neither jubilant nor joyous, but there was a spark of something in the room.

To be certain, all hope is not lost.

In spite of that spark, I left feeling burdened, heavy, and solemn. Keenly aware of my own limitations, I was overcome with a whelming frustration. Even something that should be simple – offering kind and reassuring words – was impossible. An unfamiliar culture, a war I’m only beginning to grasp the enormity of, and an utter inability to help in any tangible way. I’m useless, I thought.

But as we stood outside waiting for the taxi to come take us home, Ira, director of Mission to Ukraine, turned to me, and said, “I have a great idea…” She proceeded to tick off all of the things these displaced citizens didn’t have: jobs, pressing responsibilities, a social life. She then continued on with what they did have: time, experience with children, a heart to serve. “They would be perfect volunteers at MTU!”

Meeting the Need

Mission to Ukraine is faced with myriad challenges as they move forward in their service to the community. There is great need and while they are making huge strides, they are at capacity when it comes to staff, space, and resources. And now, with war rumbling in the east, a depressed economy, and an influx of IDPs, they are feeling increased pressure from all sides.

Two internally displaced citizens from eastern Ukraine volunteering their time at MTU

Two internally displaced citizens from eastern Ukraine volunteering their time at MTU

What an incredible opportunity, then, to leverage an underappreciated population to serve their fellow Ukrainians during a time of national difficulty. It’s brilliant, actually.

What a joy to watch as these new volunteers partner with Mission to Ukraine and use their gifts, time, and talents in selfless service to those who need it most.

What Will You Do?

I admit that, at times, when I read a blog like this, I am left feeling stirred and perhaps even prompted to action. But then, inevitably, that leads to the question: What can I REALLY do?

Most of us can’t hop on a plane and travel halfway across the world to the places in greatest need. And even if we could, we probably shouldn’t. Like I said before, here in Ukraine, I’m not a whole lot of help. It’s the boots on the ground, the nationals, who know their culture best, and how to serve it most effectively. But what I can do is encourage you – you do have the ability to make a difference.

The first, and I don’t want to sound trite, is to pray. Pray for Ukraine. E.M. Bounds once said, “Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move the heart of God.” Christians in Ukraine are being challenged in new ways as they attempt to respond to many crises within their borders. What I have heard again and again from my friends at MTU, pastors, and other missionaries within the country is that Ukraine is in desperate need of prayer. And they are exceedingly encouraged to know that they have friends around the world who are joining them in that effort.

Secondly, Mission to Ukraine is an extremely well respected organization here in Europe as well as in the United States, where they have their headquarters in Indiana. There is a very real need for food and warm clothing as the winter presses in. If you feel compelled to give, MTU can designate funds to help provide for these needs and meet them in a practical way.

I leave you today with this: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” Great things are happening, even in a world of extreme turmoil and uncertainty. Be encouraged!

Until next time,

Sarah

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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.

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Comments

  1. Leigh said... 

    Reply

    October 27th, 2014 at 8:51 am  

    Thank you for the practical suggestions. Through God’s gracious provision, you are the eyes and ears we need. We are sending prayers and funds. Much love!

  2. Heather said... 

    Reply

    October 28th, 2014 at 11:52 am  

    Thank you. It was really good to read this today.

  3. Ginny said... 

    Reply

    October 29th, 2014 at 4:47 pm  

    Hi Sarah
    In some ways I would just like to box up scads of clothes I don’t need, but could be used there, but I realize that is totally impractical.
    Meanwhile, I give them to folks here who are in need.
    Yet not as much need even here in America as for those displaced peoples such as you describe.
    Thank you for helping those of us who are privileged to read your blog to gain a snippet of understanding of a place about which we know so little.
    You paint those pictures with your words and photos. As always – much love and prayers.

  4. Phyllis said... 

    Reply

    October 31st, 2014 at 2:55 am  

    Yes! What a brilliant idea! These people are going from being an “underappreciated population,” as you put it, to being really hated in many cases. This is such a perfect move toward peace and understanding and real help, hopefully from all sides and in all directions.

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