Ukraine (SGA/MNN) — Confusion and suspicion surrounded the advance of a Russian aid convoy as it headed toward southeastern Ukraine.
What does it mean, in light of an ongoing standoff, near civil war, and humanitarian crisis?
Slavic Gospel Association spokesman Joel Griffith explains, “The concern, I guess from the Ukrainian side, is that these vehicles are being managed by the Russian Army and that it might end up maybe in the hands of pro-Russian separatist militants.”
The longer the Kremlin refuses to say where the convoy is headed, the more Kiev wants the International Committee of the Red Cross to examine the contents of the aid convoy before allowing it across the border. “The battle is still going on in those far eastern regions of Eastern Ukraine, and there is a humanitarian crisis going on,” Griffith adds, noting that time is of the essence for the refugees. “When Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, you had a large influx of Crimean Tartars that went into the other parts of Ukraine to get out of the Crimea. Then, you also had–from the fighting in Eastern Ukraine–a large number of individuals and families that fled to other parts of Ukraine.”
Griffith says evangelical churches want to help meet the needs of refugees, but first, they needed to know how bad things were. “There is a team of pastors and leaders from the Ukrainian Baptist Union that were sort of discretely making a tour through eastern Ukraine. We’re going to be trying to meet with them to assess the needs of the people and the churches in the region as they try to minister to the needs of their people.”
“What we’ve tried to do is establish a crisis evangelism fund,” notes Griffith. It’s a flexible fund that allows SGA to respond quickly in a changing situation. “Basically what this fund does: it’s designed to help provide food parcels to families who need it, provide ministry materials, and just different ways to help.”
SGA’s focus is now to help provide food and water for refugees returning to their empty homes in eastern Ukraine, plus, “We’re looking to try to help affected families whose residences have been damaged, to try to help them get their residences fixed before the harsh winter sets in.”
Churches in strategic locations will serve as staging areas. Why? Griffith says, “Christian churches basically opened their doors to some of these refugees, gave them a place to stay, and helped them out with food. One of the schools that we sponsor over there actually opened up their dorm space to try to help out some of these families who are refugees.”
SGA’s response is still in primary crisis mode. Once the shock wears off, the emotional trauma begins. Relationships are being built now so that when the secondary issues begin, people will remember: “Just seeing the body of Christ in action has made a tremendous impact on the Muslim end of things. They’ve been told by their leaders not to trust Evangelicals. Well, here they are, receiving love and help and seeing the love of Christ modeled through Evangelicals.”
Pray for SGA as they continue to work with Ukrainian church leaders in developing a longer-term ministry plan in the name of Christ. “There are just so many things to pray about,” Griffith admits, adding that they “know that God can do wonders through His people.”