Ukraine (MNN) — Russia’s street-cred isn’t all that high at the moment, when it comes down to peace talks over Syria.
European diplomats have compared the Russian negotiating stance on Syria to Moscow’s handling of the fighting between government forces and separatist, pro-Russian militias in Ukraine. There were ceasefires and other solutions, but while people negotiated around conference tables, on the battlefield it was a completely different story for months on end.
At present, “There is a ceasefire that is holding, at least at this point. There’s still some sporadic fighting,” says Bret Laird with Slavic Gospel Association. It’s like a collectively held breath: a peace balanced so precariously that one wrong move could be explosive. “The major military operations have been over for a little while, and everybody is praying that those continue to hold. Those are the major sources of tension in the region.”
Meanwhile, even as Ukraine tries to rebound, its government appears to be splintering over issues from the war in the nation’s east and anti-corruption efforts. It means recovery is going slowly. Delays in implementing the accord and sanctions enacted against Russia by the U.S. and Europe over the conflict are other factors. Economically, the survivors of war in eastern Ukraine are in trouble. Laird says that includes some of their partners in areas where conflict was the most intense. “There have been several churches that have had their buildings destroyed–hit by artillery or rocket rounds and blown up or burned. Other churches as well as Christian universities and other organizations have had their buildings confiscated by pro-Russian groups operating in eastern Ukraine.”
The United Nations estimates that over a million people were displaced by the fighting, many of them fleeing to Russia to get away from the hostilities. Laird says, “The evangelical churches there have opened their arms to help and receive those folks, as well many more of them fleeing into other parts of Ukraine.”
SGA began responding shortly after the conflict ignited in 2014 with a Crisis Evangelism Fund. “We’ve been providing food, medicine, heating coal, as well as some urgent repair to buildings, and things like that.”
The “Mercy” ministries became a friendly, trusted face in places where fear was palpable. “As they’re helping folks with those very urgent physical needs, they share the Gospel with them: they give them Bibles, and they pray with them, they minister to them.” $15 can help provide a food pack, which can contain items such as flour, cooking oil, pasta, and other staples plus Christian literature. Larger gifts can provide other items like mattresses, pillows, and bed linens, plus Bibles and evangelistic literature. And as always, the Gospel is central to their ministry efforts.
As a result, Laird goes on to say, “We’ve heard lots of reports of people coming to Christ, this conflict kind of reminding them of the brevity of life and of the importance of being right with God.”
In fact, Laird and his family got firsthand experience with taking in a refugee family. He says the mother and her seven children escaped a hot zone by train. ”I remember picking them up at the train station late at night, with all these little kids with nothing more than what they could carry, basically having lost everything, and with the worry of having the father stay behind in order to try to save the harvest and save the livestock.”
Their family of eight joined the Laird’s six in a 900-square foot apartment in Odessa for months on end. The fighting intensified. One day, the dad joined the family. He decided he couldn’t stay when a mortar round landed in his front yard. Laird says the shrapnel shredded the house, and the only reason the father survived was because he was standing in front of the refrigerator when it went off. The appliance blocked the shrapnel that would have killed him.
For as traumatizing as the scenario was, Laird observed, “It was amazing to see their faith and confidence in God. These were strong believers who believed God was in control. They didn’t lose their joy. They maintained hope, joy, and peace and in the midst of having lost virtually everything.”
Now that things appear to have settled a bit, people are poking their heads out of shelter to see if the storm truly is over…to see what’s left. Laird says,”We’re hoping to have short-term volunteer teams build a house for them that can kind of meet their needs long-term. We’re hoping to do that for many, many more refugees. If there are any folks out there that are interested in helping displaced refugees get into long-term housing and be ministered to by local churches, please contact us at SGA.org.”
In the end, Laird observes, what man intended for evil, God has used for good. “We believe that it’s God who saves souls; it’s God who is the protector of the helpless. We know that it is our Lord Jesus who said that He would build His Church. Knowing that, we treasure people’s prayers.”
Pray that the peace will hold. Pray for the resources to support rebuilding. Ask God for the kind of Gospel opportunities that transform.