Tag Archive: Ukraine

Hope in the Darkness

Kiev is a beautiful city. As Mom and I traveled up the Dnieper (Dnipr) River from Odessa in 2006, we saw rolling green hills, watched sheep and cattle graze, admired lovely summer homes along the river as we neared Kiev. This was obviously a more prosperous area of the country, especially compared to the rural farm villages like the one in which my father was born.

The Dnieper almost divides Ukraine in half; some say Putin wants to take back the entire section of Ukraine from the Dnieper east.

Kiev Pechersky Lavra, Photo by C. Nicolet Loewen

Kiev is filled with tech companies, high-end shopping, and beautiful orthodox churches, where we listened to some amazing a capella songs by the priests in four-part harmony. In Pechersky Lavra (left), I held Mom’s hand to steady her as we walked down a cold, dark, narrow stone stairway lit only by the one candle we each carried. There we saw the graves of some of the monks buried in the catacombs below.

But Ukraine is not primarily about the beautiful landscape, the good farmland, or the gold-domed churches. It is about the people…people who are terrified, who want to retain their independence, and about families who are being separated. Men 16-80 are forbidden to flee the country so they can stay and fight, while they send their children (and sometimes women) to safer areas. This feels a lot like the Kindertransport (German for “children’s transport”), an organized rescue effort of children from Nazi-controlled territories that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of WWII.

Pechersky Lavra, Photo by C. Nicolet Loewen

As many of us have prayed this week for the people of Ukraine, for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in a war they did not initiate, I grieve. But I am also encouraged by stories of faith.

Franklin Graham tweeted an article by a pastor in a city near Kiev, who says “How should the church respond when there is a growing threat of war? When there is constant fear in society? I’m convinced that if the church is not relevant at a time of crisis, then it is not relevant in a time of peace. (italics mine)

“While the church may not fight like the nation, we still believe we have a role to play in this struggle.”

Their large church recently conducted first aid training…how to apply a tourniquet, stop bleeding, apply bandages and keep airways clear. Being trained has given people the confidence to help their neighbors if needed.

“We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel. While we may feel helpless in the face of such a crisis, we can pray like Esther. Ukraine is not God’s covenant people, but like Israel, our hope is that the Lord will remove the danger as he did for his ancient people. And as we stay, we pray the church in Ukraine will faithfully trust the Lord and serve our neighbors.” (For the full article, see https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/church-stayed-ukraine/)

The team leader of a NOVO mission group serving near Kiev writes the biggest challenge for their team is that they are dealing with the shock of war, going from peacetime to war overnight. As they work through their own emotions they need counsel, encouragement and prayer themselves. He says their biggest prayer need is “that our team would be physically, emotionally and spiritually strong enough to provide help to those in need.” But, he also says, no one is giving up.

“We are crying out to God to bring an end to the fighting and suffering. We are asking him to use us to bring light into this darkness.”

We often wonder how we can help in a crisis like this that’s across the world from us.

First, we can pray. Pray for the pastors, missionaries, rabbis who stay in country to care for the frightened, hurting people of Ukraine. Pray for their strength and courage to minister to others as they sometimes reach the end of their own resources; and that they will rely on our great God to provide strength beyond theirs; compassion despite their fear; and love as they reach out to meet people’s practical and spiritual needs.

Second, we can give. Many organizations are gathering funds for Ukraine and you may know some of them. These are only three, but ones I trust with fiscal responsibility and accountability in getting the funds to where they are most needed.

  1. World Vision – provides funds and help for displaced women and children as they resettle in surrounding countries.

2. Novo: https://novo.org/ukraine-crisis?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_term=ukraine%20Crisis&utm_content=&utm_campaign=general

3. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC): https://donate.mcc.org/cause/ukraine-emergency-response

As we continue to pray with our Ukrainian sisters and brothers, may God guide each of us in our response to their need. And may he have mercy on Ukraine!

Light in the Darkness

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2 NLT

This scripture was the theme of our West Coast Christian Writers’ conference last weekend. And I thought how meaningful this verse is at this time in our world. Some of you know my family, and Don’s, emigrated from Ukraine in 1929 (mine) and 1874 (Don’s) in order to pursue freedom of worship and from oppression.

With Mom at great-grandfather’s grave (Abram Frose, later changed to Froese) in Ukraine

I looked through a powerpoint presentation I made after my Mother and I visited Ukraine on a Mennonite Heritage Cruise in 2006, when we were both widowed. A wealth of memories and emotions flooded back, and I wanted to share some of these with you. Most of Ukraine’s people eagerly hold onto their independence (despite those Russia-backed separatist groups Putin is now recognizing). I hope these photos will help put a face to the people and land of Ukraine as we pray for them.

At right is a photo I took of my great-grandfather’s house, with his initials, “AF”, still present in wrought-iron at the peak of the house.

This is the entrance to a root cellar, which became the children’s hiding place when bandits attacked the Mennonite Villages.

Original home of Franz Isaac

At right, a group of six who traveled to my father’s village of Schoeneberg. Our tour leader, Olga Toews, is on the left. This was the home of the grandparents of the two gentlemen in the back, and the woman in babushka and apron was kind enough to invite us in, and to assure the brothers the floor was still solid. Most of these homes had been divided into two or three units by 2006.

Mom and I, along with cousins Irene and Peter Prieb (at right) met two of my father’s cousins for the first time, the women on Mom’s left and right in the photo above. The man behind me is the son of one of these 80-something physicians. Their father had married a Ukrainian woman and so, never left the country. He was later executed.

Amazing variety

Mom and I traveled by boat to a fishermen’s village, where our host and hostess had stayed up all night to prepare an amazing feast for us – traditional vereneki (cottage cheese dumplings), sausage, meatballs, parsley potatoes, cheese herb bread, and much more. Mom got sick on the fruit punch. Perhaps we should have tasted the vodka instead!

According to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, “For churches and humanitarian aid workers, the echoes of 2014 and 2015 still haunt {the Ukrainians}. In the last outbreak of violence, ‘We saw more than a million people [displaced],’ Father Vitaliy Novak  remembered. Based on that, he worries, this conflict ‘will be, I think, much more, a bigger size.’ With the clock ticking, he and other organizations are desperately trying to get their hands on medical supplies, clothes, extra food. “We pray to God it [doesn’t] happen,” he said, because for now, “we don’t have any resource[s].”

The New York Times 2/21/22 stated, “While Mr. Putin’s ultimate plans remain a mystery, a full invasion would constitute the largest military action in Europe since World War II.”

Please join us in praying that light might be seen in this very dark situation; and that God’s people will have strength and God’s grace to endure through conflict.