Smiles and Tears
We here in Ukraine couldn't stop smiling on Monday. As many of you have likely seen in the news, early this week Ukraine completed a stunning military victory, ultimately retaking over 6,000 square kilometers of its own territory (bigger than the state of Delaware!) in just a matter of days.
This has been the most massive defeat for Russia since they were pushed out of the Kyiv region in late March. Ukraine's operation is being hailed as "one of the greatest military-strategy successes since 1945." We are hopeful and praying the trend continues and every last terrorist invader is driven out!
In this victory, Ukraine recaptured one of our main cities in this area, Izium, that had been used for staging many of Russia's attacks under occupation. Only as Ukrainian forces began to clear the city of the wreckage and filth of the Russian soldiers did the smiles begin to be mixed with tears.
At the end of March, the world learned the name of a suburb of Kyiv that became a symbol of the demonic terror of the Ruscist troops: Bucha. Stories of the tortures, rapes, and mass executions committed against Ukrainian civilians shocked the world. But early estimates regarding the aftermath in Izium are "the equivalent of two Buchas—at least." Let it not be lost on us that the evil of the Kremlin knows no end and is no less sickening even if less "shocking", as it has proven to be their calling card. Pray for the crushing of this evil!
But this describes well our reality for the last 200+ days: tears and smiles. Tears at the horrible suffering; smiles at the signs of God's victory breaking through, be it in the every increasing missteps and failures of the Russian invaders or the missteps of the devil who, in inspiring this evil against Ukraine, has actually been used to bring about a revival in Ukraine.
Those who would never has set foot in a Protestant church are coming by the thousands. Roma (pictured above) is one such person and one of those we evacuated from the front lines in our 15th evacuation trip to Donbass in the east.
Roma sat in on our Friday night Bible fellowship last week shortly after arriving. He wanted to talk immediately after. I went aside with him and he began to tell me his story, how he'd been left by 2 successive wives as, according to him, they grew tired of his handicap. Roma has some level of disability that makes his movement difficult, though he can still get around without crutches.
Roma shared how he had not been loved as he hoped, and how he has felt rejected his whole life. He asked me for relationship advice. The relationship I suggested to him is not the one he was probably counting on—but exactly the one he needed. As he heard of a love that would never grow tired of him or reject him, the Lord opened his heart to receive this good news. Roma prayed with me to receive the gift of God's grace that night and became number 43 of those who have come to faith through our church since the beginning of the war.
Since then, Roma has begun reading the Bible we gave him and is eager to ask me his questions. He's also trying to learn the words to worship songs with the help of YouTube. He is most likely going to move to a nearby aided-living facility in light of his handicap. His greatest concern over this was how he can continue being part of our church—though it's really not that far and he should be able to travel to us without too much trouble.
We are continuing to feed over 2,000 refugees a month (the humanitarian aid line outside our church on just one day at one time of day pictured below left). We are the only place in our city still giving out regular food aid. However, this presents a challenge as many of the organizations that were partnering with us to bring food aid are now switching their attention to questions of heating. This will also be a challenge in the front line areas (hopefully not in the majority of the country). While this is a needed focus, people still need to eat. Pray with us for the necessary partnerships and God's provision for this!
Additionally, as the war grinds on, we realize that Ukrainian victories on the battlefield come at a steep price. We've recently begun to serve in another new and very hard area: bringing back the bodies of fallen soldiers to their families in Svitlovodsk for burial (pictured below right). While it might not be the most "urgent" need, it is meaningful to their families—and emotionally difficult for our drivers.
Lastly, I will be traveling in Europe for the next month for my role as training coordinator with City to City Europe. While we had to cancel the CTCE event we'd planned for April due to the war, things have stabilized enough now that our family feels that travel can happen. I used to travel a lot before the war started and this will be my first trip since February. The bulk of this will be to run our European Church Planting Intensive in Rome. Please do pray for Lena and the kids during my absence. It will be challenging in many ways for all of us, but I'm also looking forward to meeting the 16 European planters + spouses who will attend as well as a number of good friends who are fellow trainers.
We are grateful for all of you who continue to pray and to give generously to help us continue serving Ukrainian refugees! You can donate using the button below.