Editor’s Note: The images below were provided by an SGA-supported church in Ukraine.
As war in Ukraine continues, the need for prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ increases. Yet it is a great blessing to read accounts like Larisa’s, a church member in Ukraine. In vivid detail, she describes how her church became a place of refuge for both Christians and nonbelievers. Larisa describes how, on the first day of the war, attendees of the rehab center in the church basement immediately began setting up a shelter in the church for the community to take refuge. Because of support from friends like you, God is using the people and his church as a beacon of hope and safety.
In the midst of war, the churches overseas are staying active in reaching people for Christ. Street evangelism, gifts of humanitarian aid, and prayer are all different ways Christians are using to invite others to their church. As you read the story below, you will hear Larisa describe her commitment to go to church. After she arrived in Poland as a refugee, Larisa says, “I looked for a church because I simply couldn’t do without Christian fellowship, and without church services. And praise God, I found one!” At a time when church attendance is at an all-time low in the United States, please pray that more people – even Christians! – will be like Larisa in their commitment to find a church home.
Larisa, 55, escaped the war
On the night of February 23-24, Larisa was on night duty in the office of her SGA-supported church in Ukraine. She’s been a member of the church since 1996.
She says, “I woke up around 5 a.m. from muffled explosions. I knew right away that it wasn’t just firecrackers, but real explosions. I heard them very clearly because they were heard within six miles from our church. I realized that shells were exploding there.
“I waited until 9 a.m. when our church pastor, Ruslan, came and told me that the war had started. Since I lived alone, I immediately decided not to return home after finishing my shift at the church. I realized I would feel better in the church with other believers. Also, the church had always run a rehab center for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, so there were already a lot of people there. In the basement of our church, our brothers immediately decided to set up a room for shelter and living during the shelling. They set up mattresses and beds, brought blankets, pillows. They also bought the necessary amount of food for everyone. In addition, they camouflaged all the windows with a thick cloth. This basement was later used not only by members of our church, but also by unbelievers living in neighboring apartment buildings and even other parts of the city. The doors of our church ‘shelter’ were open to everyone!”
Larisa says she stayed in the basement from February 24 until March 2, a whole week. For the week that she stayed, sirens were constantly howling in their neighborhood. But their church continued to “live” and operate. Services were held as usual: the main church services were on Sundays, home groups on Fridays, and Bible studies on Thursdays. They even added prayer services for the entire church on Wednesdays. Believers during those services prayed for peace in Ukraine. Every Tuesday, the youth of the church gathered for fellowship. There were also Bible and counseling classes for those in the rehab center.
“Even now,” Larisa says, “I know that the church on Sundays supports people from our neighborhood. After each church services, they give hot lunches to absolutely everyone who comes to the church. They also give grocery packages to church members and faithful churchgoers.
“The church lives not only by intra-church services and various groups, but is also active in evangelism as well. On Tuesdays, our brothers and sisters go out to the streets and hold evangelistic outreaches there: they preach God’s Word about Christ, give people New Testaments, hand out Christian literature, and invite people to come to the church. And some people actually started attending our church services afterwards.
“In spite of the situation, there are still many church members with their families left in our church. And they continued to attend our church together and serve God there. On May 28th, there was even a graduation celebration for children from three to 13 years old. We decided to hold the event for the children and their parents, despite some hardship.
“Thanks to the prayers of our church members, God has been merciful to us throughout the duration of the hostilities. There has been no shelling in the area where our church is located, nor has there been any destruction nearby. And our church continues to stand and remain intact. Not a single member of the church has been injured. Praise God, everyone is alive and well!”
Larisa explains how and why she finally decided to leave this place of refuge amid such chaos. “On February 27, there were heavy explosions in the city. The air raid siren sounded, and the pastor told everyone to quickly leave the church hall and go down to the basement. While it took me a long time to get down to the basement with my cane” (Larisa has knee problems and can’t move quickly) “the air raid warning us was already cancelled. And then I realized that with my mobility issues I might not make it down to the basement in time; I would be left in the hallway every time the air raid siren sounded. I started praying to God about what I should do: stay or leave for Poland. On the night of March 1, I received a call and was told that I could get to a nearby border with a group of teenagers, whom I was asked to accompany. I took them to the border and handed them over to some ministers at a church. After that, I took the bus with my friend to Poland. It took us three long and hard days to get there because of the long delays.
“Then, in Poland, my acquaintances met me. They were able to put me up in an apartment that a kind Polish lady gave me for a month, free of charge. It was truly a great mercy of God upon me! I looked for a church because I simply couldn’t do without Christian fellowship, and without church services. And praise God, I found one! On April 9, I even had a chance to move into one of the church buildings.”
Larisa remains optimistic and says the following at the end of the interview:
“Now, I continue to pray, to believe in the Lord, and to attend church serves.”
In a time of great uncertainty, God is bringing help, healing, and hope to the people of Ukraine through SGA-supported pastors, churches, a seminary, and SGA-sponsored Compassion Ministry. Be a part of God’s incredible work with your generosity and prayer support.
Your gift of compassion helps struggling people with emergency aid that generally includes Scripture materials, food, medicine, warm clothing, and shoes.