Missionary Couple Serves Ukraine on Two Fronts
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“I was determined to stick with the Ukrainian people in their most difficult time,” he says.
Within days, rockets fell in his neighborhood and the Russian army encamped only 10 miles away. Yet Gerald and his wife, Jane, continued serving Ukrainian refugees, civilians, and soldiers on two separate fronts, he in Kyiv and she in Poland.
The Pentecostal church in Ukraine is robust and numerous, Gerald says, so when war erupted in 2022, they already had aid networks in place to perform chaplaincy and minister to refugees. The church had been involved in assistance since the war in eastern Ukraine began in 2014.
“All they had to do was scale it up,” he says.
Like others in Ukraine, the Dollars didn’t think full-scale war would break out. In the 1980s, the pair met at Evangel University, where both attended on sports scholarships. They then became AG world missionaries specializing in construction and financial accounting in the Canary Islands, then in Israel, and finally in Ukraine, beginning in the late 1990s. They helped start a church-planting network in Crimea and settled in Kyiv in 2015 to help establish Evangel Theological University.
But this past year proved a unique time.
When Russia invaded deep into Ukraine, vowing to take the capital within three days, Gerald stayed in the basement of their house and had a truckload of wood delivered to stock the wood-burning stove. Soon, rockets struck within 275 yards of him. Gerald watched the battle from an upstairs window and saw columns of smoke rising from nearby villages. Anti-rocket batteries sent rocket debris raining down.
“I was scared,” Gerald says. “Many mornings I didn’t think I would wake up a free person. I did not imagine that the Ukrainian army could stop that much Russian armor. I expected any day the house would burn, the windows would be blasted in. I could hear gunfights from my window.”
With other locals, Gerald filled sandbags, built tank barricades, and brought fresh-baked cinnamon rolls to soldiers and volunteers.
“Gerald would do selfie videos and you could hear shelling in the background,” Jane recalls.
She, meanwhile, relocated to Poland with daughter Grace, intending to fly to Springfield, Missouri, to stay with her parents. Then came the calls for assistance from those en route to the western border.
“People were saying, ‘Help us. What do we do?’” Jane recalls. When she saw people start crowding the border, Jane determined to stay. “I decided to do whatever I could.”
Thousands of Ukrainians lived temporarily in makeshift malls, after having slept in their vehicles for days and experiencing the shock of war. Men dropped their wives and children off at the border and turned around because they couldn’t leave Ukraine.
Jane helped lead the AG team and local Christians in establishing a refugee center.
“We realized we needed a place to share the gospel freely with these refugees and help them process paperwork so they could go to another country,” Jane says.
They established a base in a three-story office building in Katowice and helped about 800 families find housing.
“We brought them to safety, shared the love of Jesus, dealt with them physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and stabilized them,” she says. “Then we started on their documents and found host families for them in the United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, Pentecostal churches close to the battle zone sent vans into dangerous areas to deliver aid and rescue people under attack. One local church pulled more than 2,500 people out of an extremely dangerous area near Kyiv. Gerald provided a link between U.S. financial support via AG World Missions and Ukrainian churches and citizens.
“Donations have been tremendous,” he says. “AG World Missions has done a lot.”
For two weeks, the fighting continued in earnest, with Gerald’s neighbors standing on streets with guns ready to face the tanks. However, rivers and damp ground stopped the Russian army outside Kyiv, making the route impassable for heavy military machinery.
Today, the city is no longer under imminent attack, but hot war continues to the east in the Donetsk region where, on a recent visit, this reporter helped share the gospel and deliver boxes of food while artillery boomed and tanks lurked in adjacent forests. Gerald ministers there and elsewhere with Ukrainian friends and soldiers he met when they went through drug rehabilitation programs 20 years ago.
Most front-line work involves bringing survival supplies to people stuck in villages. A gas-powered community generator can provide an energy source to phones and lights. Teams also patch up roofs and windows demolished by shelling and install wood stoves for heating.
“We do a lot of construction work, basically, and break up into three or four teams of guys and work in the villages,” Gerald says.
On one trip embedded with the military, their truck came under attack.
“A cluster rocket opened up over us and these bomblets were dropping,” he says. “I think a drone saw us in there. We pulled under a tree to understand what was going on because all these explosives were going off overhead and in front of us.”
The driver managed to speed them out of danger over dirt roads.
Over the long term, Gerald says the war’s biggest casualty may be the structure of the family.
“Millions of women and kids left the country while millions of men couldn’t,” he says. “Families have been ripped apart. Kids haven’t seen their dads, wives don’t live in the same country as their husbands. It’s going to take a lot of healing and ministry. The opportunities for restoration are going to be huge coming out of this.”