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His Builders International Role May be Small, But the Impact of His Ministry in Ukraine is Real

At least 70 churches in Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed during the war with Russia, but those churches have a champion in Builders International's Carley Touchstone.
He says he plays just a small part in seeing churches in Ukraine rebuilt, but Builders International’s Carley Touchstone, who refers to his efforts as malen’kiy (meaning “small” in Russian), is known as a champion for churches in Ukraine. And right now, at least 70 congregations in Ukraine desperately need to be championed as their buildings have been damaged or destroyed during the war with Russia.

Touchstone, 80 and an AG World Missions missionary associate, explains that through a Taste of Hope dinner for Ukraine last spring, Builders International, an AGWM ministry, was able to raise nearly half-a-million dollars to help repair and rebuild what was then just 40 damaged or destroyed church buildings in Ukraine. But the longer the war extends, the more churches are caught in the crossfire.

“We have a three-phase plan,” Touchstone explains. “Phase I was the meal, which was incredibly successful. Phase II is working with the Ukrainian churches in the United States and encouraging them to financially support their brother and sister churches in Ukraine — I’m continuing to do that now.”

The final phase, Touchstone says is organizing and sending construction teams into Ukraine. However, even if Builders International had planes packed with teams on a runway ready to go, it would do no good — Ukraine’s airports are closed to commercial traffic . . . and depending on the outcome of the war, church construction teams may be prohibited from entering the country for the foreseeable future.

AGWM missionary Gerald Dollar, who has remained in Ukraine throughout the war while his wife, Jane, and children have temporarily moved to Poland to minister to refugees there (a safety decision), says his preference is for individuals and church teams to come and partner with national churches to repair and rebuild. However, if that opportunity doesn’t come, then skilled workers from Ukraine will be ready to do the work on their own.

“The Ukrainians are good builders and churches help each other here in the country, kind of like the MAPS (now Church Mobilization) program in the United States,” Dollar explains, “but I’m a strong advocate of the model of people coming and working. A lot of people look at the economics (of just sending finances, rather than flying teams out), but I’ve seen so many lives changed — they’re view of missions and the world are completely changed by one trip; you can’t put a dollar figure on the value of coming, doing, and helping.”

However, Dollar says, right now, it’s not practical or advisable for teams to come, so as safe zones for reconstruction open, he is able to provide Builders International funds to Ukrainian construction teams tasked to repair and rebuild churches.

Touchstone shares the story of two churches in Kharkiv in northern Ukraine. Both are well within range of Russian artillery.

“One church had completed its basement with the help of Builders International funds and was meeting there, while work on the superstructure above was going on,” Touchstone says. “But when the war broke out, building stopped. However, more and more people started coming to the church. They started having food distributions out of the building. The church grew so much that they are now holding three and four services every Sunday and had to move upstairs to the unfinished building . . . to my knowledge, to this date, artillery has never hit the building.”

The second church, on the other side of Kharkiv, was hit by artillery. “The church was made useable again through funding by Builders International,” Touchstone says. “The congregation is still meeting and worshipping there while the war rages on.”

Although those are powerful testimonies of faithfulness, Touchstone says many Ukrainian churches, despite the dangers, are doing what they can to meet the needs of their communities. One church, which suffered significant damage due to bombings, covered the damage to its roof with tarps while continuing to bake 150-200 loaves of bread daily and distributing it to those in need.

“We were getting ready to pour some funding into that church last year,” Touchstone recalls, “but then missiles hit it again and we knew then we had to take a different tactic when it came to repairing and rebuilding at this time.”

Dollar says that having Touchstone and Builders International support is incredibly encouraging to him and the churches they interact with.

“It’s difficult to connect with churches and networks on a broadscale with always being on the field,” he says, “but Builders International has the database and is able to connect so quickly — for example, within a matter of days of when the war started, the available trips (16 teams) to work on the refugee center in Katowice, Poland, were filled!”

In addition to being a recognized champion for Ukraine churches, Touchstone has also been instrumental in helping other ministries — including the refugee center in Katowice. The Katowice center serves as a transitioning location for Ukrainian refugees seeking new homes in other parts of the world. Another ministry he assisted is the Hope in Action medical mission center in Kiev, Ukraine, which frequently sends teams out to aid the wounded.

Although Touchstone sees himself as only a malen’kiy part of what God is accomplishing through the national church, missionaries in the region, and Builders International, he’s kept the growing needs of the Ukrainian church before people in a big way.

And as for Dollar and the Ukrainian churches, he can only express appreciation for the support he has received. However, looking to the future and the war’s end, the level of help needed will exponentially increase as people attempt to return to their homes.

“The need is massive,” he says. “We can’t even get into a lot of the areas right now. In the aftermath of the war, the need for refugee housing and in the rebuilding of churches is going to be huge. I’m looking forward to a lot of churches coming in and partnering with local churches to get a lot done.”

Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.