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Flourishing Under Pressure Series -- Flourishing Despite War's Destruction

In the midst of war in Ukraine, thousands are coming to the churches in response to expressions of compassion and love.
(Third in a series of five “Flourishing” articles)

Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Within days of this attack, millions of Ukrainians were displaced in country; millions more fled to neighboring countries and beyond to avoid shelling by the Russians and find refuge for themselves and their families. Thousands of apartments, homes, and businesses were in ruins. Is there any hope for the people of Ukraine? Yes.

Out of the destruction and turmoil of war rises a Church that is flourishing. One Assemblies of God global worker who remained in Ukraine reports that the Church is using this crisis to minister to the citizens of Ukraine.

MOBILIZING THE CHURCH

Churches became empty as many believers joined the mass evacuation that took place in the first days of the war. However, church members who remained became an army of workers. Throughout Ukraine these churches became aid points and refugee centers.

In the months following the start of the war— even in the most devastated areas—pastors report that the churches are full; most of this growth has come from new people.

Before the war, people were cautious and afraid of evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Many Ukrainians believed that these churches were sects and these people were crazy. However, when the Church began providing aid day after day, it shocked the people. The Church was not what they had always thought it to be.

Churches were the only groups meeting the most basic needs of people who had lost everything. People by the thousands are coming to the churches because of the aid, shelter, evacuation, and love shown by the churches.

MINISTRY TO CHILDREN

The Ukrainian Church, along with help from others, developed several focus groups for ministry to children. First, at Christmas, believers distribute Gift of Heaven gift boxes. Hope in Action (AGWM mobile medical ministry operating in Ukraine) delivered 9,000 Christmas boxes to women and children. Churches in Poland and Ukraine pack these boxes. The churches and network of 200 volunteer doctors deliver these boxes.

Second, “We developed a ministry for children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs,” states one global worker. “We bring these children from boarding schools to the church. There we organize different crafts, play with them, and prepare meals for them.”

Third, churches minister to mothers and their children from newborns to age 3 who had to leave their homes. The church provides baby food, diapers, and groceries to help them survive the move to Kyiv.

Last, for children still living near the frontline zones, the churches deliver toys, sweets, food, clothes, and other necessities.

DEALING WITH THE TRAUMA OF WAR

Trauma is a side effect of any war. This is especially true in the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. When Russia invaded Ukraine, many people left their homes and fled to a bordering country. Others, however, sought refuge in a safer place inside Ukraine. How do you minister to those who have experienced trauma because of the ongoing war? God was preparing a global worker to bring this healing ministry to Ukraine.

This global worker and her husband were in the U.S. when she learned of a counseling program for those who have experienced the trauma of war. The American Bible Society, in conjunction with psychologists and pastors, had developed this Bible-based trauma healing course. This course is currently part of the training provided by the Trauma Human Institute.

This global worker had planned to use this material in the country when she and her husband served because of the war taking place there. God, however, was going to expand the scope of her ministry.

This global worker explained, “Everyone has a son, brother, relative, or knows someone experiencing trauma. We knew the trauma of war would affect our people.”

Meanwhile, the Church in Ukraine, while experiencing trauma itself, knew that it must reach out to the internally displaced people (IDP) and others who needed help.

To meet the need for trauma counseling, God opened the door for this global worker to use her training to help churches in Ukraine minister to those who were experiencing trauma. These people needed emotional healing from trauma, but pastors also needed to understand how healing works. Sometimes pastors think that if you believe in God, then there should be no pain.

Some people believe that time will heal all wounds. While this is partially true, God is the One who heals our hearts. But healing is a process and we need to understand how the process works. With physical wounds, God sometimes uses doctors and medicine to heal the hurt. If we do not treat these wounds, then time will not heal them. But if we treat these wounds, they heal over time.

It is the same with wounds of the heart. With the wound of the heart, you need to understand what is happening and what is helpful and healing. To bring healing, people need to understand why they feel a certain way — what is normal. When you understand what is happening, you realize how healing is taking place and if it is taking place.

The global worker and her team conducted two trauma healing events. The first was in Lviv, in the western part of Ukraine. Many refugees (IDP) had settled in the western part of Ukraine. They came from eastern Ukraine, where fighting is still ongoing.

The team asked people from the church to join them so they could continue helping the people after the seminar. When you open peoples’ hearts, it takes time for healing. The team wanted to connect these people with the members of the church.

The church had been ministering to internally displaced people since the beginning of the war. They had been feeding people who are on the frontline for over a year. Every day they brought food to the railroad station for those arriving by train.

They had more than 2,000 people in their feeding program. This was an asset because these people knew the church was caring; they trusted the church.

As the team conducted this training, they could see an immediate difference in these people. Many in this group were unsaved. The gospel was new to them. The only connection they had with the church was through the feeding program. However, as the team taught this course, they could see a change in attitude on the faces and in the dispositions of these refugees. When they started the sessions, the refugees were tense, reserved, and withdrawn. However, many left with peace, almost with joy. They said that they had found hope.

People who attended the training reported that the lesson on forgiveness was the hardest but the most helpful. Forgiveness is a hard topic, especially when you hear about horrible things that didn't just happen a year or a month ago but are currently happening and continue to happen.

Most of those attending struggled with forgiveness. They kept asking, “How can you forgive someone for something like what they did to us? We can never forget that.”

It is difficult to forgive people, but no one wants to live with unforgiveness and hatred. This is where many found hope. And this hope gave them understanding on how to move forward.

The fact this church had a long-term relationship with these refugees helped the training team. People were much more interested in the gospel. They wanted to have Bibles. They wanted more meetings. The church started a Bible study as a result of this trauma counseling.

The second training was for the church leaders in Kyiv. There was a stark contrast between these two groups because these church leaders already understood the love of Christ. However, they did not understand what happens during trauma and how emotional wounds heal.

Many people in their congregations were experiencing war, so their congregations were struggling. Trauma and stress skyrocket when everyone is stressed. Added to this was the influx of refugees who were seriously traumatized. A global worker explained, “I think there is not one person in Ukraine who is not traumatized right now.”

People coming from the front lines or places that have been bombed or have been under occupation have more severe trauma. In the church, some people had to leave to serve in the army, or to take their children to a safer place. This left fewer church members to help, while the amount of work increased.

Some of those who stayed to minister shut down their feelings to be able to continue. Church leaders needed to know how to handle these circumstances and help both their congregations and these refugees. And they needed to know how to keep themselves emotionally and spiritually healthy. This trauma ministry has played a huge role in equipping leaders to bring emotional and spiritual healing to the people in Ukraine.

The current war has not stopped the church in Ukraine from ministering to those in need. As believers in neighboring countries have partnered with Ukrainian believers, many people have experienced God’s love and accepted Christ as Savior.

*Names changed for security throughout the series. This article original appeared in Worldview magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 2. Used with permission.