On February 24 the world shifted its focus to Eastern Europe when Russia invaded Ukraine. As a mission organization with members and ministry partners living and serving in Ukraine, OC’s concern became how do we advise our workers and how can we partner to care for the people in crisis.
OC workers Joel and Irena live and work in Kyiv. Irena recounts her reaction waking up the sound of bombs exploding in her city. She told Fox News Digital, “I basically had a massive panic attack, because you think that it’s all over, you think you’re going to be dead.”
Irena’ father called with the harrowing words, “The war has started.” Joel reflects: “There were planes and cruise missiles flying overhead all morning.”
They packed a few items, their cats, and headed to her family’s home outside of the capital city. Irena comes from a long legacy of Ukrainian believers. Her two grandfathers were Ukrainian pastors who remained faithful under severe persecution. Both were imprisoned; one was martyred.
Dean, One Challenge president, says, “Irena’ family is all about faithful resilience to Jesus and service to his people in the face of danger.” Resilience and service is exactly what they did. Their family began preparing, looking for ways to raise money and stockpile supplies for those in need.
“Quickly working with local believers, they formed a makeshift humanitarian supply center assisting churches to care for traumatized communities and provide food for shell-shocked internally displaced people,” Dean says.
Through Facebook videos, Irena shares what the day to day looked like for them. They took one day at a time, and as Russian forces advanced, they felt it best to join the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians leaving the country. They began their journey early in March.
Irena says the journey took two days, with 15 to 16 hours of that at the border crossing. Although the journey was long and hard, Irena says many others are having worse journeys. “Many people just walked with their suitcases, small children, and pets,” Irena says. “Many men walked their families to the border, and had to say goodbye, hoping to see them again (men between the age of 18-60 cannot leave Ukraine). It is such a heartbreaking picture.”
Meeting the Need
One reason they chose to leave was to be better equipped to help. Outside of the country they can do hands-on work and provide more for those in need. Irena and Joel, along with their family and church networks, are hard at work. They are now working near the border of Ukraine and another European country.
“The needs are massive,” Irena says. “Everywhere we turn, someone doesn’t have food, doesn’t have money, doesn’t have help, or someone needs to leave.”
They now have a warehouse where they are working out of. They have stacks and stacks of canned goods and necessities. They are working with Convoy of Hope in this endeavor. “From our location, the trucks are packed and go into western Ukraine. Then they distribute all the help though the different churches in Ukraine, which are working together,” Irena says. “Through them, all different people in need get the supplies.”
This is a significant change of ministry for Joel and Irena. They are learning how to load and unload trucks, work with logistics, different organizations, and different churches.
“Our desire is to centralize (the giving effort) and work specifically through the church in Ukraine. (This way) people will get not only food and their needs met, but they will also receive hope and encouragement from Ukrainian Christians,” Irena says.
In addition to food and other necessities, Irena and Joel are buying bulletproof vests, specifically for pastors and doctors working on the frontlines in Ukraine. These vests are expensive and hard to find but could save lives of people working to care for the physical and spiritual needs of their countrymen.
Pray with One Challenge
Prayer is needed.
“You probably don’t realize how much your prayer helps us,” Irena says. “If it wasn’t for that, it would be impossible to survive. One day you have everything, and the next day you have a tiny suitcase, almost nothing. We appreciate your prayers for us.”
- Pray for wisdom for Irena and Joel and others like them who looking for ways to serve and care for people’s needs.
- Pray for a more permanent living situation for Irena, Joel, and their family in their current country.
- Pray for the pastors and doctors who are risking their lives in service to their people and home.
- Pray for the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and their soldiers fighting this war.
- Pray for believers in both Ukraine and Russia to share the love of Jesus amidst the chaos. Pray for wisdom for Russian believers, how to help and where to speak up.
- Pray for wisdom of world leaders as they are monitoring the situation closely.
- Pray for the many refugees trying to find a safe place for themselves and loved ones.