“For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Eyes dark with pain and uncertainty etched into her face, Livy was one of many people here with a story to tell—how bombings and the war with Russia forever changed their lives.
In the dark hours before dawn, Tuesday, April 5, we departed prayerfully on the long, winding journey to Ukraine through a portion of the Carpathian Mountains. Snowflakes were drifting in the air, adding to the inches that fell only two days ago. The view was quite spectacular as we wound our way through the white blanketed landscape.
Ten days prior, we arrived in Cluj, Romania, to assist in preparations for the official opening of AFM-Europe. However, war in a neighboring country had altered some of our plans. We were asked to join David and Diana Vasile from AFM-Europe, along with Pastor Stefan Tomoiaga, president of the North Transylvania Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and some Romanian church elders to take 10 tons of food, medicine and hygienic items into Ukraine for the many displaced people there. Thank you to everyone who has generously given to the AFM Refugee funds. Your gifts enabled us to assist these people with day-to-day and eternal needs.
As our three vehicles convoyed along, my mind thoughtfully pondered what we would see or experience. Thankfully we had committed this trip to our omnipotent Lord and were all at peace in trusting everything into His hands. We made a stop at the SDA church in the Romanian border town of Sighetu Marmatiei to prepare the truck, van and car with appropriate signs identifying our humanitarian purpose to the guards. We then prayed as we readied to depart a NATO country and enter a war-torn land. At the crossing, I noticed that ADRA had a tent where refugees could receive food upon entering Romania. One of the workers there greeted us and gave each a lunch for our journey. The bag was the same as those given to the refugees—a thoughtful, welcoming taste of Romania, including cabbage rolls, a sandwich, bottled water, a banana, a granola bar and a sweet roll, plus napkins with utensils. Everything was vegetarian. I praised the Lord that our church was so active in helping others during this tragedy.
Waiting to process through each border point took time. As we prepared to depart Romania, I watched the shadows of refugees eager to enter lined up single file and facing forward on the other side of a barrier. Their silence struck me. No loud voices of anticipation permeated the air, just quietness. It was my first taste of the effects of war on these people.
Finally, we entered southwestern Ukraine, one of the regions of the country least affected by war and considered a safe area. As we maneuvered through the neighborhoods on our way to the Adventist school in Teceu, I noticed soldiers on the roads and guarding railroad bridges. The town seemed deserted or minimally occupied, and the people who were out and about were primarily elderly.
Minutes later, we arrived at the school, which has become a warehouse and distribution center for ADRA as they take items into the warzones. Unfortunately, the supplies were rather sparse upon our arrival. The need for items was great, and I was so thankful we could provide for those suffering. Thank you for giving to those in need!
Soon, I met an ADRA volunteer named Oxana. She and I conversed as much as possible, considering her limited English. She said this school provided much more than storage for items—it was housing 60-100 people daily who had left the hardest-hit cities. Twice a day, the school feeds these families from the donated foods. Again, my heart soared to know that our Christian siblings in Ukraine were helping these precious people and that we could play a small part in bringing comfort.
I then learned that the local police randomly come by the school to ensure no able-bodied man is finding housing there when he could be fighting. This is an additional stress to the already strained families displaced.
About twenty minutes later, Oxana returned with Livy. I was struck to the core as I looked into those dark, pain-filled eyes. Instinctively I put my arm around her. In broken English, she told me the horrors of war in Kyiv. She vividly recounted the day the bombs began dropping, her family running to the shelters and eventually escaping to this school. Amazingly, her husband and two children, plus parents and in-laws, all got out.
Livy is not staying at the school but at the home of the local SDA pastor. She thanked me repeatedly for the replenishment of supplies. I responded by saying, “The praise goes to God!” She simply nodded. She told me there are still so many needs. She has friends in Kyiv holed up in bomb shelters and unable to leave because of elderly parents or disabled family. I comforted her in the only way I knew how, with a hug and prayer.
The people wanted to thank us with a simple meal of vegetarian soups, bread and pasta salad. I felt guilty eating as I did not want to take a meal away from those in need. But the two women who were cooking insisted that we partake of the tasteful food.
Afterward, we were guided to the second floor, where the classrooms are located. There, we saw the beds neatly organized on the floor. Due to the intimate circumstances, plus wanting to give privacy and dignity to the people housed there, we did not take pictures of them.
One lady caught my attention. She was alone, sitting with her legs straight out in front of her and a faraway look in her eyes. She seemed as if she was numb to everything around her. The war has been traumatic for all and it was evident. Next, I noticed a little girl. I tried playing peek-a-boo with her. Eventually, a hint of a smile appeared on her face, only to quickly disappear as others came near. She was so shy or distraught that she hid behind the door. So much pain and anxiety lined each face. They all have scars that have altered their lives.
How thankful I was, at that moment, that Jesus will one day remove all scars from our lives—physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I was even more thankful to know these people were involved in daily Bible studies and worship. Praise the Lord they were being fed both physically and spiritually!
My heart longed to speak their language and encourage them in the Lord. I asked Pastor Stefan if someone could pray over them and their country right now. He solicited one of the Romanian church elders who spoke Ukrainian to pray over these women and children. It was a time we all silently poured out our sorrows to God, no matter the language barrier.
As we were leaving, I hugged Oxana, Livy and even one of the cooks, plus some of the older church elders. With so much suffering from this senseless war, we all needed to connect.
We are very grateful to AFM-Europe, which purchased thousands of copies of Steps to Christ and The Great Controversy, translated into Ukrainian, from the SDA publishing house in Poland. These are being sent with supplies to many safe places sheltering displaced people, including the Center for Youth and Mission “Your Camp,” an SDA campground in southeastern Ukraine housing hundreds of displaced children amongst the more than 300 people seeking refuge. AFM-Europe is helping children primarily at the camp acquire wifi or internet access to try to contact their families. Please pray the literature will feed souls, and the wifi leads to joyful reunions.
Since that day, Matthew 24:6-7, 12-13 have been ever-present in my mind.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that you be not troubled, for all these things must come to pass but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places…because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, will be saved.”
Keep holding onto Jesus, brothers and sisters. Time is short, and our King is coming very soon!