According to recent statistics from the United Nations, there are over 1,000,000 Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war that simmers in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, as well as by the Russian Federation’s occupation of Crimea.
Those who cross an international border seeking a safe haven are called refugees. Those who are forced to flee their homes due to the upheaval of war but remain within the borders of their home country are called internally displaced people (IDP). Regardless of how they may be labeled, those who flee are often homeless, jobless, penniless, angry, and without hope. Brother Oleg is one of these million+ war casualties, but his story is different than most, by God’s grace.
I first met Brother Oleg seven years ago when I visited his city of Bryanka in the region of Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine. In those days Brother Oleg was working in a heating and air-conditioning business, studying at the Kiev Theological Seminary, and planting a new church in his home city that had become infamous for its high rates of unemployment and consequent alcoholism and drug addiction.
The infant church gathered in an old Soviet-style house of culture that honored the coal miners of the area and a painting of Lenin observed all who entered. In spite of the wretched conditions of the building and its awful smell, there was a spirit of Christ’s love and grace that I will never forget. Invalids were assisted in climbing up the front steps by able-bodied believers and all who came were fed what may have been their only healthy meal for the week. We worshiped and sang together, I preached on the difference between Lenin and Jesus (and received an enthusiastic ovation), and we shared a most precious Holy Communion together. God’s Spirit was present in a most Jesus-exalting and God honoring way on that Sunday seven years ago.
Later, I told my ministry partners, “If Jesus came to earth some Sunday to attend a service in His honor, I believe He would chose to attend worship with His church in Bryanka.”
Last summer war came to Bryanka and today Bryanka is occupied by Russian-backed troops and tanks. Due to the war and the targeting of evangelical church leaders for “special treatment” by those now in control, Brother Oleg and his family were forced to leave their home and church and seek safety in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine.
Even though Brother Oleg’s family has a very small apartment in Kyiv now, it has become an oasis for others who have been displaced. They invite people to share their apartment, and then when a family is able to find work or move on, another family arrives. They have been able to access humanitarian aid and some food supplies as well. English conversation groups are another of the strategies Brother Oleg is using to reach out and assist these needy IDPs. You can imagine news of this kind of activity spreads quickly and consequently the grapevine is growing.
As a result of his God ordained forced relocation to Kyiv, Brother Oleg has begun to plant a new church among the IDPs in Kyiv. God willing, I will be in Kyiv on Sunday, May 24th, and I plan to visit Brother Oleg’s infant church on that Lord’s Day. If his current church plant is anything like the first one, the time together will be memorable because our God is sovereign and gracious and our Brother Oleg is one in a million!
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I’ll keep you posted,