Jesus At Work Amidst the Darkness of War in Ukraine
31 January 2024
*Names of people and places changed and faces blurred for security purposes.
A Free Burma Ranger (FBR) team of chaplains and medics went to Ukraine to train, stand with, and share the love of Jesus with front-line soldiers, workers, and community members from 22 November to 2 December, 2023. During this trip the team put on a youth program for children near the front lines, conducted three tactical medical trainings for soldiers, shared personal testimonies with soldiers of how Jesus can transform the hate and brutality of war into love, and continued encouraging and building relationships with key partners in the area. This is the second time FBR has been able to go to Ukraine, largely because of the amazing, Jesus-centered people and organizations who serve full-time in this region that FBR is able to partner and serve alongside.
Since the start in 2022, there have been an estimated 300,000 casualties on both sides. The winter here is brutal for those fighting and living in this region. The team encountered heart-wrenching stories from both soldiers and civilians and found there are still many Ukrainian civilians who live near the front lines. Despite the cold of winter and darkness of this war, the team saw the warmth and light of Christ shining through and reaching lives. Below are a few stories from their time.
Love Came Through A Generator
A key partner of ours has done an amazing job building a relationship with a Ukrainian Defense Unit Battalion. He met them early in the war and continues to work with them on a regular basis. One key connection within the unit is an officer named Rob. Rob is in his late forties and used to be a company executive officer but has now switched into a supply role. Rob has a gift for hospitality that rivals the best. He welcomed us late our first night and proceeded to put out coffee and snacks even though we could almost physically see the burdens he was carrying and the bags beneath his eyes.
Rob goes by the nickname “Chaplain.” His nickname is fitting. He truly has a shepherd’s heart. Rob doesn’t just go out of his way to serve foreigners. He serves his men. He serves the communities and people around him. Rob has initiated and maintained sponsorships for local elderly and children still living in the vicinity of their company command post. He goes out of his way to buy necessities, even bought gifts for children as Christmas was approaching. Rob allowed two of our team to tag along for one particular visit when we were on the front lines.
We met an elderly couple in their late 70s or early 80s who had decided not to leave their home despite the surrounding conflict. The husband is severely handicapped and they feared their house would be looted if they left. They stayed and it seems that they were the only non-military who did. They did not have access to electricity. The elderly woman was too weak to be able to start the old crank generator they did have. In comes Rob: loving in practical, yet extreme ways.
Rob, with his personal funds, purchased a brand new generator that only required the push of a button to start. We helped Rob unload the generator and set it before the woman. We watched as the woman’s eyes lit up, removing the wrinkles of age for a brief moment, before she burst into tears. Rob and the woman embraced in a tearful hug. We didn’t need to understand the language being spoken; the body language said it all.
The woman invited us into their home. We met her husband and prayed together for his healing and for Jesus to protect their home from shelling, missiles, and any other forms of evil. We watched Rob lovingly ask if the woman needed anything else. She couldn’t figure out how to charge the audio Bible Rob had left for her the week prior. He took care of this for her as well.
The most extreme acts of love are sometimes the most practical, and on this day, love came through a generator.
We Will Worship Here Again
We were invited by Rob, from the story above, to have dinner one night with his church. His church has been instrumental in supporting local troops. Early on, units were using the church building like a dorm and the members who had not fled helped feed them, wash clothes, purify water, hold services, etc. In 2023 the church was hit twice by missile strikes. The main auditorium and dorms were destroyed. Troops don’t sleep at the church anymore but provision continues coming. We witnessed two soldiers coming to collect their laundry while we were eating.
After dinner, the acting pastor, Nick, took us for a tour of the church. The missiles may have changed how they serve their community, but it surely has not slowed them down. Every large room that wasn’t destroyed is being used as a store room for food, clothing, and other basic necessities. We spent some time examining the damage from the missiles to the main sanctuary. A make-shift roof has been added with tarps and wood. Rain leaks in. They have started to rebuild slowly. Our team decided it would be a great time to worship once more in this space. Our worship of Jesus is not dependent on four walls and a roof and we praise God for the spaces He provides for us to gather. We wanted to feed all of our faith that one day people would worship here again. We stood in a circle and sang “Amazing Grace” all together. It was cold and wet, but our hearts were warm. We ended with a prayer for the church, the community, and people of Ukraine. Jesus was with us.
Despite the danger, Nick and his wife chose to stay and serve. He is recognized as a Deacon by his church and he has been pastoring and shepherding the people here since the war began. One of our team members designated him a Ranger on the spot because Rangers do everything out of love, they don’t run when other’s cannot run, they read and write, and, as an unofficial fourth rule, they do nothing out of fear, pride, or comfort. Nick embodies all of these qualities and more. He has chosen to walk by faith and not by sight. The community around him and his faith bear testimony to Jesus’s work in and through him and his family.
War Changes Everything … Kind of
War changes everything. Especially war that takes place in your homeland. There is no aspect of society untouched. We frequently think about how war impacts those going to war. But what about those who stay home and are still in the war?
There are children, elderly, and families living inside combat zones around the world. For one reason or another, these families cannot leave or decide not to leave. They are impacted all the same. Schools are cancelled. Curfews are implemented. It is no longer safe to play outside with your friends. Fear follows the pounding of artillery. Even when it stops the thought of it returning brings anxiety.
We had an opportunity to lead a youth group gathering one evening. The children in attendance were between the ages of nine and sixteen years old. These children are currently living in a combat zone only 30 kilometers from the trenches marking the final front and are very much within missile range. Their town was occupied in 2014 and was almost taken in the recent invasion.
These children’s lives are not the same as they were two years ago. However, we also saw that, though the situation has dramatically changed around them, they are still just chidren.
When they arrived for the youth meeting some were shy, but some were excited to meet new people who spoke English. Heaps of sweet treats, chips, and card games were helpful in breaking the ice. Fun group games, laughing together, and talking about the meaning of Christmas together reminded us all that there is more than just a war happening. And for a little while, these kids got to still be kids. Like most, these children too enjoy having fun and dreaming about the future.
However, when we shared with them pictures of the war in Burma and why Jesus led us to Ukraine, the children nodded their heads solemnly. They understood. The kids in Burma are like them. War does change everything. These kids weren’t just kids. The war has caused them to grow up far too fast.
Please continue to pray for the brutal war in Ukraine to end, for lives to be spared, for children and other civilians suffering, and that more people would come to know the eternal love and hope of Jesus.
Thanks and God bless you,
Free Burma Rangers