A band of brothers drives Ukraine
IVANO-FRANKIVSK, Ukraine — Tanks. Bombs. Guns. He survived them all…
SIRET, Romania — Border crossings bother me.
It all started in 2004 when I was traveling from Guatemala to El Salvador. The border guard grilled me repeatedly, in Spanish, about where I was going. “A preacher’s house in San Miguel” wasn’t cutting it. Somehow I got in.
So I was a bit on edge as our van weaved past the miles-long cue of transport trucks at the Ukrainian border. When we came to a stop I saw no fewer than seven uniformed gentlemen standing behind us. I imagined them spending hours going through every single bag and all the supplies we were taking to our Ukrainian brethren — including, ahem, adult disposable undergarments.
Related: A band of brothers drives Ukraine
Adi Voicu, our driver, jumped out and talked to the border guards in Romanian. “They want to know if they can help carry our bags,” he said.
That’s the kind of kindness I encountered time and again on our two-week trip to Eastern Europe. Audrey Jackson and I were blessed to be able to do some sneakers-on-the-ground reporting on the war and its impact on our family of faith.
Some good friends of The Christian Chronicle donated funds specifically for this trip. I pray that we put them to good use.
I can’t think of enough good words to describe our driver, Adi, who ministers for a Church of Christ in Craiova, Romania, when he’s not driving across Europe. His passport is full of Ukrainian stamps from the supply runs he’s made there. He wears a flak jacket under his bright yellow-and-gold sweatshirt (the colors of the Ukrainian flag) when he crosses the border.
At one point in the trip, near the Hungarian border, Adi got a phone call from a Ukrainian family who wanted to stay in the Craiova church’s building.
“How long are you planning to stay, until the end of the war or until a certain time?” he asked. (That is the question facing thousands of Ukrainians right now.) After a few minutes, Adi said, “Don’t worry. We will take good care of you.”
I’m indebted to my friend Richard Baggett for making the arrangements for the trip. We last traveled to Ukraine together in 2011 to report on the 50th anniversary of Eastern European Mission. Richard and his wife, Denise, had moved to the capital, Kyiv, to serve as missionaries before COVID-19 and the war put their plans on pause.
On this trip Richard represented Sunset International Bible Institute, which has received more than $1 million for Ukraine aid — $11 of which came from South Sudanese refugee preachers in Uganda. To effectively steward these blessings, Richard asked Christians about best practices and long-term strategies to help the people of Ukraine.
I’m especially thankful to Brandon Price, director of the Ukrainian Bible Institute in Kyiv, which is associated with Sunset. When the war started, he and his family went to Poland and then to the U.S. He came back as a part of our team. Walking back into Ukraine was an emotional experience, to be sure. He was a great occasional roommate and translator.
Related: Ukraine crisis: How to help
We shared part of the journey with Wes Hawthorne and Jerry Fox, members of the A&M Church of Christ in College Station, Texas, who work with Program for Humanitarian Aid. The ministry serves at-risk youths in Ukraine and is responding to the crisis. Several A&M members were there helping set up a supply chain for relief using a warehouse in Siret.
I’ll have more to say on that soon — and more to say about the Christians we met in Slovakia and Poland.
When we came back across the border from Ukraine, aid workers from all over Europe asked us if they could help us with transportation or housing. A man in priestly robes handed me coffee.
We are, in fact, “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). For me, the biggest blessing of this trip was seeing Christians of multiple nationalities working together, getting to know each other.
Many church buildings in western Europe were almost empty, especially after the pandemic. They’re full again.
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