This week I’m “liveblogging” my trip to Ukraine. Unlike traditional reports, these posts will be shorter and more frequent.
I was not without a friend in Kyiv and leading up to my trip was in touch with Bruce and his wife Aimee, missionaries to Ukraine who shared a very special story with me when I paid them a visit.
How A Church In Kyiv Provided Sanctuary From Russian Bombs
There’s a certain misconception, perpetuated by western media, that Ukraine is in a total war with Russia. That’s true, to an extent, but not in the sense that every able-bodied man is engaged in combat. As my time in Kyiv demonstrated, life goes on for most people and while all men between 18 and 60 are subject to conscription, many have not (yet) been called.
On my road trip back from Ukraine, I stopped at Bruce’s seminary, located in the northeast of Ukraine and there met a cadre of future pastors eagerly engaged in study of scripture and matters of faith and theology.
They were sitting around the table, eating pizza (from a place called IQ Pizza, a pizza chain in Ukraine), and talking. I spent the next hour with them and though most of the conversation was in Ukrainian and therefore indecipherable to me, I appreciated so much that these young men are seeking to serve their communities in nation with a different sort of armor.
The following morning, I journeyed to the other side of town to meet with Bruce and Aimee. There, they showed me their recently-constructed church, which itself is a miracle. The two of them have been in Ukraine for over 30 years, arriving while Ukraine was still a Soviet Socialist Republic and during a time in which the Church was persecuted and met underground.
Over time, they acquired a building, but an unfortunate twist of Providence left them empty-handed. A small building was donated to them from which they held church openly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A neighbor, who worked (or claimed to work) for the government in Kyiv, offered to help them register the property and make the ownership official.
Long story short, instead he wanted the property for himself and stole it. They were evicted from their own building and forced to meet in a tent outside.
Over time, however, they acquired a plot of land next door and began construction on a church building. It took over a decade, but is now close to completion:
One year ago, there was tremendous uncertainty over whether Kyiv would fall. Bombs rained through the night and explosions were destructive…and nearby.
Their church is next to a McDonalds, which sits on a wide boulevard called Peremohy Avenue. It was there, in the early days of the war, that Ukrainian tanks began assembling in preparation to defend Kyiv.
No one was allowed out after dark: those who were were subject to being shot on site.
While many Ukrainians sought refuge in Metro stations, many noticed the new church…and sought refuge there. People just came knocking at the door.
The church parking structure, located underground, became a makeshift refugee camp. Families were fed and clothed and kept warm. Sentries were posted to keep watch, ready for the worst. Hundreds huddled in his cold, damp place for days at at time as bombs fell overhead.
And through it all, the church met those who were in need and many came to faith. Even today, the church continues to supply food and even wood-burning stoves to those who have been displaced or in need.
Bruce and Aimee grew up near me in Southern California and Bruce attended the same middle school and high school I did. These are warm, kind, loving, hospitable people and I know they have blessed so many over the decades.
After our church visit, I went back to their apartment. While the old Soviet-style apartment block was hardly memorable on the outside and walking up 16 flights of stairs (eight floors) to reach their apartment was a chore, the door opened to a beautiful home. Indeed, wherever we are in the world, we can make a house a home when it is filled with love.
Large grocery stores have popped up in Kyiv, but much shopping is still done in little stalls like the ones outside their apartment building.
This was a very special part of my time in Kyiv. I’ve known these dear friends for many years, but to step into their home and to see their church and hear its story was a blessing in itself. Whenever crisis presents itself, we have an opportunity to rise to the occasion and meet the new challenge. Let their story be an inspiration for us.