DISCLAIMER: I began writing this post some time ago (around the time we left for London) to try to explain what God has been teaching us and the twists and turns in our journey of faith. It’s long. If you don’t want to read it…don’t worry…it’s more for us as a remembrance of this pivotal time in Ukraine and in our walk with God.
[su_heading size=”24″]God has taught us much over the last few months — and especially the last few weeks.[/su_heading]
On November 21, a rather small group of protesters (around 2,000) gathered on Independence Square in downtown Kyiv to stand in opposition to the government’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union that signaled that the government would not be taking Ukraine into the European Union. At the same time, deals were made with Russia that brought Ukraine further into alignment with Russia. This is a very simplistic description of a very complex political climate.
It wasn’t long before protesters and police began to clash with very violent acts. Over the next months, things would heat up and violence would explode. Threats were made from both sides — and threats were carried out. Many buildings were taken over by opposition groups. The government began to exert deadly force on the people, even though they were carrying out very peaceful protests. The protesters set up barricades and boxed themselves in and listed their demands. This is not to be considered a historical document and there were and are very complex issues at work that have been explained elsewhere.
School was disrupted several times, the metro system was closed a few times, the bus system was all but crippled several times. Life did not just go on as usual. We sat on the edge of our seats each day to see what the day would hold. We woke each morning and immediately read the news to find out what horrible things happened overnight. Many people were killed. Many people were abducted and tortured. Some were released (a few) but over 180 people who were abducted remain missing. Groups of thugs wandered the streets and would attach people at will. These groups reached all the way to our small Brovary on several occasions.
The morning Hannah and I left Ukraine for America for her “college road trip,” we were driving on a back road to get to the highway that leads to the airport at about 3:00 a.m. Mary was with us, as was our friend Jamie. We ended up on the road by ourselves with another car. This car wouldn’t let us pass. Then after they did let us pass they tried to run us off the road multiple times. This went on for several minutes (it seemed like an eternity). The final time they cut us off and pushed us toward metal barricades, I managed to reverse quickly and get turned around and drove as fast as I could to get away. They continued chasing us, but thankfully not for long. We arrived at the airport shaken. Very shaken. Then Mary had to drive home from the airport (though she went home a different way).
On the night that Hannah and I returned from America, horrible things were happening all over Kyiv. Violence had broken out and the city was in complete meltdown mode. All metro (underground) service was suspended, bus services were suspended. There were runs on banks (about 10% of all deposited funds were withdrawn within a day), there were runs on gas stations until gas ran out, there were runs on grocery stores and shelves were emptied of staples (flour, milk, bread, sugar, rice, etc) in a matter of hours. The week was filled with death and terror. Thankfully, we live far enough away (about 10 miles) from the center of Kyiv that we didn’t experience the actual terror face to face.
We had been praying since all of this began that God would simply tell us if He wanted us to leave for a season or permanently. We did make some lists of things that would cause us to consider leaving Ukraine, but even as those things began to happen, we didn’t feel it was time to go. We simply couldn’t imagine walking out on all God had allowed us to be part of here…even temporarily.
On February 20, it was revealed that an order was signed to use live ammunition against protesters (although it had already been used before).
February 18 was the bloodiest day The city was paralyzed with fear and with lack of transportation. You couldn’t drive anywhere without being stopped and questioned and searched by police (or worse, by thugs who took it upon themselves to take authority). Over 25 protesters were killed, 10 police were killed and well over 1,000 were documented as injured. It was a terrible day.
On Thursday of that week Mary and I were convinced that we were not to leave. We were uneasy, of course, but we just hadn’t heard the Lord tell us to go. However, on Friday, the very next morning, we heard the voice of the Lord clearly that we were to go to London for at least two weeks. As sure as we were on Thursday that it wasn’t time to go, we were sure on Friday that the time had come. We put out the word on Friday evening (our time) that we had made the decision to go and we asked our friends for help financially. To go anywhere with 11 people is not easy or cheap. Within a few hours we had received enough money to confirm to us that we had heard God’s voice correctly. Before the night was over, we had ordered one-way tickets to London and they were paid for.
We made plans to fly out of Kyiv on the coming Monday. We found a wonderful missionary ministry center in London and we booked rooms. We made arrangements for two taxi vans to meet us and transfer us from the airport to the ministry center over an hour away. The plans literally fell in to place and God continued to provide the funds for every step of the way. As we needed money, it was there.
[su_box title=”Thank you!” style=”glass” box_color=”#12ae38″]If you are one of the ones that supported us with finances and/or prayer — THANK YOU is not nearly enough. We are humbled by your support and your love and we are awestruck by God’s provision. When He calls us to something, He makes provision beyond measure. We are SO GRATEFUL to YOU and to HIM![/su_box]
Strangely, on the Saturday and Sunday before we left, the situation in Kyiv turned around, literally in hours. The president fled the country, the government basically dissolved. A new president (interim) was selected (a former Baptist pastor), a new prime minister was selected, new cabinet members, etc. Other major changes were made that were astounding and unbelievable. And here we had decided to that now was the time to leave. I don’t want to say that everything was suddenly normal and okay — far from in. In fact, the country fell into a kind of anarchy when no one seemed to be in charge and there were suddenly no police and few government officials. Even in our Brovary, our mayor and his entire staff disappeared when the president did because he was of the same party and persuasion.
Regardless of the sweeping changes, we knew that we needed to leave for two weeks and make a decision about either returning to our beloved Ukraine or to go on to the USA for several months. We also knew that we couldn’t see clearly here in Ukraine because we were under great stress and pressure.
[su_heading size=”24″]Two Weeks in London[/su_heading]
We got to the airport on Monday afternoon, February 24. There was almost no one there. Strange. But people working there were light and airy. Not happy per se, but like they saw hope. It’s hard to describe. At the security checkpoint, the ladies working there were so interested in our children and they talked to them and asked us all kinds of questions about them and about why we live in Ukraine. It was a first. Then at passport control, the young man working in the booth was so kind to us and he smiled and waved at each of the kids as he went through the passports and scanned them. It was surprising. He spoke kindly to us and was very helpful. I don’t want to give the impression that people here are generally mean and rude. It’s not that. But, as a rule, people working at the airport and in passport control and those types of jobs do not usually go out of their way to be kind and happy. This is a generalization and not to be meant as a commentary on everyone in Ukraine… it’s just our experience in the past.
We landed at Heathrow and when we walked off the plane, we felt an instant weight lift from us. The pressure and stress of living under the constant threat of what was going on and the unknown of what may happen next left us. We didn’t really even realize how much pressure we were under until it wasn’t there anymore. We realized that even though we were trusting God, we were overwhelmed with all that was happening. And we saw in our children (older and the littles) an ease and release. The littles were happy and content. Of course the older kids know all about what is happening in Ukraine and it was not surprising that they felt the same release as we did. The littles, apparently, were feeling our stress and it was affecting them. We’ve all heard the saying that you can put a frog in cool water and slowly turn up the heat and eventually boil the frog and he won’t jump out ( I don’t think that’s true ). That’s kind of what had happened to us. The pressure was slowly building over the months and God knew a release was needed.
Our time in London was very therapeutic. We spoke English the entire time. We ate food that was familiar and “comforting.” We saw things we always had wanted to see. We took the kids places they wanted to go. We were able to take all the kids on the bus and throughout the city with very little problem. People smiled at our kids and asked us questions about them (instead of looking on them with pity and/or rejection). Everything about the trip was good for our family. We were glad to have Jamie along with us, too. It provided her time away from the pressure as well.
The second week in London, I (Chris) got food poisoning from something I ate at Chipotle. It was bad. That allowed a viral infection to crop up in my mouth and throat (that I have had before). Basically, my mouth and throat and upper esophagus was covered with canker-type sores. My gums and tongue was also affected. It was dreadful. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink. It was really bad. I ended up going to the doctor about the virus in my mouth and they gave me a strong steroid for it. The next morning, I literally thought I might die because of pain in my chest and I was out by myself buying bus passes. I really didn’t think I would make it back to the ministry center. That’s how bad it was. I realized that it was acid reflux. I thought I had experienced that before, but I realize now that I had had indigestion before, but not acid reflux. It got worse and worse and worse. On Saturday, I went to a hospital to see another doctor. I told them all my symptoms and then told him what medicine the previous doctor had given me. He said that he was certain that that was the problem. With the stomach problem I was having when I started the steroid, the side effect of that particular steroid was amplified. The side effect? Acid reflux and severe GI infection. I threw the steroid in the trash. He gave me a strong prescription for anti-acid and told me to drink gaviscon as often as I needed. My esophagus (and mouth/throat/gums/tongue) was so torn up that it wasn’t until several days after we got home that I could drink and eat without severe pain. It did make our last days in London bearable for me. Regardless of all of that, we had a great, soul refreshing time.
[su_heading size=”24″]Big Decisions[/su_heading]
After about a week in London, we began looking at news again (we had fasted from news about Ukraine and any news the first week). We began praying and seeking God’s will for our next step. To USA or back home to Ukraine? By the end of the second week, we were convinced that we needed to return home, even if it would only be for a few weeks. Russia had already begun their invasion of Crimea and things were getting very tense. As you can probably guess, when an entire government is changed, it leaves a lot of room for people to do things that normally wouldn’t happen. From outside the country and from within the country. Regardless of what we were seeing, we followed the Lord back home. To Ukraine.
When we landed at the airport in Kyiv it was, once again, almost deserted. It’s very out of the ordinary and somehow unsettling. There were no police anywhere (usually the place is crawling with police looking for people to give tickets to — or more to the point to get money from). Very abnormal.
[su_heading size=”24″]Lessons in the Storm[/su_heading]
Things are hardly normal here even as I complete the post today (Tuesday, March 25). We are basically waiting for WHEN the further invasion from Russia will happen and the WHERE it will happen and how it will affect us here near Kyiv. People here believe it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” and “where.” So we live under that pressure. And I admit that it is a pressure. It’s not fear exactly. It’s not knowing what will happen. It’s not knowing how it will affect us and what could happen to us (specifically Mary and the kids). In America we never had that pressure and things that could happen to us here, we never even thought about in America.
We’ve had to come to the decision that the best place to be is in God’s will. It may not be a safe place, but God didn’t call us to safety and comfort and security in worldly things. Our prayer remains that we want to follow Him, not our “common sense.” We want to guard ourselves from leaning on things that are not secure. There’s no safety in that. We want to lean on Him, on the cross. The only security.
We don’t want to die, but Mary and I have talked and prayed and if He has called us to remain here and something bad happens, even death, we want to be where He wants us to be.
We haven’t thrown caution to the wind. We are being watchful. We are being careful. But we find our security and safety in Him. Not our circumstance. Not our future. Not our fear. Not what might or might not happen. We aren’t making decisions based on what Russia might do or what that would mean to us. We are truly trying to chase hard after Him. The One Who called us here.
Yes…I can hear some of you saying that it’s childish and that God gave us common sense for a reason. But we have been called to live in childlike faith and we have been called to lay down our own agendas and our own thoughts and to take up His agenda and His mind and His heart. We are never foolish when we seek to hear and obey Him.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressures of Life[/su_heading]
Just a few things causing us stress and a feeling of pressure right now…
- The unknown future of Ukraine
- Fear of what could happen to us
- Interruption of normal life
- Friends who have left the country already (causes us to question our decision to stay)
- Some mission organizations deciding to relocate their missionaries temporarily
- Difficulty getting money when we need it (as foreigners, the rules for withdrawing money from our bank here in Ukraine and from ATMs using our American account are very limited and unpredictable right now)
- Reading the news
- Hearing from Ukrainian friends what they believe is about to happen and that we could at that point have no options but to stay
- Family and friends in America who are worried for us
- And more…
2 Corinthians 1:3–11
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Leads us to God’s Comfort[/su_heading]
He brings us comfort by giving us words of encouragement and faith. He gives us remembrance of what He has done and what He has promised that He WILL do. Here’s a few scriptures He’s used to comfort us…
Psalm 37 — We are reminded here of God’s promises. Of His care. Of His power. Further, we are reminded that these promises may not come to fruition until Christ returns. I mean we will receive the fulfillment of the promises in Heaven…not on earth. It gives us the strength to endure, to persevere.
Psalm 20:7 — We are to trust in the Name of the Lord our God. We are not to trust in chariots and horses (or armies, or countries, or governments, or economies, or perceived safety, or friends, or family…)
Psalm 40:1-4 — He is not deaf. He hears us. He reaches down and lifts us from the miry pit and places our feet on solid ground. He puts a new song of praise in our heart. Through this, people will put THEIR trust in God. Out of the mire and struggle, comes transformation.
2 Timothy 1:7 — He doesn’t give us fear — but a spirit of power. If we are fearful, that is not from Him.
Psalm 23 — He is our Good Shepherd. Through Him we have peace. We have stability. We have safety. We have all we will ever need.
Psalm 46:1-3 — He is our refuge and He is our strength. He is ALWAYS our hope. He is ALWAYS our stronghold. We look for these things in worldly powers and we are always disappointed. Always let down. It’s leaning on what is not stable when we depend on anything but Him!
Jeremiah 29:11 — He does have plans for us. They are not plans to destroy us. They are plans for good.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Equips us to Comfort Others[/su_heading]
We “recycle” our comfort. We are like a cistern that He fills to overflowing and our overflow washes on to those around us. He gives us comfort so we can help others. The comfort He has brought to us, we are literally able to pour into others and comfort them. Our faith encourages others to have faith. Our strength in Him, gives others strength.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Produces Patient Endurance and Perseverance[/su_heading]
Romans 5:3-5 — I love this Scripture because it tells me of the wonderful things that come from suffering and from difficulties in life. Ultimately, from the difficulty comes hope. Hope for now and hope for later.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Reminds us to Rely on God Who Raises from the Dead[/su_heading]
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 — He will either restore us here on earth or He will restore us in Heaven. Ultimately, though, the greatest rescue and restoration happens in eternity — in Heaven. The pressure causes us to trust in the One who holds life in His hand…always…even when we think we have some control over life (when it begins, when it begins and everything in between). When we focus on His promises, our faith grows stronger and stronger. When we recognize His power, we find something real to depend on.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Generates Prayer and Thanksgiving[/su_heading]
2 Corinthians 1:10-11 — We cling to Him in our struggle and we find reason to bring thanks to Him. To attribute to Him the greatness and the trustworthiness that He deserves. We can always find reason to give thanks. Always. But we have to rise out of the pressure and the struggle and see Him and how He is involved in our life.
[su_heading size=”24″]Pressure Displays what is Inside of Us to the World[/su_heading]
What comes out of a toothpaste tube when you squeeze it? Your initial answer is “toothpaste.” But the real answer is that when you squeeze a toothpaste tube, what comes out is whatever is inside. It’s the same with us. We can say we follow God and that we are “believers” but it’s when we are under pressure that what is truly inside is seen by the world. It’s when we are under pressure that people can see our real faith and our real trust in Him.
[su_heading size=”24″]What’s Next[/su_heading]
The short answer is we don’t know. We are waiting on the Lord. But while we are waiting we are continuing in the work God has given us to do. It’s been during this time that we’ve seen two people come to faith in Christ. Just this past Sunday, Mary had the opportunity to share the Gospel with someone who is searching for answers. In fact, this dear lady asked the questions that were direct questions about the Gospel and about WHY Christ died.
We do, of course, continue to watch the news, but we aren’t using the news to make decisions. We truly are waiting on Him.
IF He calls us to leave again, we are thinking, at this point, that we will go to the USA for a few months and do things like doctors visits for all the kids, the dentist, eye exams, etc. Also, we would love to report to our supporters, in person, all that the Lord has been doing here. And, of course, we are always need to fundraise, though it’s our least favorite part of this journey (except that we get to see God to AMAZING things!!).
That’s all for now. If you have made it through this entire post, you deserve some sort of award. Thank you for your prayers and for your support (both financially and emotionally).
We are Blessing the Name of the Lord today. You?