I like to think politics stops at the water’s edge, but reality dictates what happens around the world eventually comes home to affect us. I saw a quote attributed to Trotsky the other day that fits: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” So I’m stepping away from the political to share a war story.
Our church sponsors a dozen missionaries, serving everywhere from a local prison ministry to Indian reservations in Wyoming to others scattered around the globe. As it turns out, we have three missionaries whose nations of field are involved in the Ukraine-Russia conflict: one in Russia, and two in Ukraine. Fortunately for his and his family’s sake, the Russian missionary was already on furlough to the United States, so they are safe. (They are Russian citizens, however, which present other problems for them as he has longstanding health issues.) One of the Ukrainian missionaries is still in country but is old enough he’s exempt from taking up arms. From the most recent reports from his son (now a few weeks old) he has sheltered in place.
However, Vitaly and Alexandra were forced to flee the country for his safety because he is a Russian national. Their family found refuge in Switzerland for the time being, but they have an uncertain future as refugees. This comes from his latest message to his sponsoring churches:
As you know, we are in Switzerland now. It’s strange to find ourselves in a country where everything is calm and peaceful. We are tormented by a sense of guilt and a desire to be among our people, where the fighting is going on. Pray for Alexandra’s sister Lena. She stayed in Kyiv where she helps people with food distribution, shelter in the basement of the church and sending them out of Kyiv by bus. Pray for a young man Vitaly has been discipling named Zhenya. He is now in the military and is guarding a checkpoint in Kyiv. Please continue to pray for a turning point in the war. Pray that Ukraine will endure and have the victory. Pray against Satan who controls Putin. Beg God to intervene and protect our Ukrainian people!
Although it is difficult to be gone, we understand that now it is better for us to be outside of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians now have a very vicious attitude towards Russians because of what is happening. Even we ourselves often desire death for all those Russian soldiers destroying our land. A complication is that Vitaly himself was born in Russia and this poses a threat to our family. As much as we love Ukraine, many people affected by the Russians will now hate any Russian, including Vitaly. We do not blame them for this as this situation is so terrible. Even if the war ends now, we are not sure if we can return to Ukraine and live in relative safety. I (Vitaly) am ashamed to be a Russian in this situation. I passionately wish defeat to the country in which I was born. We do understand that our little tragedy is insignificant in comparison with the unbelievable cruelty the Ukrainian people are experiencing now.
We are doing everything we can on our part for the Ukrainian people. Many of our brothers and sisters stayed in Ukraine and are engaged in buying, transporting and distributing humanitarian aid, food and medicine. We send a lot of finances directly into their hands. We also help those who organize the transfer of Ukrainian refugees from Kyiv to western Ukraine and further to Poland. We remotely instruct and try to help those who have traveled abroad and desire to migrate to Switzerland. It is a great joy for us that Vitaly’s disciple, whom he baptized in January, is now also not far from us. He had a long and tiring journey from Kyiv, but now we have found a place for him in Switzerland. He is fine. We are looking forward to seeing him soon.
We are now pioneers in Switzerland. We are among the first to know about the steps to obtain protection status for Ukrainians, about ways to receive assistance from the state, and we pass on all the information to other refugees around us. Because of this we can be useful to people and they trust us. This Wednesday we had our first big meeting to get to know refugees from Ukraine. We listened to their stories, prayed for them and with them and had an encouraging message from the Bible. Vitaly also created a telegram channel for refugees, in which an audio reflection on passages from the Bible is published daily. Pray that God will touch people’s hearts through our small efforts here in Switzerland and beyond.
Pray also for further vision for us. We feel displaced and really want to be of service to people. We also don’t know what to do with girls’ education. On the one hand, they can continue their education online in the Ukrainian school. On the other hand, they are required to attend a Swiss school that is in Swiss German. The education system is completely different here. We have also been invited to serve to the Russian-speaking population in Estonia. If God calls us there it will be yet another new unfamiliar education system for the children.Letter from Vitaly and Alexandra, our displaced Ukrainian missionaries.
In an earlier dispatch, however, they correctly pointed out that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a new thing, as the Russians annexed Crimea back in 2014 and have been aiding separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine during that same time period. (This is the region that Russia claims have become the separate breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk.) But while all that was happening in the far reaches of the country, they were busy planting churches and winning souls in the Kiev region. Not now.
It’s hard to fathom, sitting in my Delaware living room, just what a nightmare this family is living through. Although their faith keeps them strong it’s obvious there is some bitterness in Vitaly’s heart against the nation of his birth because of a situation the Russian leader (but not necessarily their people) desired.
It’s also interesting to note that, while Poland seems to be most in the news for accepting Ukrainian refugees, their diaspora will eventually take them around the globe. (Apparently we are going to accept some number of Ukrainian refugees here as well.)
The news shows us the damage and destruction in Ukraine, and once in awhile we’ll get a glimpse of the refugees as they continue to stream into Poland. But having our missionary affected gives us a perspective not often seen on the news, and I thought it was worth sharing.