I am a missionary in Ukraine.
Russia has invaded.
We are at war.
Many missionaries have left Ukraine. Most have left their cities, gotten their families to safety, and are actively involved with the rescue and relief effort.
They are at the borders helping refugees. They are coming back to rescue people. They are coordinating with people all over the world.
Some are shell-shocked and have returned to their home countries. I don’t blame anyone for leaving.
The question we often are asked however is: When are YOU coming home? This is a loaded question.
The US is my homeland, but it is not my home. We are citizens of Heaven and the best place for us to be is where God has called us. God called me to Ukraine 16 years ago. 9 years ago, he called our family to the city of Mukachevo. He hasn’t yet given us a change of plans.
Our city is a place of refuge for many.
We personally have served thousands of people. We have 6 commercial buildings we have converted to refugee centers. 3 houses have been turned to small dorms. Dozens of homes in our church community have opened their doors to refugees, learning to blend multiple families in 1 home.
We are responsible for housing over 500 people every night. Most stay for a day or 2 and then move on. We see about 300 new faces in our centers every day. They have left their homes and we are their last stop before leaving their homeland. A new reality awaits them across the border. They must start over and carry on.
We are also creating a center for 250 orphans that can’t cross. This is their last place of defense.
As long as our city is a place of refuge, we will stay.
Our status as a safe haven could change. They could bomb our region. The air raid sirens sound daily. The ground Invasion could come to us.
They already send saboteurs to our area with a mission to create terror by killing civilians The enemy could install a puppet government and like the territories occupied since 2014, Pastors could become targets for killings.
When we can no longer give others a safe place, that is when we will leave and help them get to safety. That is our line.
Do we have any other choice?
Am I to turn in fear from the work God gave me for the promise of safety and comfort?
Do I claim “blessing” while leaving others to suffer?
We are in Ukraine to be witnesses of the Gospel.
We testify to the character of God with our words and deeds.
We do not yet have bombs dropping on our city. We do not yet have soldiers firing on civilians in our region. But it would be all too easy to succumb to fear. And what message do I send if I leave when I could still serve?
I am sent to preach the Gospel and to demonstrate the love of God which he displayed on the cross. Is this true only until it is uncomfortable?
We have 20+ people in our home every day. Our heating system went out. There was no hot water. There was no heat. The nights are below freezing. We fixed it; but in that moment, I wanted to go someplace tropical and fast.
But I remember Jesus’ words in the Garden. If there was a way to let the “cup” of the cross go, he wanted it. But he was obedient to the will of the Father.
I preach a simple gospel these days: We have hope. Jesus was willing to die for us, that we may know him, his love, and the eternal life he gives. How can I then let fear rule my actions? To follow Jesus, you must take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow him.
As his disciple I cannot say: “Lord I quit? it costs too much.”
There are those that had to leave. I am glad they are safe.
There are those able to do more good from their new strongholds. I am thankful they are there.
They were in imminent danger.
But imagine if all of us in “safe” cities abandoned their calling – leaving until the situation is calm. How could I return and look people in the eyes? How could I preach the Gospel? If they ignored or condemned me, it would be justified.
Many years ago there were a few missionaries in Serbia; and when armed conflict came these guys stayed. That was their witness. They stayed, and because of it many believed. 1 of those missionaries shared that story at a conference years ago. It stuck with me. I remember thinking: what an opportunity for the Gospel. I prayed that if I was ever in a similar situation, that I would have the strength to stay. That situation is now. God is calling me to be faithful to those prayers.
I am not foolish. We have bags packed. We have discussed those moments that would have us leave.
I realize that even in our safe city, it is not without risk. I struggle with fear and submit it to Christ daily. I am convinced that God is able to raise me from death to eternal life, but I would rather it be later than sooner.
I must be faithful. This is why I stay. God has called some to leave. God has called us to stay.
It is a daily battle with my own heart. I daily cry out to God for strength. But I think of the prophets, apostles, the “cloud of witnesses” from Hebrews. My reward is Christ himself. He is my goal. So I try to represent that here in my city – along with all the saints I serve with – lights in the darkness. Jesus may call us to go, but until then we are called to stay.